The name Sezincote has acquired a kind of magic for its associations: Brighton Pavilion, India, the Raj… Does the garden live up to this magic? Alison Levey visits for thinkingardens (and herself) and, as ever, offers an astute opinion…
Anne Wareham, editor
I, like many gardeners I am sure, have three lists for visiting gardens: on list one are the gardens I have yet to see, this list is ever growing; list two has the great (in my opinion) gardens I have visited and want to visit again. List three contains the gardens that I have visited and will not rush to see again, – one visit was probably enough, for my curiosity has been satisfied. Sezincote, in Oxfordshire, was until recently quite close to the top of list one.
List one is not in priority order, it is more about a mix of opportunity, location and urgency to see. The opportunity came to visit a few weeks ago and I decided that it was time I tried to visit again. I have tried before to visit, I even got as far as the gate, only to find it was closed due to a power cut. Happily this day the gardens were open as advertised. It was a nice, sunny, late September day perfect weather for garden-bothering.
I was surprised at how busy it was in the garden, but apparently there had been a recent article on the house and garden in a national newspaper. The amount of people was off-putting as I suffer from the wish to visit a popular tourist area totally on my own: exactly the same as everyone else who was there that day. This was exacerbated by the focus of the route into the grounds automatically taking everyone to the front of the house, so there is a bunching of people when you first arrive.
The house is magnificent, a stunning example of an Indian/mogul inspired house which apparently was the inspiration for the Brighton Pavilion. I did not go around the house, I had only gone to visit the garden and this might have been a mistake; I shall explain:
The gardens are lovely, they are very nice indeed. The water garden to the left of the house is rather fine. It is a good example of its type and the proportions are good. It complements the house and the curved orangery that sweeps around from the side of the house. It is a fine example of its type, as this garden appears to be an extension and reflection of the house.
This garden also has two rather nice stone elephants in a vantage point. Of course, because of the above mentioned bunching, everyone else was admiring the elephants and wanting the perfect photograph opportunity at the same time.
I then wandered down into the rest of the gardens. There is good use of water throughout the gardens. There is a stream running through leading to a lake at each end. One is styled into a sort of Buddhist shrine effect, the other end is a naturalistic lake. Both are very effective and connected by colourful marginal planting that is very pleasing.
A feature worthy of note is the bridge that you have to walk across to reach the house. As you walk across you get wonderful views into the stream valley. You also notice the very fine cow statues that adorn the bridge. These again are well placed for photographic moments. The real joy of the bridge however is when you go underneath it – there are stepping stones set in water and a carved stone bench that is simple and beautiful. I walked (carefully) through on the stepping stones. I did not sit on the bench but maybe I should have done, it was a great vantage point to look out across another pond with a snake on a pole structure in the middle of it.
So why was it a mistake not to go in the house? It struck me as I left Sezincote that the gardens are all about the house, they are pleasant to wander around as you wait for the house to open, or to walk off your cake and tea after your house visit. Nice as the gardens are they appear to be the window dressing, the warm up act for the main event.
By not going into the house maybe I had not got the full story and maybe that was what was lacking. This is not to say that the gardens are not gardened with skill or with care, it is clear they are well tended and that gardeners who look after them know their stuff. Some of the planting was incredibly good and worthy of mention; but when I look back at my photographs I have largely photographed statues of cows and elephants and structures so it is clear that they are what caught my real attention.
I would say that a visit to the house and gardens is definitely worthwhile, I am glad that I finally got to see them, but for me Sezincote has moved into list three, for it is a great house with a good garden. In fairness, when I re-visited the website, the garden is not dominant. There are photographs but not a specific garden section, which makes me think that this is symptomatic of the issue.
Sezincote has the potential to be a great garden, the structure and structures of it are strong and could lead to something quite amazing. The garden is good, it should be great.
Alison Levey Alison’s blog