The Manor House, Bledlow; sculpture and setting (89)

Back in May we stayed with friends in North Buckinghamshire and they suggested we might visit Bledlow Manor, the home of Lord Carrington. A beautiful drive through the Chilterns brought us to this lovely estate and we were able to park under the line of flowering chestnut trees.

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The house had been in the family since the end of the 18th Century and when the Carringtons moved here in 1946, it was in need of much renovation. There was no garden of mention at that time and work did not begin in that area until 1969. Created together, it was Lady Carrington who had the interest in plants; her obituary in the Telegraph in 2009 reported “My wife,” Lord Carrington always said, “is the plantswoman,” adding (in a reference to her encyclopaedic knowledge of botanical names): “She doesn’t really talk English, she talks Latin.”

Lord Carrington, the last surviving member of Churchill’s cabinet, and just short of age 98 was standing outside the front door ready to greet visitors. After exchanging a few pleasantries we slipped through the tall pineapple-topped gate posts to the right of the house.

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We decided to head straight down to the water garden, known as the Lyde Garden, and just for the moment snatching a view of the terrace running in front of the house,

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and swiftly passing the armillary sphere to the right, with the intention of returning to this part of the garden later on. The yew and box are trimmed like perfect cut slices of cake.

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The Lyde Garden is situated across the road and is actually accessible at all times of the year. Well-made steps guide us down through the leafy wilderness,

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and at the base level the path bends gently round and through an oriental wooden structure,

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from where you can sit awhile and enjoy the peace and the circular pond, the centre of which has a group of metallic flowers poking up above the still waters.

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The river Lyde rises here and is a tributary of the Thames. Originally watercress beds, it is now planted with ferns, gunnera and hostas.

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Cool and watery, the weeping willows have now replaced the diseased wych elms.

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Crossing back over the road we arrive onto the lawn in front of the charming Adam house which sits gracefully amongst low summer borders.

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At one end of the lawn are crisply cut buns of yew,

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and at the other, ornamental fish ponds surrounded in brick, a design which perhaps reflects the time of construction.

The garden is not just about the plants but is a glorious setting for a fabulous collection of sculptures which the Carringtons began collecting in the early 1990s.

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The first piece of art, strategically placed and called ‘Primitive Form’ is by the Italian born Marzia Colonna. Today it has been enhanced by outstretched arms.

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Purchased in 2005 it fits perfectly amongst wedges of box where it can be viewed from all angles.

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The brick pathways lead out into an open, less structured area. Mown lawns sweep around borders packed with a huge variety of shrubs.

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Then around the corner we meet gorgeous ‘Gorilla’ by Michael Cooper and made from Belgian fossil marble commissioned in 1993. Lord Carrington explains how it came about:

“Michael Cooper is a friend and near neighbour of mine and, some years ago, I asked him whether he would be prepared to do a piece for a new garden I was making at that time and in which there was an empty plinth. ‘I will do you a gorilla’, he said and there it stands, or rather sits, today – greatly admired and loved by all the children who visit the garden during the summer. Michael has the most wonderful talent for portraying animals, as those of you that have seen his sculpture in many public places will know .”

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The Carringtons were keen to support young artists, and this piece was commissioned in 1991 when Alastair Lambert was still a student at The Royal College of Art.

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Paul Vanstone was also still a student at the Royal College of Art.  Vanstone recalls that following a visit to the College in 1993, Lord Carrington invited him to the garden and after spending a day there he commissioned Fallen Angel.

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In 1998 Barry Mason’s Water Sculpture was added to the collection. Mason’s early work was conceived to be installed in landscape settings rather than art galleries. This catches the sunlight as it magically spins around.

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Some way from its homeland and happy amongst the cow parsley, “Rainbird”, a Ground Hornbill is by the Showa sculptor Saidi Sabiti. It was purchased in Harare in 1993.

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It was a charming moment when I saw a child hop up and sit for some time on one of these ‘Three Fruits’. Enjoying their natural shape, he rubbed their smooth surface with his hands. No restrictions of an art gallery here. These were created by the British artist Peter Randall-Page in 1991,

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who also produced, four years later ‘pomegranates’.

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Sheep can be heard grazing in the field beyond, and Red Kites fly overhead. John Robinson’s (1935 – 2007) ‘Immortality’ in polished bronze was purchased in 1992. Robinson describes its conception:

“Soon after my mother’s death, our eldest son married, and as these things go, after a while his wife was expecting a baby. My position had suddenly changed. Instead of being the middle generation, I became the older one, a grandfather. I began to think of doing a sculpture that would capture the passing on of the precious flame of existence within a family, and I needed a symbol.

I believe that Immortality is made up of one’s memories of the past, as well as those one leaves behind. I see this Symbolic Sculpture not only as a continuous journey through generations, but also the scroll on which all of life’s experience (DNA) is recorded. “

 

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‘Rondo’ is by Charlotte Mayer and was acquired in 1997, A Fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors,  she says:

“A work of art should speak for itself. It should need no verbal description although a title may give a subtle hint of what is in the sculptor’s mind”.

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I never discovered who this was by, small but not insignificant nestling by a buddleia; perhaps its identity will be revealed.

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Nestling amongst the shrubs since 2006 is ‘Torus’ a piece by Jonathan Loxley, who usually now works in marble.

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Perfectly positioned in a small clearing is the serene ‘New Renaissance’ created in 1993 by Patricia Volk, the Belfast-born ceramic sculptor.

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Terence Coventry’s ‘Avian Form’ has stood here since 1999. Lord Carrington happened to be nearby when we were admiring it, and jokingly he said ‘he doesn’t like you, you know’. And perhaps he was right.

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Oh, and this little figure is actually alive. Lord C names his wire-haired dachsunds after prime ministers; having already a Margaret but before Theresa, he decided on Dame Norma Minor, ‘”well, she couldn’t be Major” he laughed.

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A fleet of wheelbarrows raised against the hedge are almost an art form.

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Skirting around the tennis courts we come into the south garden. A magnificent metal bowl decorated with swirling fish stands at the head of a double row of viburnum carlesii which lead up to a sunken pond,

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where ornamental herons are enjoying an afternoon’s fishing.

DSCF0949.jpgOver the hedge is the two storey gazebo; made of Buckinghamshire material it was inspired by a visit to Hidcote.

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Steps lead up from this south garden to a small enclosed area. From the raised urn you walk diagonally across to arrive at the front of the house where we originally entered.

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Tea is served in the open cart sheds and today there is a specially large cake in celebration of 50 years opening with the NGS.

Time is running out and we have not seen half the garden yet. We race back across to the armillary sphere where we turn right through the archway in the yew hedge. Here is ‘Coracle’  by William Pye commissioned in 2001. Its gentle ebb of water is mesmerising.

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In the next section of garden this unidentified piece at the end of the brick path seems to dance, its outline lifted by the dark background hedge.

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We wonder at the rhythmical design of this slightly oriental trellis.

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The map describes a snail garden and we think we have found it.

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Another set of pineapple-clad gate posts welcome us into the walled garden where a haze of lavender lines the path up to the gazebo.

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It can’t all be works of art; there is a practical side to this garden too. Over to the left rows of vegetables, not yet in full production, are being prepared, and over to the right the alliums are flowering with the peonies still tightly in bud.

In the centre of the wall is the a mural of  Vertumnus, God of Vegetation: painted in the manner of Guiseppe Archimboldo, it is by Owen Turville.

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Out onto the lawn near the main entrance is Barry Mason’s Oculus. Originally commissioned by English Heritage as part of the ‘Year of the Artist’ celebrations it was sited in the ruined nave of Hailes Abbey near Cheltenham and was donated to Lord Carrington in 2003.

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Photo taken from https://www.ngs.org.uk

Only 2 gardeners look after these noble acres and it really is time to go now for they are sweeping up behind us and the shadows are long. We purchase some honey and say our goodbyes. The great man is still here and must be pleased with his 350 visitors or so,

I say once again ‘you don’t have to be a gardener to enjoy a garden’. Here the garden is not without its many features of herbaceous borders, mature shrubs and hedges, fine lawns, ornament, parterres, topiary and water but it also combines as a gallery.

An inspiration and a visit hard to beat.

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Ramster, open for 90 glorious years. (86)

I cannot draw to the end of my ‘ninety’ without including the historic rambling wooded gardens of Ramster in Surrey.  It was one of the original 609 gardens that opened for the NGS back in 1927 and has opened every successive year since. It is the only other garden along with Sandringham to hold such an impressive record.

Originally named Ramsnest, the garden was created out of an Oak woodland in the 1890s by the then owner Sir Harry Waechter, a British businessman and philanthropist.

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The local nursery of V. N. Gauntlett & Co Ltd., specialists in all things Japanese, conveniently adjoined the garden and their influence is very much in evidence today.

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In 1922 the property was bought by Sir Henry and Lady Norman and has remained in the same family being passed onto the fourth generation in 2005. Ramster Hall tucked away in the Surrey Hills is a private home but earns its keep by hosting weddings and corporate events.

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At the annual NGS conference recently Miranda Gunn (third generation) gave an amusing account of the garden. She explained how in the early years an honesty box sufficed at the entrance, but times have changed and on arrival the driver of the coach full of visitors asks three simple questions: Where are the loos, where are the teas and what is the name of the dog!

Wooden obelisks mark the entrance to the 25 acres and the map shows plenty of meandering paths to explore and helpfully outlines the hard path route giving some access to wheelchairs.

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A fallen Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii, has been turned, actually chainsawed, into this porcine family by Simon Groves http://www.grovessculpture.co.uk/home.html.

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Opposite, a redundant tennis court has taken on a new lease of life,

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a quiet enclosed flat area where a gentle fountain plays into the dark waters of the raised pool,

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with a variety of pots, and places to sit. It is a contrast to the wooded undulating 25 acres  yet to come.

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There is a gentle unhurried atmosphere here, a place to wander with plenty of benches along the way,

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placed strategically under trees such as this deciduous conifer the Swamp Cypress Taxodium distichum,

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or tucked in under what is known as the ‘Grouse Hole’. From here you can sit for awhile

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and admire the ‘Gauntlett’ Cranes standing still in the green lagoon.

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Seating is also made simply out of fallen trunks,

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or enriched by the chainsaw of Simon Groves.

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From the winged back log you can look down on the bog garden, where an acer is acquiring an autumnal glow and tall thin purple verbena bonariensis rise up in front of the fat green gunnera manicata leaves.

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Logs are used on the walkway; neatly sliced, they allow the children to experience the Gunnera jungle.

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Following a rough woodland path clearly marked as unsuitable for any type of wheels I reach the lake, the furthest point of the woodland. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like in those early years with something like 40 gardeners.  I am reminded of the story Miranda recounted; remembering the days when a team of gardeners was employed in the fifties and false teeth were all the rage, her mother would go out into the garden calling them and have to wait a considerable amount of time while the team would rush back to their potting shed to be reunited with their teeth and so appear with a gleaming white smile!

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Throughout the woodland, autumn tints are creeping in particularly amongst the acers; the large leaves of this young Acer palmatum Osakasuki, have nearly all turned,

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while this mature Acer rubrum ‘Scanlon’ has just a very few leaves. It amazes me how on one specimen the change is so varied, a breakaway branch so brilliantly red whilst the rest of the tree remains determinedly green. 

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Liquidamber styraciflua ‘Elstead’ is beautiful too, a fine tree it is also noted for its deeply ridged bark.

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However it is the rare Castor aralia Kalopanax pictus var maximowicizii that wins the prize for its glorious bark, the wondrous patterns of nature.

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Ramster is not only famous for its autumn colour but also for Rhododendrons and Azaleas, and many readers will have seen the wonderful display shown on Gardener’s World back in May. Not a flower to be seen now it is the naked limbs which still have such beauty; the tri-trunked specimen of Rhododendron Loder’s White.

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and a frenzy of multi-stemmed Rhododendron ‘Cynthia’.

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Some ‘naked’ trees are put to good use; a support for a beautifully scented honeysuckle Lonicera ‘Copper Beauty’ which flowers from June to September.

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Another member of the honeysuckle family and still in flower is the Heptacodium miconioides known in N. America as Crape Myrtle or seven son flower.

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There are the mighty giant trees such as the towering Sequoia giganteum Wellingtonia,

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and the straight Atlantic cedar Cedrus atlantica glauca. The couple seated below are season ticket holders and share their love the garden by showing me photos of the past seasons.

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It is near here in a clearing that Miranda Gunn has positioned her grandchildren.

A delightful arrangement in bronze resin titled Oranges and Lemons it is by Christine Charlesworth. Lola, Nessa, Ollie, Tom and Bethan were not an easy commission and took two years to complete, finishing in 2011. There is such rhythm and movement in this piece that it is no wonder that Charlesworth was selected as the official artist for the 2012 London Olympics.

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Behind the group of figures is the glow of a red Acer, contorted with colour,

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it is part of the Acer walk, the Japanese influence incorporated a century ago.

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A lantern is poetically placed amongst shrubs and contributes to the Anglo/Japanese feel.

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I meander for sometime past lakes and ponds,

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down steps and over bridges; it is a fun place for children to explore.

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Returning to the car park I pass under the deliciously-looking but inedible baubles of the Dogwood Cornus porlock ‘Norman Haddon’,

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and then quite out of the blue, and it is out of the blue because everything is red, is a lonely hydrangea, a reminder of the acid soil that lies below and I envy hugely.

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Back in the car park the peculiar fruits of the Medlar Mespilus germanica are yet to blet,

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and a Red London Bus awaits the next party of wedding guests.

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Ramster is closed now until the Spring; its very informative website boasts of it providing the best cake in Surrey. I should check it out when it opens for the NGS on Friday 11th May 2018.

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Great Comp Garden, follies fun and salvias. (84)

Great Comp is near Sevenoaks in Kent. The seven acre garden was developed by Eric and Joyce Cameron who purchased the house back in 1957 and first opened for the NGS in 1968.

Now it is managed by a Trust, with the Curator William Dyson and a team of gardeners and volunteers. Dyson has been growing salvias for over 20 years and has built up a large collection; as you walk into Great Comp you are greeted with a fine selection displayed for sale.

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The nursery area is surrounded by borders of grasses and perennials allowing the visitor to slip seamlessly into the garden.

The apex of the Lion Summerhouse roof can just be seen above a delightful blend of shape and texture.

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This 17th century building was at one time the estate loo but now contains a more enchanting style of seat.

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The Camerons added a little architecture to the garden, not in the way of functionality but as a part of the design; ruins and follies are built from the stone and sand unearthed from digging the garden.

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There are plenty of sculptures too and this pensive chap may just be wondering where he has left his trowel.

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Despite being the end of October this border flows with colour; an assortment of salvias from pinks through red and purple to blue are complimented with tall ornamental grasses arranged at the back.

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It was Pliny the Elder who was the first to write of a plant described by the Romans as Salvia, most likely the Salvia officinalis, commonly known as sage which we use in our cooking. It is the largest genus of plants in the mint family Lamiaceae and is distributed throughout the Americas, Central and Eastern Asia and the Mediterranean. Dyson concentrates on the Salvias from the New World and has cultivated over 200 hybrids.  Such an intense blue,

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and it is not just the difference in colour but also in form and habit. These dark purple flower spikes look good with the autumn colours.

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The colours compliment and blend so effectively,

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or look good simply in a singular colour bursting out of a pot.

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Salvia Waverly is a tender variety so will be taken under cover before the first frosts.

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Another folly provides a seating area complete with bench and to the right a ‘tumbled down’ tower,

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from where we can view the crescent lawn and an explosion of grasses.

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Salvia is not the only plant providing flower colour today; a low growing geranium is almost as good as in early summer,

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and the evergreen Liriope muscari  so good in the shade and flowers from August to November.

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The low autumn sun highlights the whiteness of the miscanthus grass.

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There are many fine mature trees here, the perfect shape of a  Sequoa sempervirens ‘Cantab’ stands erect on the edge of the square lawn in front of the house.

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Further away is a fine specimen of a rowan, Sorbus hupenhsis laden with pink berries.

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We walk away from the house down the avenue known as the Sweep, the curving line of the lawn and swirling shapes of the shrubs and trees suggesting a design reminiscent of the swinging sixties and early seventies.

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We are joined in the garden by our young cousin Charlotte; bouncing with energy and enthusiasm she lifts our spirits on this chilly grey day. Rubbing her hands over the smoothly clipped box she asks if it takes long to grow. I don’t want to dampen any signs of horticultural interest and feel a touch guilty when I suggest it doesn’t.

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Swiftly moving down the Sweep we admire the deep red leaves of the Liquidamber,

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and head into the woodland. At the southeast corner there is a hydrangea glade which we walk through and follow along the leafy perimeter path,

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to the Chilstone temple that marks the furthest south western corner and where the yellow Mahonia is well into flower.

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Back out of the woods we seek out the Italian garden, passing under the canopy of Magnolia x soulangeana where the extraordinarily unreal seed heads contort above us,

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and through the archway there is a different mood.

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The Camerons combined their love of the classical with the theatre and in an eclectic mix of columns, fountain and ornament softened by dahlias, palm and tall rustling miscanthus they created a curious courtyard.

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Amongst the old stone are engineering bricks that serve to make walls and define the arches and although there is a very slight air of a forgotten institution there are plenty of little seating areas to enjoy the characterful ambience.

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It is time for Tea and we head off to the old dairy to sample the delicious cake just pausing for a moment to admire the lamp post with a turban top.

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Nearby, Brutus is stylishly swathed in moss and seems to look over towards the neighbouring

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goddess, a little less clothed she appears to be in heavenly bliss.

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Opposite, the flat leaves of the ancient gingko are gently turning to a soft yellow,

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Through the enchanting moon gate we can clearly see the herbaceous border across the neatly mown lawn.

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Growing by the house is a sizeable Magnolia grandiflora who holds its seed heads tightly.

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Passing by more seed heads,  these are Phlomis we pass through yet another folly.

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The garden, which is an RHS partner moves round to the northern side where the visitor before leaving can admire the front of the charming 17th Century house.

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Returning through the nursery it is difficult not to admire the longevity of this summer flowering fuchsia, curiously named “Lady in Black”,

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and wonder at a snowdrop in flower at the same time, the very early Galanthus ‘Peter Gatehouse’. I feel that I have nearly come full circle as it was not far from here at Spring Platt (A snowdrop of knowledge blog 5), that I became so acquainted with this enchanting flower. However, we still have a little way to go before the onset of the snowdrop season.

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