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Cotswold gardens

PUBLISHED: 16:32 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 10:50 28 February 2013

Abbey House Gardens

Abbey House Gardens

Is a garden art, nature or art-nature? June Lewis looks at the rich variety of gardens here in the Cotswolds.

'So long as he stuck to his gardens he was as right as rain. You can't learn about gardens from books - not the practical side, anyway. You had to start as a boy, digging weeds from between stones with a broken kitchen knife; scrubbing the pots and the greenhouse floors. Then you became, in turn, an improver, learning to dig and stoke; a journeyman working on the borders; a charge hand with other chaps under you; and, perhaps, a departmental foreman. That was where most of them stuck. Either they hadn't got the brains to remember the names of plants, or they were too lazy to put in a bit of work in the evenings, or the girls got hold of them and they were married before they could look round. In that case, they generally chucked up gardening and became policemen, because the pay was better and you got a pension at the end of it.'


Old Herbaceous, Reginald Arkell


Reginald Arkell condensed his wide gardening lore and affectionate observation of country characters in his classic stories of his home Cotswolds, and it is interesting that over half a century later, Mary Keen, Cotswold based garden designer and well-known author, echoed the same sentiments. 'The more I garden the less, I realise, I know ...The lesson to be learned is that nothing that books or experts tell you is a substitute for close observation of your own plants.' (Daily Telegraph, 24 February 2007).


This year is the Cotswold Year of the Garden, and the eightieth anniversary of the founding of the National Gardens Scheme, whose patron is HRH The Prince of Wales. In Gloucestershire alone, over a hundred individual gardens are open this year under the National Gardens Scheme which supports over a thousand individual charities. And following the 'little yellow book' trail, millions of footsteps will be following those of the dedicated gardeners who have dug and sown and pruned and hoed and mowed; trundled squeaky-wheeled barrows and carted compost, potted and planted their individual plots and patches, back yards and sweeping vistas to present them in their full seasonal glory - a number are, indeed, open to the public gaze in all seasons.


Gardens come in many guises and types. There are those that are specified as cottage, wildflower, secret, scented, herb, rose, water, fruit, knot, vegetable, rill, bog, sunken,


rock, wildlife, terraced, formal, walled, kitchen and even a roof garden to be found in Gloucestershire. Gardens may also feature a fernery, troughery and topiary and, of course, Prince Charles's fascinating Stumpery.


Famous names abound in garden design: at Abbotswood, Sir Edwin Lutyens created the fountain on the terraced lawn; Barnsley House garden stands testimony to Rosemary Verey's skills; a dew pond with Monet bridge, carp and water lilies are among the features at Brockworth Court, and Hidcote is an acknowledged Arts and Crafts masterpiece. A packhorse bridge, ship treehouse, moongate and a nut tunnel can be seen at Chalford; Stanway House garden has the world's highest gravity fountain, and Westbury Court has recreated vegetable plots growing crops native to this country before 1700, the earliest remaining Dutch-style water garden in England, and canals. At Kempsford Manor the disused Thames and Severn Canal borders the garden providing a naturalised track of undisturbed wildlife habitat, carpeted with woodland flowers each in their season.


Sudeley Castle has its Heritage Seed Library garden as well as its famous rose garden; Hunt's Court, thought to be William Tyndale's birthplace at North Nibley, has some 450 varieties of roses; the national collection of rambler roses is held at Moor Wood, and Kiftsgate has the largest rose in England in its collection of old-fashioned roses - appropriately named Kiftsgate. Painswick has its renowned Rococo garden with an anniversary maze, while on a quite different plane is the Matara Garden at Kingscote, drawing inspiration from around the world, this is described as 'a spiritual garden dedicated to the full expression of the human spirit'.


'What is a garden? Goodness knows! 'Tis just a garden, after all', wrote Reginald Arkell in one of his poems; there is no doubt that he embodied what a gardener (albeit of the 'old school') was in his character, Old Herbaceous. It is a question that has exercised the minds of authors from Sir Francis Bacon, who declared the garden to be 'the purest of human pleasures'; Sir Roy Strong, who, when questioned on what was the most important thing he had done with his life, is quoted as replying 'To have made a garden'; Alan Titchmarsh, television garden guru and author, is recorded as remarking that gardening is, apart from having children, 'the most rewarding thing in life', and the royal endorsement of Prince Charles, whose passionate championing and living proof of the value of his philosophy to be 'at one with nature' is the theme of his new book, The Elements of Organic Gardening: Highgrove - Clarence House - Birkhall.


So, is a garden art, nature, or art-nature? Famous garden designers, such as Claude Monet and Gertrude Jekyll were also painters, but that does not follow that appreciation of a garden is the same as appreciation for a particular painting or genre of art; the highly acclaimed garden designer, Christopher Lloyd, regarded the garden as the most impermanent art, as it is constantly changing according to the light of the day and the month of the season. No doubt it is because there is always something going on in a garden that it has such appeal and fascination for us. That there has been a kind of renaissance in gardens and gardening over the last couple of decades can be gauged by the upsurge of interest which has created such a huge market now by numerous TV programmes, books and magazines, specialist courses and theme holidays as well as garden open days, with garden centres mushrooming across the country to meet the demand for all things green and growing.


Why do gardens matter so much and mean so much to people? The question sparks off all kinds of attempts to find a simple answer, but has been so long neglected by modern philosophy, and this in itself has intrigued David Cooper, Professor of Philosophy, and is both the title and focus of his new book. Designed for the serious reader, this is not a lavishly illustrated 'gardening' book in the popular sense, but it is fascinating and informative and certainly thought provoking for anyone interested in aesthetics, ethics, and cultural and environmental studies. Identifying garden appreciation as an artistic mix of art and nature and how they contribute to 'the good life', the author sums up his study of this special human phenomenon as an intimate co-dependence between human creative activity in the world and the 'mystery' that allows there to be a world for them at all.


A Philosophy of Gardens by David E Cooper is published by Oxford University Press'So long as he stuck to his gardens he was as right as rain. You can't learn about gardens from books - not the practical side, anyway. You had to start as a boy, digging weeds from between stones with a broken kitchen knife; scrubbing the pots and the greenhouse floors. Then you became, in turn, an improver, learning to dig and stoke; a journeyman working on the borders; a charge hand with other chaps under you; and, perhaps, a departmental foreman. That was where most of them stuck. Either they hadn't got the brains to remember the names of plants, or they were too lazy to put in a bit of work in the evenings, or the girls got hold of them and they were married before they could look round. In that case, they generally chucked up gardening and became policemen, because the pay was better and you got a pension at the end of it.'


Old Herbaceous, Reginald Arkell


Reginald Arkell condensed his wide gardening lore and affectionate observation of country characters in his classic stories of his home Cotswolds, and it is interesting that over half a century later, Mary Keen, Cotswold based garden designer and well-known author, echoed the same sentiments. 'The more I garden the less, I realise, I know ...The lesson to be learned is that nothing that books or experts tell you is a substitute for close observation of your own plants.' (Daily Telegraph, 24 February 2007).


This year is the Cotswold Year of the Garden, and the eightieth anniversary of the founding of the National Gardens Scheme, whose patron is HRH The Prince of Wales. In Gloucestershire alone, over a hundred individual gardens are open this year under the National Gardens Scheme which supports over a thousand individual charities. And following the 'little yellow book' trail, millions of footsteps will be following those of the dedicated gardeners who have dug and sown and pruned and hoed and mowed; trundled squeaky-wheeled barrows and carted compost, potted and planted their individual plots and patches, back yards and sweeping vistas to present them in their full seasonal glory - a number are, indeed, open to the public gaze in all seasons.


Gardens come in many guises and types. There are those that are specified as cottage, wildflower, secret, scented, herb, rose, water, fruit, knot, vegetable, rill, bog, sunken,


rock, wildlife, terraced, formal, walled, kitchen and even a roof garden to be found in Gloucestershire. Gardens may also feature a fernery, troughery and topiary and, of course, Prince Charles's fascinating Stumpery.


Famous names abound in garden design: at Abbotswood, Sir Edwin Lutyens created the fountain on the terraced lawn; Barnsley House garden stands testimony to Rosemary Verey's skills; a dew pond with Monet bridge, carp and water lilies are among the features at Brockworth Court, and Hidcote is an acknowledged Arts and Crafts masterpiece. A packhorse bridge, ship treehouse, moongate and a nut tunnel can be seen at Chalford; Stanway House garden has the world's highest gravity fountain, and Westbury Court has recreated vegetable plots growing crops native to this country before 1700, the earliest remaining Dutch-style water garden in England, and canals. At Kempsford Manor the disused Thames and Severn Canal borders the garden providing a naturalised track of undisturbed wildlife habitat, carpeted with woodland flowers each in their season.


Sudeley Castle has its Heritage Seed Library garden as well as its famous rose garden; Hunt's Court, thought to be William Tyndale's birthplace at North Nibley, has some 450 varieties of roses; the national collection of rambler roses is held at Moor Wood, and Kiftsgate has the largest rose in England in its collection of old-fashioned roses - appropriately named Kiftsgate. Painswick has its renowned Rococo garden with an anniversary maze, while on a quite different plane is the Matara Garden at Kingscote, drawing inspiration from around the world, this is described as 'a spiritual garden dedicated to the full expression of the human spirit'.


'What is a garden? Goodness knows! 'Tis just a garden, after all', wrote Reginald Arkell in one of his poems; there is no doubt that he embodied what a gardener (albeit of the 'old school') was in his character, Old Herbaceous. It is a question that has exercised the minds of authors from Sir Francis Bacon, who declared the garden to be 'the purest of human pleasures'; Sir Roy Strong, who, when questioned on what was the most important thing he had done with his life, is quoted as replying 'To have made a garden'; Alan Titchmarsh, television garden guru and author, is recorded as remarking that gardening is, apart from having children, 'the most rewarding thing in life', and the royal endorsement of Prince Charles, whose passionate championing and living proof of the value of his philosophy to be 'at one with nature' is the theme of his new book, The Elements of Organic Gardening: Highgrove - Clarence House - Birkhall.


So, is a garden art, nature, or art-nature? Famous garden designers, such as Claude Monet and Gertrude Jekyll were also painters, but that does not follow that appreciation of a garden is the same as appreciation for a particular painting or genre of art; the highly acclaimed garden designer, Christopher Lloyd, regarded the garden as the most impermanent art, as it is constantly changing according to the light of the day and the month of the season. No doubt it is because there is always something going on in a garden that it has such appeal and fascination for us. That there has been a kind of renaissance in gardens and gardening over the last couple of decades can be gauged by the upsurge of interest which has created such a huge market now by numerous TV programmes, books and magazines, specialist courses and theme holidays as well as garden open days, with garden centres mushrooming across the country to meet the demand for all things green and growing.


Why do gardens matter so much and mean so much to people? The question sparks off all kinds of attempts to find a simple answer, but has been so long neglected by modern philosophy, and this in itself has intrigued David Cooper, Professor of Philosophy, and is both the title and focus of his new book. Designed for the serious reader, this is not a lavishly illustrated 'gardening' book in the popular sense, but it is fascinating and informative and certainly thought provoking for anyone interested in aesthetics, ethics, and cultural and environmental studies. Identifying garden appreciation as an artistic mix of art and nature and how they contribute to 'the good life', the author sums up his study of this special human phenomenon as an intimate co-dependence between human creative activity in the world and the 'mystery' that allows there to be a world for them at all.


A Philosophy of Gardens by David E Cooper is published by Oxford University Press

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