If you are of a delicate disposition, look away now. Tristan is back. He visited Sudeley Castle, site of the grave of Katherine Parr. As usual, Tristan is unintimidated. And I too, was unimpressed when I last visited.
I apologise for the photographs. Tech is not Tristan’s strong point.
Anne Wareham, editor.
A review of Sudeley Castle Garden by Tristan Gregory.
I remember visiting the garden at Sudeley Castle when I was a good deal younger and a great deal less interested in gardens. Ambivalence aside, I remember the visit well and more importantly I remember Sudeley as a place with that particular sort of harmony that derives from a scheme that has aged and softened away from its original designers intent and become, quite simply, itself.
Drawn back as I have been by nostalgia I was almost repelled by the entry price of £15: it is justified, or not, by an inability to escape from the house visit. I am not interested in things like that and so I am not qualified to comment on exactly why that bit of the Sudeley experience was so unsatisfactory.
The garden, however, starts rather well with the Tithe Barn, which was better planted and more complete that I remember it being.
To be critical I could say that the border planting was rather over-ripe with certain ground cover, perma-plants too dominant and the large roses too wild and un-manicured. But it is a garden in a ruined barn, so taken as a whole and based on the entirety of the scheme it felt about right to be standing there on a sunny June morning.
Leaving the barn you find a rectangular Koi pond which has, of course, the green water and murky forms of fish just below the surface so appreciated by the Editor.
More sinister, however, were the little black rails preventing the visitor from promenading freely across the lawns but instead directing them down a scalping path through a deep dark laurel wood and past two of the modern horrors of the twenty first century visit, the childrens’ activity board (grant funded and carefully situated for minimum interest) and the shrubbery meadow. The shrubbery meadow is an area of un-mown grass and weeds with no definition of its boundaries, the faded stems of a couple of token Camassias and the dismal twiggy remnants of former attempts to garden an area that modern resources are unable to keep as they were intended. All big gardens suffer from these areas but I would prefer them to be kept at the periphery of the spaces being visited rather than their hearts.
When you arrive at the House, its terrace and its views of the Cotswolds I had rather zoned out and we now had to do the house bit. It was what it was, and the staff were delightful but I was here for the garden. On the way round you do get access to a little knot garden with matching green ponds and mosaic fountain.
It is conceivable that ones mind may wander to the Alhambra Palace with its elegant courtyard gardens and running water but this little scrap with electric cable for the fountain pump draped over some B&Q-esque mosaic is more Granada brothel.
Once out of the house your generous hosts seem to relax and give you some space to circulate a little. In the garden proper there is the very pretty parish church and a good dollop of healthy yew topiary and all of this is surrounded by rather good lawns. This may all seem a bit magnolia emulsion for the horticultural trend setters amongst you, but while it is easy to yawn if these things are not done well it really matters in a place like this. And furthermore I appreciate that to do it well is far beyond just getting them done. That said, the lack of edging around paths and borders is not something I would choose to emulate.
There is a newly restored, planted and well kept rose garden with a large collection of branded inmates that succeeds as a collection but not as a garden.
Here again there were things I did not understand though, such as the failure to remove some rosemary bushes that were clearly not coming back.
Once more I can admire and appreciate the efforts taken to keep the space as well as the scheme allowed but if resources are not infinite shouldn’t the custodians of places like Sudeley think a little more critically about just what is chosen for investment and how that investment is made? Especially when you may find elsewhere a White Garden with a pink rose and foxglove taking centre stage,
a tiny and oddly suburban Eastern Garden
and saddest of all the lovely Secret Garden withering away for want of a tiny proportion of the time spent on other things.
Much the same could be said about the plantings within the shell of the unrestored house. It is difficult to achieve Ninfa elsewhere but I seem to remember that the picturesque remains used to have more beautiful adornments than today and now what planting there is seems a sad distraction from the ruins‘ natural solemnity
After the Secret Garden it rather fell apart for me as it all morphed into an attraction. There are barriers across paths to stop the plebs getting in the way of the views from the family barrack.
Instead one must walk through the Pheasantry with its doleful yet ironically named inmates,
past some more green water and onto a series of peculiar little themed gardens in varying states of repair, merely ideas accommodated and forgotten and not adding to any recognisable Sudeley narrative.
It is not easy to create and maintain a great garden and Sudeley is the sort of canvass where one could do just that. It is a garden that any number of us would give our eye teeth to take run at but the problem would appear to be one of marrying the site and its obvious potential to everything else: the financial imperatives, skills available and the egos/ambitions of those involved. Sudeley is not a garden lost to greatness but it seems to be poking around in some odd places looking for a direction.
Buy him a camera, someone.