Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Lost Gardens

Hidden garden at Stroud Museum in the Park

I'm sure everyone finds the notion of a lost garden intriguing: particularly if you just stumble across it - derelict walls, glimpses through an old doorway, maybe the remains of a fountain or statuary, but certainly waist-high weeds and grass and trees growing out of the walls. But is a lost garden just a neglected garden or something more? Heligan of course have created a successful business out of the romance of the lost garden. Somehow the idea that Heligan was lost partly because many of its gardeners didn't return from the First World War makes it all the more poignant and fascinating.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

The National Trust and English Heritage have re-created many lost gardens - I love seeing the old photos of how they were, finding out why they were either left to go to rack and ruin or swept away at some point for a landscape or other fashionable garden. I guess once the garden has been re-created and is all neat and tidy, has the romance gone? I do think though that Heligan still has that essence of the lost garden...

Ruins at Great Tew, Oxfordshire

My volunteer colleague, Alice, recently took me to what seems to be a lost walled garden in Great Tew although my research on what it is, or rather was, isn't conclusive as yet. Certainly there is a listed walled garden at Great Tew possibly dating from the 1600s. It is a curious place though as there appear to be structures around the walls possibly boiler rooms or the gardeners' bothies. It definitely fits all the characteristics one would want from a lost garden - walls all the way round, very overgrown and a sense of history and romance! It was very atmospheric walking through the long grass on a hot and humid July evening to get to it. I need to look at maps or plans of the estate to get a real sense of what it was.

Curious structures at Great Tew

I think a lost garden is different to a secret garden though. I'm sure many of us read the book or saw the film of Frances Hodgson Burnett's 'The Secret Garden' and fell in love with the idea of a garden that only a few people knew about. Many properties still have secret gardens - they can be well-tended but they are usually tucked away and you only come across them by chance. Maybe only one or two people know where the key is? We can even create the illusion of a secret garden ourselves. A few weeks after we moved into our house, the neighbours told us we had some garden behind our shed so we set to work removing all the ivy and weeds beside the shed and sure enough there was more garden than we had at first realised. We also found the remains of a stone outbuilding. We built steps from some of the stone, put in an arch for the existing honeysuckle and added a new honeysuckle. It actually only leads to the compost bin behind the shed but from a distance, it gives the illusion of leading to something more interesting particularly at the moment, with the elderflowers cascading over the shed, insects flying around and a new family of sparrows in the garden, and the fact that it's been rather neglected for the past 2 years whilst we've concentrated on re-designing the rest of the garden...

Our own secret garden!

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