Mandy Brad­shaw on the snow­drops of Cer­ney

Cer­ney House Gar­dens have an at­mos­phere that wins you over

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: Mandy Brad­shaw

Sat in a cor­ner of the Walled Gar­den watch­ing win­ter sun­shine slowly melt­ing the frost, it’s easy to see why peo­ple fall in love with Cer­ney House Gar­dens. There’s an at­mos­phere that no amount of clever de­sign can guar­an­tee, a still­ness that forces you to slow and that’s mak­ing me re­luc­tant to leave.

From my van­tage point, high up in the Walled Gar­den, I can see clearly the in­tri­cate de­sign of the knot gar­den, while over the walls there are glimpses of the old house and the woods that wrap around the site. At this time of year, they are full of snow­drops and borders in the main gar­den are be­gin­ning to fill with the pur­ples and pinks of swathes of helle­bores.

Al­though it’s a five-acre gar­den that opens to the pub­lic for nine months a year, it feels far more like a pri­vate space that I’ve some­how wan­dered into.

And in a way, it is. This is very much a fam­ily gar­den, first laid out in 1984 by Is­abel An­gus and her daugh­ter, Bar­bara. Now, since Lady An­gus’ death in 2016, Cer­ney House is run by her son, Nick, who runs a food man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness, and his wife, Janet.

They were left the house, says Janet, on the un­der­stand­ing they would take on the gar­den as well.

It was no small un­der­tak­ing as the cou­ple weren’t gar­den­ers; Janet, a con­sul­tant der­ma­tol­o­gist, de­scribes her­self as a city girl who had pre­vi­ously had only a small, town cen­tre gar­den. Lady An­gus’ sud­den death also meant the grad­ual hand-over didn’t take place and the pair were, in Janet’s words, “thrown in at the deep end”.

“I didn’t know if I would be able to do it,” she says. “There was trep­i­da­tion but I’d promised Is­abel.”

They’ve been helped by the close-knit team of seven part-time gar­den­ers and one full-time, many of whom have been there for years. Head­ing up the team is Lou Mercer, who had been work­ing at the cheese fac­tory – the es­tate pro­duces the award-win­ning Cer­ney Blue. She was asked to lend a hand in the gar­den un­til a head gar­dener could be re­cruited and was won over by its charm.

“I’ve been a gar­dener all my life and I wanted a change, to do some­thing dif­fer­ent,” she says, “but I could not re­sist this gar­den.”

Like so many pri­vate gar­dens, lit­tle seems to have been writ­ten down and the team have re­lied on the knowl­edge of one of the for­mer gar­den­ers who visits ev­ery cou­ple of weeks to give ad­vice.

‘Is­abel re­ally trusted peo­ple and was very wel­com­ing. She just wanted to share this gar­den’

“There is no plant list, it’s in Sylvia’s mind, she is the plant list,” says Lou sim­ply.

“There are over 200 roses in the walled gar­den some of which don’t have a la­bel. Sylvia knows them and, if they’ve not got a la­bel, it’s be­cause we don’t know the name. Her knowl­edge has been in­valu­able.”

More prob­lem­atic are the snow­drops. Over the years, la­bels have moved or been lost and no one seems to know what is in the col­lec­tion.

“We knew we had a lot of snow­drops but none of us are ex­perts,” ex­plains Lou.

Knowl­edge­able vis­i­tors have helped with some and they are hop­ing to bring in some ex­pert galan­thophiles to help with oth­ers.

“We are go­ing to start try­ing to cat­a­logue and pho­to­graph all the ones we know and get names of some but it’s very dif­fi­cult to iden­tify them.”

This lack of de­tailed knowl­edge in no way di­min­ishes what is a beau­ti­ful dis­play. The wood­land ‘Snow­drop Trail’ takes you past huge drifts of white blooms, with win­ter aconites and cy­cla­men adding splashes of yel­low and pink. Later in the year, the woods will be full of blue­bells and wild gar­lic.

In the main gar­den, snow­drops clus­ter around steps, colonise the foot of walls, and are slowly spread­ing across the lawn.

If the woods are gar­dened with a light touch, the one-acre Walled Gar­den is far more labour in­ten­sive. The clipped box of the Knot Gar­den is in­filled with tulips for spring with the colour then mov­ing to the mainly ram­bling roses that form a flow­er­cov­ered screen around it.

There are beds packed with perennials – pe­onies, gera­ni­ums, se­dum – a laven­der-edged cen­tral path and an area of veg­eta­bles and fruit.

“The borders are huge and a lot of the stuff needs stak­ing,” says Lou. “If you’re stak­ing some­thing in this gar­den, it takes a whole day to do it.”

Nat­u­rally, this in­flu­ences what can be achieved: “You have to think in terms of scale and have to let go of the idea of per­fec­tion. It’s just im­pos­si­ble to have any­thing per­fect.

“It’s easy to get over­whelmed when you look at what needs do­ing. You have to pri­ori­tise and plan in this gar­den.”

Changes have been more slight al­ter­ations than rad­i­cal over­haul. More al­li­ums have been planted to fill the gap be­tween the tulips and roses. There are plans to grow more Her­itage veg­eta­bles and to in­tro­duce added

‘I’ve been a gar­dener all my life and I wanted a change… but I could not re­sist this gar­den’

au­tumn colour with dahlias and other late sea­son per­form­ers.

“Bar­bara did such a beau­ti­ful job of cre­at­ing struc­ture, the de­sign of the borders, the plant­ing and things are so good, it’s just needed tweak­ing,” com­ments Janet.

An ex­am­ple of this clever struc­ture is the long view from the gazebo, through care­fully aligned gates in the walled gar­den and down into the main gar­den be­yond.

The gazebo, bought to mark Lord and Lady An­gus’ 40th wed­ding an­niver­sary, has been com­pletely re­fur­bished and the gar­den around it, orig­i­nally a medic­i­nal herb gar­den, is be­ing re­planted as a memo­rial to the cou­ple.

Else­where, there are sub­tle changes in­clud­ing bet­ter sig­nage, while the bothy, which has long been used as a DIY tea shop, has been opened up to in­clude ta­bles and now of­fers an im­pres­sive range of teas, cof­fees and fruit cor­dials along with home­made cakes, an­other skill Janet has ac­quired. It is still run on an hon­esty box sys­tem.

“Is­abel re­ally trusted peo­ple and was very wel­com­ing,” says Janet. “She just wanted to share this gar­den.”

And it has won her over too.

“I love it and I want to know more,” she says. “There is some­thing spe­cial about the Walled Gar­den. It’s got a spe­cial at­mos­phere. I open up the bothy ev­ery morn­ing and those are the best five min­utes. It’s so per­fect. It just stills you.”

Cer­ney House Gar­dens, North Cer­ney, starts its 2019 sea­son on Satur­day, Jan­uary 26.

Twit­ter: @Chat­ty­gar­dener Face­book: The Chatty Gar­dener

Snow­drops are al­lowed to nat­u­ralise through­out the gar­den

ABOVE: Snow­drops are slowly spread­ing across the lawn

LEFT TO RIGHT: Large drifts of helle­bores fill the gar­den with early colour. The Walled Gar­den’s top­i­ary stands out in the win­ter scene

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