in the manor garden

August 9, 2011

At last,  a visit to Gravetye Manor,  that I’ve been intending to visit for far too long. Even on a heavy English summer’s day, this garden didn’t disappoint. It was the home of William Robinson, Irishman, gardener and horticultural writer. The Elizabethan buildings sit on a south-facing sloping site nestling within native woodland where Robinson practised his ideas published in ‘The Wild Garden’. The garden immediately around the house is pure Arts and Crafts in style based on the vernacular of architecture and materials. Lots of Cenolphium denudatum in all the borders – rather magical when used at this scale.

The new head gardener, Tom Coward from Great Dixter, has stripped the rampant bind weed that had throttled plants in most of the beds and planted bulbs and annuals for short term effect and this looks splendid in full summer.  Long term planting will happen once all weed and roots have been destroyed and the beds are clean again after years of neglect. Now, William Robinson was hugely critical of the formality of especially French seasonal bedding so he may not have given the nod to cleomes, cosmos and the dahlias as seen below, but he would have appreciated the good husbandry that had to happen at Gravetye to resolve a problem. Robinson advocated looking at the indigenous plants thriving in their natural situations. He also advocated the use of mixed hardy plants in loose natural groupings.

The garden is created with the use of simple cross axes. The famous pond is set at the bottom of the valley with the wild flower meadow flowing down the slope. The meadow must look beautiful in early summer and contrast splendidly to the formal arrangement of the garden.

Copied from my edition of Robinson’s ‘English Flower Garden’ is the flower garden plan with a more readable detail below.

And the visual of ‘My Flower-garden in Rose and Pink time’

A panorama towards the yew trees and the summer house, restored but not rebuilt I think, but the pergola is new and looks relatively simple as the original appears in the illustration. The wisteria is the old plant – huge knarled stems at the base of the plant.

Painting by Victorain artist Beatrice Parsons ‘The Paved Garden’ showing the view to the north west and the relatively young pine trees which then came down in the great storm of 1987. View of this area to the south above.

Very taken with the effect of sedums tucked into the slate canopy – must try this at at home. Seagulls permitting!

Robinson in his wheel chair and just a couple of  his quotes below.

“for the botanist all plants are equal. Gardeners must choose between plants or suffer”

‘The gardener must follow the true artist, however modestly, in his respect for things as they are, in delight in natural form and beauty of flower and tree, if we are to be free from barren geometry, and if our gardens are ever to be true pictures….And as the artist’s work is to see for us and preserve in pictures some of the beauty of landscape, tree, or flower, so the gardener’s should be to keep for us as far as may be, in the fulness of their natural beauty, the living things themselves.’

It started to drizzle and the effect brought to mind how the garden might have looked to Gertrude Jekyll with her myopia – blurred and frustrating I imagine. Jekyll wrote this about her friend:  …when English gardening was mostly represented by the innate futilities of the “bedding” system, with its wearisome repetitions and garish colouring, Mr William Robinson chose as his work in live to make better known the treasures that were lying neglected, and at the same time to overthrow the feeble follies of the “bedding” system. It is mainly owing to his unremitting labours that a clear knowledge of the world of hardy-plant beauty is now placed within easy reach of all who care to acquire it, and that the “bedding mania” is virtually dead

My copy of The English Flower Garden has this verse from The Garden by Andrew Marvell on the frontispiece

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,

And Innocence, thy sister dear!

Mistaken long, I sought you then

In busy companies of men;

Your sacred plants, if here below,

Only among the plants will grow.

Society is all but rude,

To this delicious solitude.


And lunch was good too!

7 Responses to “in the manor garden”

  1. bercton Says:

    Beautiful photos! thanks for sharing!

  2. Stacey Says:

    Just lovely! Thanks for the photos, the bit of history, the distinction between botanists and gardeners, and finally, the poem.

  3. daseger Says:

    Love everything, but especially the summerhouse. (I’m going to pinch it if you don’t mind).

  4. julia fogg Says:

    It’s a good shelter – full of ghosts!

  5. tom coward Says:

    glad you enjoyed the garden! Please come again now that work has moved on a little.
    Tom, Head Gardener

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: