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Barnsley House Gardens

PUBLISHED: 16:55 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:29 20 February 2013

The gardens at Barnsley House are a living memorial to the late Rosemary Verey. Her daughter is continuing her legacy with a rather special garden.

Herbs are nature's priceless gift to the gardener: the plants are an attractive addition to the flower garden, the fragrant leaves flavour our food and relieve our ailments, and the flowers provide nectar for the bees and petals for pot pourri and other perfumed comforts. A thoughtfully planted herb garden can be as eye-catching as a field of lavender in flower.

Rosemary Verey: The Scented Garden, 1981

Barnsley Herb Garden in full bloom is just that - eye-catching because it has been thoughtfully planted. Barnsley House garden is a living memorial to the late Rosemary Verey - who, together with her architect historian husband, David, created it initially for their own pleasure at their family home - now, the garden is open to the public on very few occasions since the house has become a hotel and spa. Rosemary Verey became the iconic figure of gardening - with disciples from across the world beating a path to the Cotswold garden that had featured on television and in countless publications. Visitors jostled for position as she guided them around, hanging on her every word to catch those infinite words of wisdom, born from experience, and inherent in such gifted and natural gardeners. Now, it is in a field behind Barnsley House Hotel, down a farm lane close to the ancient Welsh Way, which is attracting attention by those who seek more from a garden and its plants than the obvious pleasure and atmosphere that a well-designed and productive garden gives.

Designed for definite purpose, Barnsley Herb Garden was created by Davina Wynne-Jones as her Herbs for Healing centre. The two-acre field behind Barnsley House, in whose garden she had grown up under the legendary gardening lore of her mother, Rosemary Verey, has, now, after three years of hard work, an established place in the Cotswold calendar of gardens to visit - but for more than the usual amble along rambling rose edged walkways and herbaceous borders. Barnsley Herb Garden is just what it says it is: a garden packed full of herbs but of such variety, colour, and fragrance to appear as a huge patchwork quilt of cottage garden plants - each with its individual purpose in the order of all things herbal.

Horticulture, herbs, and healing are the core of Davina's passionate and erudite interest and commitment to the garden where a varied programme of events is held, and where she leads a small team of practising herbalists, homeopaths and florists who run day courses in the workshop in the idyllic secluded field of flowering and aromatic plants.

Among this summer's tutors are Andrew Cox who has a practice in Stroud and learned the medicine of plant spirits with Eliot Cowan, a shaman in the Huichol tradition, who was also one of a number of shamanic healers under whom Tilia Tsau studied to become a practising medical herbalist specialising in women's and babies' health. Saskia Marjoram has also lived in Gloucestershire for most of her life, a talented florist who grows her own flowers, she strongly believes that flowers are food for the soul, and Christine Felce whose profession as a homeopath stemmed from her interest in the healing power of plants since she was a child, which has taken her to practise in both London and Calcutta; together they have explored the use of flower essences to treat animals.

Davina Wynne-Jones says she came to horticulture and herbalism initially through the literature of the early English herbals that her mother had started to collect in the 1970s. Davina began making herbal concoctions for her own use at about the same time and her interest was renewed when she qualified and worked as a masseuse in the 1990s which included using aromatherapy oils and bach flower essences. She completed a two year shamanic healing course in 2004 and has an intense interest in plant spirit work. Following the sale of Barnsley House after the death of her mother, Davina spent some time in Cornwall where, she says, the gardens are so very different from the ones we are so familiar with in Gloucestershire. It was at this time that she discovered for herself the simple complexities of gardening, and understood why her mother loved gardens. On her return to her home roots, Davina determined to put all her learning and experience, her enthusiasm and energies into creating a lovely environment in which to work and to be the source of her materials whilst teaching others the properties of plant life. 'I was amazed', she says, 'at the variety of wild flowers and plants with herbal qualities that grew so prolifically in the old field at the bottom of the lane behind what had been our family home for so long. Some of those plants that grew so naturally have been on the planet long before the human race inhabited it. Many of our cultivated species that we accept as garden flowers originated from that long lineage, but the cultivars are different - the wild ones have much more presence.'

Rosemary Verey also appreciated the qualities of the wild flora and fauna, and their place in the making the natural world so complete and vibrant, interesting and totally absorbing. It is the point that Prince Charles made in his foreword to her book, A Countrywoman's Notes. 'She talks of Herb Robert (that very nice weed), of June strawberries, roses and peas, of the melancholy of February and the thrill of Spring, the hell of ground elder and the heaven of her chicken run and manages to make you feel extremely un-guilty that you have not pruned your plum tree. (Barnsley's) street I feel I have often walked, whose church I have entered and whose ancient track leading westwards towards Coln St Aldwyn, "haunted by ghosts of the past and full of good things in the hedges", is familiar.'

The ancient track referred to is the Welsh Way, which Rosemary Verey writes of as a two thousand years' old lane and delighted in the fact that 'no monster hedging-machine has yet been that way to spoil the growth of blackberries, wild rose, old man's beard and hazel nuts.' The ancient hedgerows 'full of good things' gave her as much delight as the garden she made famous at Barnsley, and she gives the fascinating findings of a survey undertaken by the University of London's Institute of Archaeology in the early 1980s. Of 158 hedges studied in the parish, there were twenty-four species growing, with hawthorn, elder, ash, blackthorn and hazel each being present in at least two or three of the hedges - 'which according to this theory should be pre-Norman enclose the old ridge and furrow fields and are on line with the oldest known road.'

A Countrywoman's Notes is a selection of Rosemary Verey's monthly contributions to Country Life between 1979 and 1987 and was first published in 1989 by her daughter, Davina, in a limited edition on her private press in Barnsley. Illustrated by exquisite engravings, such as the intricacies of vein-leaved plants, swirling stems interlocking a hedgerow, a wind-blown 'dirt-gardener' - as Rosemary Verey says she was once called by an American as a compliment that she actually dug the soil herself - the hairs on a donkey's coat, and the spiny quills of a hedgehog, the collection evokes a whole pot pourri of the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside. Prince Charles concluded his foreword by quoting William Morris who, he said, would 'have approved from across the willowy meadows in Kelmscott ... after a beautiful house, the next best thing to be longed for he said was "a Beautiful Book". Here is one.'


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