An entertaining approach to reviewing here by a new contributor, Sarah Wint. I hope we may hear more from the in-laws and – an unreliable? narrator. I have enabled comments and will see if this creates too much work for poor harassed editor or not..
Anne Wareham editor
Review of the garden at Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire.
I’ve just come back from a trip to Bryans Ground with the in-laws and I’m counting the days till I can return already. I think this might now be my favourite garden ever!
“It’s the last day they’re open this year so it shan’t be up to much” said an in-law as we arrived at Bryans Ground in Herefordshire on a Sunday in mid July. “I don’t think I like that much for a start” she said as we passed the new scalloped edged pool at the entrance. “The bricks are all wrong”
Garden visiting with the three in-laws is never a quiet affair, they have no shame in expressing their thoughts quite clearly in their shrill cut glass accents, so that even if I manage to slope off in a different direction they simply increase the volume and I scurry back to them red-faced and apologising to other startled garden visitors on the way.
The long scalloped edged pool is a new feature which I liked a lot, though I will like it more when the bricks are older – the in-law had a point. To the sides of the pool are several large squares of blue iris which must look fabulous in spring and now in July remain subtly attractive as the squares are neat and each has an apple tree in its centre on which a good crop was ripening. As a focal point the red wheelbarrow at the end of the long pool brought dismissive “Humphs” from the in-laws but made me laugh as I imagined some discussion about the received garden wisdom of having to have a focal point at the end of such a view. “Oh, stick the old wheelbarrow there then if you must”
Having paid our entrance fee of £5 each and grabbing one of the few remaining copies of David Wheeler’s Penguin Book of Garden Writing before they disappeared, we were given maps and headed into the sunken garden. A map is all very well but I would so much rather have a written guide to a garden. I want to know what the owners have intended for each area so that I can understand how they are achieving it – or not. A little history would be useful too as I was unsure if the beautiful Arts & Crafts Edwardian house had some of it’s Edwardian garden still existing.
Whether the garden around the house is Edwardian or the owners’ own creation it suits it perfectly. Topiary and low hedges make formal patterns but the beds have been infilled with mass plantings of airy fennel and perfectly matched lilies. Around the sides of this garden and against the house informal clumps of herbs mix with lavender and more fennel, looking fabulous against the ochre paint of the house and degenerating into self-seeded teasels and verbascum at the edges. “Needs a tidy up” sniffed one of my in-laws. A job waiting to be done maybe – or perhaps like me they know the goldfinches will love the teasels later and aren’t worried by a little unruliness. For me it added to the romance of the place.
In the centre of the sunken garden is a circular lily pond surrounded by paving with box hedging and box balls behind them setting the pond off beautifully. “They look like yours dear” says sis-in-law pointing to the pots standing around the pond and referring to an earlier conversation at home when I complained that my lobelia was looking blobby. Sadly this was the only comparison made with my own garden.
And so we ventured away from the house to other parts of this three acre garden where we found delights, confusions, laughs and for me a few moments peace by the canal pool in the simple Dutch Garden.
The delights were many. Apart from the Sunken Garden which I adored, I also loved the beautiful ‘dovecote’ with it’s simple lawn and topiary and some more classical planting either side of the steps. The rusty bicycles hanging from a tree by a rusty fence made me laugh and I found a strange but pretty and dainty little blue allium I’ve never seen before.
But most of all I loved Bryans Ground for its striking looks and free spirit. I can’t wait to see it earlier in the season next year. Now, in the middle of July, it feels like a beautiful young girl who’s been to a party and has come home at dawn with her hair falling down, barefoot and in need of sleep.
“Is it some sort of a joke dear?” asked one of the in-laws as we moved on to a quirkier part of the garden.. (I didn’t answer because I was rather more distracted by another’s confession to having a “fetish for corrugated iron”) There are three or four areas of ‘junk’ or ‘artistically placed home and garden antiques’ depending on your view. As someone who is collecting antique garden implements I enjoyed seeing the way these small rooms were done, but the in-laws were mystified. “Goodness me! Why would anyone want this in their garden?” It made us all smile though.
There is a fairly recent arboretum with a pool near the river, where you could enjoy a quiet moment or two away from the main garden if you weren’t arguing about where you were on the map, but much of Bryans Ground is split into garden rooms some of which were obviously planted for earlier weeks of the spring and summer and were looking a bit tired.
I’m not a fan of garden rooms – they can be dark & gloomy or just seem too ‘separate’ and pointless for me. But being in the hospitality business I could well imagine a houseful of guests each able to find their own private place to spend a few hours alone and I really hope they are used in this way rather than garden visitors like us walking from one room to the next simply to make sure we see it all. (“What’s in here?” “Oh some plants” “ Move along”). It would be such a waste of the space. If I was a guest here I would be nipping down before breakfast to lay my beach towel on the bench in the Dutch Garden which has a long pool down the centre and lawn and pear trees to the sides – simple, peaceful, romantic.
And romantic is most definitely a word I would use to describe this garden. Now, at the end of July, it has the charming feel of an ‘Almost Lost’ garden – one the owners can now enjoy re-finding. It’s the end of the party, but what a party it was. Now it needs tidying up and some replanting in one or two areas but this is all the magical attraction of gardening.. I would quite happily have got stuck in to it there and then and this is the biggest compliment I can pay it. For if a garden makes me want to stay and work and live in it and love it, then it’s really pretty special.
Sarah Wint of Brook Farm