Kiftsgate is a garden that has been on my list for some years, and, staying in Oxfordshire recently we chanced the weather and caught one of the last days of opening for the year. Many of you may already know this famous garden and if you don’t I encourage you to look at its very good website where you can learn about the history, enjoy stunning photographs and read excellent articles http://www.kiftsgate.co.uk/home.
So, you might think, what is the point of reading this. Well you have got this far and the chances are it is raining outside so you might as well read on and follow my steps.
The sky was grey as it so often has been in these past few weeks …
but there was plenty of colour at ground level,
a positive explosion in some places…
and tumbling down in others.
You can read up on a place but nothing quite prepares you for the actual visit; the sounds, the autumnal smells and the far-reaching views. It is often difficult to appreciate the layout of the garden until you are standing there and Kiftsgate is no exception. We begin on the elegant terrace…
which compliments the graceful Georgian portico. This has in fact been recycled having once stood in front of the manor house in Mickleton a mile away, and it was transported here on a specially constructed light railway.
Moving further along this side of the house more columns rise up through the mass of plants.
The long double border has been planted by three generations of the female side of the family; it is floriferous, timeless and familiar.
This garden may be famous for its roses but its planting combinations are a lesson on how to give longevity to the summer season.
We turn off the long border into the White Sunk Garden where jets of water play in the wind in the centre. The shrubs surrounding the fountain are planted for their white flowers; deutzia, carpentaria, hoheria and staphyllea are not so evident at this time of year, however the varied underplanting provides a mix of colour and texture throughout the year.
Close to the house grows the small tree Staphylea colchica the white flowers of which have morphed into inflated pods, which is presumably why it has the unfortunate name of common bladdernut.
An archway in the hedge invites us into the rose garden where a multitude of roses including the famous Kiftsgate rose, have finished their display; we can do nothing but slip along the path and try to imagine the sight and fragrance.
At the far end the statue by Simon Verity subtly nudges us to the right. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Verity There is a oneway system in place throughout the garden because of Covid and we are delightfully informed that this is a ‘pinch point’.
The orchard is small but spacious and the autumnal scent of apples fleetingly summons thoughts of crumbles and pies.
From here we ascend the sturdy wooden stairway up to the mound, and from here you can peep over and admire the fine razor-sharp yew hedging.
The mound which is in the shape of a horse shoe is the most recent addition, and while it develops, its most redeeming feature is the cherry-red hips of the rugosa roses planted along the top.
From the mound an avenue of Liriodendron tulipifera Tulip trees stretches to the skyline. What is so interesting is to see these trees in different stages to one another and presuming that they were all planted at the same time, on closer inspection each tree reveals a slightly different growth pattern; some show signs of greater maturity with larger trunks and leaves normal to large, whilst others are thinner with smaller leaves. Individual trees display variations in height and width and there is also a disparity with autumnal colourations, many leaves turning golden yellow whilst others are still firmly green.
The avenue leads to the tall majestic steel sculpture by Pete Moorhouse. https://www.petemoorhouse.co.uk/
We retrace our steps down the avenue, back through the orchard in search of the water garden, and for a moment I wonder at the greeness of this well-trodden shaded area and am amused to find that it is a strip of artificial turf.
Once a tennis court, the Water Garden is completely enclosed. Shades of dark greens contrast with the verdant grass. However we no longer hear the play of ball on racket, just the gentle sound of water trickling into the stillness.
I admire the smoothness of the yew hedge with its lower ledge running all the way around, and a fellow visitor suggests it has been cut so in order to provide a convenient resting place for bottle and glass.
We follow the yellow border which can still boast a little colour with the delightful Rosa Graham Stuart Thomas,
and the slow-growing clump-forming Kirengeshoma palmata.
Walking along the narrow north border back below the house I begin to realise that the garden is perched on quite a steep cliff.
The wind blows through the Scots pines towering above and the feel and atmosphere of the garden is transformed.
Mother and child nod to the direction of the downward path.
Baby Cyclamen hederifolium are so happy to grow in amongst the pine needles.
And so we descend to the lower garden as today’s finale where the temperature is warmer with the suggestion of mediterranean planting. Here the Swimming pool takes centre stage. The view is not at its best today but still provides an impressive vista across to the Malvern Hills.
Looking back up you can appreciate the height of the cliff with summer house half-way and a glimpse of the portico at the top through the Monterey Pines.
Kiftsgate Court is now closed for the season and will open again next spring, with two special open days supporting the National Garden Scheme on Monday 12th April and Monday 9th August 2021.