What do you know about the gardens and the gardening team at The Manor?
So what do the gardeners do, except make a lot of cups of tea and hide in the sheds when it rains? Unfortunately for the team Sir Alec Reed and […]
So what do the gardeners do, except make a lot of cups of tea and hide in the sheds when it rains? Unfortunately for the team Sir Alec Reed and I love a good project, so there’s never a spare moment to take stock. Even in the depths of winter we’re cutting the hedges; propagating plants; clearing and replanting borders; pruning the roses; planting spring bulbs; and even such exciting jobs as cleaning and oiling the garden furniture ready for the next year.
Working in a garden requires a fleeting and adaptable mindset – I was once told that it is a gardener’s prerogative to get distracted by something else that needs doing whilst on a way to a task. The weather and ground conditions rarely follow the weather forecast, and plants have a habit of doing their own thing. Added to that here we have the animals, which have planned needs such as the lambing, as well as injuries and movements that can throw our plans sideways.
What is so special about these grounds? I was originally drawn here by the opportunity to move into a head gardener role in this style of garden. The main part of the garden was laid out in the 1920’s in the Arts and Crafts style. For me, this era of gardening was the pinnacle of horticulture, where gardens are made up of ‘rooms’, divided by walls and hedges, with each area representing a different form of horticulture. This gives us plenty of opportunity to have fun with different designs and planting styles!
I’d love to know who designed the layout of the garden, as it represents the height of fashion at the time and the owners of the manor moved in similar circles to Vita Sackville-West. Thomas Mawson’s The Art and Craft of Garden Making (1912) gives the definitive layout of a garden of rooms that leads west from the house along a continuous vista, much as we have here. You’ll see a very similar layout if you visit Hidcote Manor Garden, and at a push I’d guess either Norah or Nancy Lindsay, who were very involved with Hidcote, penned the design for our garden.
I could bore you all to tears about the history of the garden and the changes it has seen, as well as some of the amazing people who have lived at The Manor. We have theories of a possible medieval sunken garden, tales of The Manor being used as a safe-haven during the 17th century interregnum, and one of my favourite stories – during WW2 Fruity Metcalfe used all the hot water to run himself a bath (I think in what is now the BD Room), denying it to the rest of the household including American Army troops who were quartered in The Manor! Perhaps one foggy winter’s morning I could do a bit of a slide show of the old photos for anyone who’s interested?
We are currently finishing the Thai garden project, as well as some planting works in the upper terraces. The rock garden has also been cleared, as I’ve decided it would be fun to have a cactus garden, along the lines of the Jardin Exotique de Monaco. There’s no plan here to reproduce any over-aped styles such as white gardens, but I have Arts and Craft designers such as Gertrude Jekyll and Harold Peto in the back of my mind, to make sure the overall feel of the garden is still in keeping.
We love seeing the students enjoying the grounds. From sitting on the lawns chatting, to having a knock up of croquet, golf, or tennis; it is a wonderful feeling to know that people are enjoying what you work so hard to produce. We also open for the National Gardens Scheme and a very occasional group visit, where as a team we get to share our horticultural passion with die-hard gardeners. The change in feedback over the years has been wonderful, and with our continual desire to always make the place better I know it will only continue to improve. A lot of historic gardens are bogged down by seeking to be in their historic heyday – I feel very strongly that a garden should always be aspiring towards its heyday.
About our team! I started in the gardens here eight years ago, moving from Hidcote Manor Garden, and an historic vegetable garden on a Scottish island before that. Jess came to Reed Business School in 2018 from Cotswold Garden Flowers in Offenham. Emily joined the team in 2021, also from Cotswold Garden Flowers, and is currently undertaking an apprenticeship in horticulture. We’re currently a team member short, so please bear with us if something is still on the to-do pile!
Richard Sutton, Head Gardener
National Garden Scheme click here Home – National Garden Scheme (ngs.org.uk)