Sunday, 19 August 2012

Gravetye Manor

Last week I completed a placement at Gravetye Manor, the home and garden of William Robinson near to East Grinstead in West Sussex. William Robinson was an incorrigible old stickler infamous for starting trouble and ranting on about his specific tastes and interests, such as with the pruning of holly trees; ‘Men who trim with shears or knife so fine a tree as holly are dead to beauty of form, and cannot surely have seen how fine in form old holly trees are’, he once trumpeted! This kind of passion for the wild, natural form typified an outspoken man who lived by a personal motto to ‘love flowers and everything that grows’, and who was rallying against the dreary and contrived system of Victorian bedding. Robinson peered into the pool of Victorian gardening and recognised that nothing worthwhile could possibly be landed in such stagnant waters; he pooh-poohed the system of bedding out tender plants and pursued his target with a revolutionary zeal! One of his most legendary and well-known tales occurred when Robinson was 22 and working as foreman at the Ballykilcavan estate in Ireland. Our hero was distinctly unhappy working at this garden, and the situation climaxed one winter’s day with a quarrel between himself and his gaffer. Legend has it that Robinson resigned his position that same evening by fleeing on foot to Dublin, but not before letting out the fires of the hothouse boilers to allow bench after bench of tender plants to perish in the frost! Bedding plants were his rallying cry but Robinson was against all of the vulgarities of Victorian gardening. He fought desperately to bring about a shift to a more natural approach, taking the cottage garden as his muse; ‘there is nothing prettier than the English cottage garden, and they often teach lessons that ‘great’ gardeners should learn’. Robinson’s ideas were radical for the time, but he established them through his books and through the gardening periodicals and journals he founded and edited; experimenting with those same ideas in his garden at Gravetye. Alpine gardening, the herbaceous border, the shrub garden and woodland gardens all owe their popularisation to Robinson. The idea of ‘wild’ gardening was pioneered by him, using natural groupings of plants and hardy perennials in place of carpet bedding. ‘Have no patience with bare ground’, he once said, and he filled the ground at Gravetye with hardy bulbs, perennials and climbers; both native and non-native. Robinson’s activities and perseverance at the end of the 1800s opened the door for a new style of gardening that still prevails today, with practitioners such as Major Johnston at Hidcote taking up the mantle at the turn of the century. Lawrence was celebrated by the likes of Vita Sackville-West and others that followed him for mastering a style of natural and informal planting, but this was a method of gardening made possible and acceptable by the work of W. Robinson.

The original entrance to the house peers out over the Alpine Meadow, which slopes away to the south and provides a haven for insects and grass snakes

Scenes of abundance to behold in the Flower Garden! The whole garden slopes to the south, so here where it has been levelled the garden ends with a terrace and a ten foot drop to where the Alpine Meadow begins

‘Have no patience with bare ground!’ The wooden arbour to the rear was recently restored, and will eventually be clothed in Wisteria

Some detail in the Flower Garden, with the pink fluff of Sanguisorba obtusa, the Larkspur; Consolida ‘Sublime Azure Blue’ and floating above the heads of Cynara cardunculus

By the manor the golden spray of Stipa gigantea and the glorious ivory white spires of Verbascum ‘Spica’

Massed planting, with the umbel and foliage plant Selinum wallichianum, the shocking pink of Lychnis coronaria and more spires of Verbascum ‘Spica’

The prominence of long grass areas in the garden mean all of the meadow butterflies come crashing in, such as this here Gatekeeper catching the last of the evening rays on a Cardoon leaf

Frothy umbels of Ammi majus, the familiar beauty of Verbena bonariensis, and splashes of pink and white from Nicotiana mutabilis

Echinacea purpurea ‘Prairie Splendor’

Plectranthus argentatus, a salvia-looking blighter that is definitely worthy of further investigation

Several good Dahlias were on show; this is D. ‘Magenta Star’

The green patch at the centre is newly planted (August) Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Candy Stripe’ which has been utilised to revive an area that had ‘gone over’, and will now flower until the frosts in late-October or possibly November. This method of replanting is applied freely throughout the Flower Garden, ensuring consistent colour and an ever-changing display

Umbellifers play a large role in the planting, from the flat-heads of the Fennel, Foenicium vulgare, to the more rounded flowers of the large Angelica archangelica

Clambering upon Robinson’s porch, the magnificent Clematis ‘Alba Luxurians’

An important climber in this garden; Clematis texensis ‘Gravetye Beauty’, named by Old Bill himself in 1914

A pleasing stand of Helenium ‘Sahin's Early Flowerer’, with the white speckles of Erigeron annua behind. The white wispy chap to the left is in the pea family but currently unknown (familiar to anybody? calling all cars), but the umbellifer surrounding it is more of the Selinum wallichianum

In the Kitchen Garden one of the greatest sights of the summer; Verbascum olympicum (smothered in honey bees)

A one acre walled Kitchen Garden provides food and flowers for the house, and naturally the cut flower patch is a thing of great beauty! Lupinus regalis ‘Morello Cherry’ has been dead-headed rigorously so continues in full flower all the way to August. The edging is provided by the herb Pot Marjoram, Origanum vulgare, which extends for several metres and was covered in insect friends
More from Gravetye to follow!


Martin Neill said...

Wow! This garden is not far from me but I've never seen inside, it's amazing!

Wife, Mother, Gardener said...

Beautiful photos of Gravetye! It is nice to see what they are up to for summer... such a romantic, natural look. It is exciting to see some care being giving to such an important garden!

I just saw something very like your mystery plant the other day in the wild and wondered what it might be... now I will do some checking.

Vesna - Kalipso said...

Simply beautiful! I love such a luxurious natural planting.

Rosemary said...

Dear Bertie - thanks for the lovely trip to Gravetye - a place that I have never visited.
To me your plant looks like Melilotus officinalis alba - white sweet clover.

Jane Aston said...

Gosh all very lovely, what a house too. I shall try a few larger dottings about of plants, like those wonderful fennels and Umbellifers. I already leave the Mullein, they are food for the caterpillars I like. I have a huge crop of thistles going to seed right now. I know they are deeply disturbing to many gardeners but in this intense heat it's rather lovely watching their seeds waft about. I am hoping the Goldfinches will love them.

Greenorchid said...

What a fabulously abundant garden... my style of planting but oh for a bigger garden! I'm not too far away from Gravetye, I'll put it my list to visit when I get a little van. Many thanks for butterfly plant link I will spread the info...

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I am new to your blog, but will be back.

patientgardener said...

Robinson's Wild Garden is one of my favourite gardening books so it is interesting to see his garden as it is now looked after. Do you think the current owners are trying to maintain the garden s Robinson would have?

Prue said...

Cracking photos Bertie! I've never heard of Gravetye. Love all the umbellifers. Selinum wallichianum is a new one on me, so thanks for that.

The Bok Flock said...

Gosh that is one big old grey forbidding home just perfect for the character you've described so well! But oh I LLLOOOOOOOVE the wild rambling grounds. Beautiful.

Share my Garden said...

Wonderful photos as always, Bertie. The house, 'though handsome, looks an unfriendly place, but the garden with it's soft textures and lush planting is a joy. It's the sort of gardening that looks artless but is surely difficult to achieve.

Annie said...

I'd love to wander through these magnificent gardens, then have a peek inside the manor.

Bertie Bainbridge said...

Greetings all!

The Green Lady said...

I've been miserable Bertie. Missing the Scottish landscape since coming back from our summer visit and upset that my lovely grassy field was chopped down by the council. We found an injured lizard and a dead field mouse. I must try and visit this place this weekend to lift my spirits. I am going to write to the council to tell them why the field is important for wildlife and the children. I really like the sound of Robinson; very inspiring.

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