Clean cut The winter dormancy serves only to heighten the crisp shapes and strong lines of Mapperton’s Arts and Crafts garden in Dorset
Mapperton’s Italianate garden is the very definition of a garden with good bones, and as such it is stunning in the depths of winter. In fact it is almost all bones: red-brick walls; pillars and buttresses; steps and pools; and impressively looming, crisply cut topiary. In spring and summer it is softened just a little by a few borders of perennials up against the walls and by climbing roses, but even then it is the structure that dominates. Despite not being a traditionally feminine garden, this is a landscape that has been dominated by women throughout its history. The house and land were owned by the same family for 800 years, but passed down the female line. In 1919, it was sold to Ethel Labouchere, the widow of a Belgian banker, and she had the Italianate garden built as a memorial to her husband. It was Ethel who turned this natural valley into such an idiosyncratic and strongly structural garden, complete with grottos with integral fireplaces so she could sit and paint in warmth in winter.
Although the style harks back to 15th-century Italian Renaissance gardens, Mapperton was built between 1919 and 1927. There is no known designer – perhaps Ethel even designed it herself – but in a touching move she did commemorate the masons, labourers, gardeners and mechanics who constructed the garden in a plaque on one of the garden’s pillars (a move later echoed by Victor Montagu, the 10th Earl of Sandwich, who bought the house in 1955 and had an orangery built at the north end of the Italianate garden, complete with its own labourers’ plaque). The garden is very much a product of its time, particularly in its hard landscaping. Much of the surface area comprises crazy paving (very 20th century), and most of the garden’s numerous animal sculptures are made of cast concrete or reconstituted stone – then considered a wonder material, now authentically weathered. The house is now owned by the 11th Earl and Countess of Sandwich, and head gardener Steve Lannin works closely with the countess, Caroline Montagu, who has replanted much of the garden.
Right Ethel Labouchere – the Belgian widow who had the garden built between 1919 and 1927 – created a strong framework of hard landscaping that is the garden’s dominant feature: paths and steps surrounding a central water feature. Across the garden is the entrance to one of its two grottos, both of which contain fireplaces so Ethel could paint even in winter.