Folly Farm gardens, Berkshire: A masterclass in maintaing an historic backyard
After many years of considerate restoration, the gardens at Folly Farm in Sulhamstead, Berkshire, mix historic and up to date planting, finds Tiffany Daneff. Photos by Jason Ingram.
‘Immediately,’ Lanning Roper, wrote in Nation Life, Might 15, 1975, after visiting Folly Farm close to Sulhamstead, in Berkshire, ‘such a backyard is past the realms of chance on this nation.’ He cited the expense not solely of maintenance, however of repairs and ongoing upkeep: the pictures accompanying his article present badly cracked paving stones round Sir Edwin Lutyens’s canal.
Quick ahead to 2022 and never solely have all of the flagstones been repaired, however the historic Arts-and-Crafts home and backyard, designed by Lutyens in 1906, refreshed in 1912, and planted by Gertrude Jekyll, are in the perfect of fine well being. Certainly, they’re glowing, because of many years of cautious restoration, considerate replanting and impressed enlargement with the assistance of designer Dan Pearson. The day-to-day care of the gardens is ensured by an professional crew headed up by Tim Stretton and overseen by property supervisor Simon Goodenough.
Initially, one entered by a gate within the wall instantly into one in every of three small formal courtyards, laid out geometrically in 1906 with flagstone and herringbone-brick paths to steadiness the agricultural setting. Now, the strategy is by way of the drive and the forecourt into Barn Court docket, a non-public space outdoors the half-timbered Tudor constructing that was the unique home. Planting right here is cool and primarily inexperienced, with beds of herbaceous perennials laid out by Mr Pearson in 2010 and since added to with cottage-garden favourites, comparable to nigella, salvia, euphorbia and thalictrum. The Italian oil jar that after stood on a pedestal has been changed by the current homeowners with a terra-cotta beer pot from South Africa, earlier than the thatched barn that offers this backyard its identify.
By the arch within the brick wall is the unique entrance court docket, backed by darkish yew hedges, and planted with darkish colors by Mr Pearson to replicate Lutyens’s designs for the doorway corridor within the 1906 home, painted ‘a boring black’, with an arched ceiling, purple balconies and a lacquered inexperienced ground. There are deep-maroon candy William, martagon lilies, dark-leafed elder, darkish dicentra and terracotta-hued hemerocallis with white-starred gillenia, plus shiny sarcococca for construction. In a sign of the extraordinary consideration to element paid by Lutyens, the brick partitions with their corbelled tile overhang are scalloped on the ends close to the home, to permit extra mild to achieve the beds beneath.
To date, so formal as one passes by one other arch, the place the backyard correct opens out to supply the primary of many tantalising views, on this case of the Canal Backyard. Its darkish, slate-lined depths draw the attention south, defying the temptation to observe the trail to the fitting to a different space glimpsed by a niche within the yew.
However each should wait. Higher to proceed straight forward, alongside the Tree Peony Borders as steps rise by the Holm Oak Stroll. The bushes right here needed to be reduce down, having reached an overwhelming 70ft, and are of their fourth season of thickening up right into a hedge that may present a backdrop to the decrease yew hedge. In early summer time, the beds on the left are crammed with the beautiful heart-shaped leaves of epimediums, paired with strappy inexperienced waves of the Japanese forest grass, hakonechloa, on the fitting, with tubs of lime-white Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ lining the trail. (In spring, the tubs are crammed with yellow Rhododendron luteum.) From this vantage level, one can see how all of the yew hedges are reduce to the identical degree, as they have been in Lutyens’s time, to cover the pure slope of the land.
Timeline of Folly Farm
- 1650s: A timber-frame cottage is constructed, progressively enlarged and prolonged right into a farm that now types a part of the north-east wing
- 1906: The brand new proprietor of Folly Farm commissions Sir Edwin Lutyens to design the Dutch façade in his standard William-and-Mary type. Gertrude Jekyll creates the 2 courtyard gardens between the home and the barn
- 1912: Lutyens extends the home for its new proprietor. This time, it assumes the types of vernacular buildings—comparable to farmhouses—to picturesque impact. The Sunken Rose Backyard, Dutch Backyard, a parterre and new walks full the backyard
- Twenties–40s: The backyard is taken care of by eight gardeners and the home, described in Nation Life (January 28, 1922) as ‘a novel in bricks and mortar’ was used as a maternity hospital throughout the Second World Conflict
- 1951: The Hon Mr and Mrs Hugh Waldorf Astor transfer to Folly Farm
- 2007: Folly Farm is acquired by the current proprietor
Once more, we should wait to discover these giant and vital backyard rooms, laid out by Lutyens in 1912, for, winking within the shade forward, drawing the attention by the spectacular avenue of limes, rises a single spout of water. Tucked away, a hidden secret on the finish of the avenue, is the White Backyard, so known as by the Astors, who planted it with white azalea Rhododendron ‘Palestrina’ and Rosa ‘Iceberg’ in opposition to a backdrop of white lilacs and philadelphus. Immediately, the raised stone beds are brimming with, amongst others, white campanula and Geranium sanguineum ‘Album’ in a multi-layered planting, organized in order that nobody species overwhelms one other. The partitions of those troughs are house to mile-a-minute and ivy, with species allowed to self-seed with simply the correct quantity of laxity.
Within the Fifties, the small rectangular pool on the centre had been drained. As an alternative stood a stone statue surrounded by hostas, however it’s now a pool once more, lined with slate, as Jekyll at all times most popular. Semi-circular on the far finish and stepped, it’s surrounded by white wisteria and backed by hornbeam bushes, topped to permit the sunshine by. When the builders have been re-laying the paths across the pool, they weren’t allowed to make use of spirit ranges in order that the paths would look — as, certainly, they do — as if they’d been there eternally.
A peaceful inexperienced second arrives, not not like a refreshing sorbet in a protracted meal, as one walks by the oblong garden of Badminton Court docket again in the direction of the Dutch Canal. The pair of quince bushes on the head of the canal have been planted by Jekyll and have been underplanted with sarcococca by Mr Pearson. Lately, one had grown taller than the opposite, so they’re now being levelled. Standing between them, one can recognize the breathtaking precision with which Lutyens lined issues up, in order that the water would precisely replicate the roof and entrance elevation of the 1906 home with its William and Mary-style façade.
As of late, the pool is commonly cleaned by robotic, as a result of the water run-off from the encircling fields is excessive in nitrogen. Based on Roper in 1975, Jekyll had initially planted ‘luxuriant borders on each side of the canal past the vases, however these have been eradicated’ and haven’t been reinstated, which appears clever because the canal advantages from simplicity. Jekyll had needed waterlilies within the canal, however, Mr Goodenough relates, Lutyens refused, ‘as he needed his structure to be seen and, on this event, unusually, he received’.
On the curved head of the canal, the white wisteria had been in peril of breaking the fragile balustrade the place the water falls in, so it’s being educated to hold down the brick piers.
To cowl all at Folly Farm within the scope of 1 article is sort of unimaginable, however, earlier than being drawn in the direction of the billowing perennials within the Flower Parterre, it’s price mentioning the Tank Cloister. That is shaped by the magisterial roof of the 1912 home that sweeps right down to first-floor degree, the place it’s supported by huge curving buttresses forming an L-shaped cloister round a big tank. That is one in every of only a few Lutyens gardens the place water comes as much as the home. Constructing it after his return from New Delhi in India, he gave the tank ziggurat steps paying homage to these within the Ganges and the gutters that accumulate rainwater from the 2 converging roofs have two spouts organized at proper angles, in order that, when it rains, the 2 concentric ripples meet precisely on the centre of the tank. To witness this impact, ‘it must be raining closely,’ says Mr Goodenough, ‘however not too closely’.
Eventually, to the Flower Parterre. Nothing stays of Jekyll’s planting (apart from her plans), because the beds have been grassed over within the Fifties to avoid wasting work. Fortunately, Lutyens’s stone chicken tub that marks the centre of the 2 axial paths nonetheless stands. This enormous sq. of Purbeck marble is hollowed out and crammed with an octagonal dish, modelled by the architect on a moghul’s dias. When Mr Pearson reimagined this backyard, he regarded to Jekyll’s authentic design, in addition to to pictures from the Nation Life archive, however, fairly than merely copying the planting, he has taken inspiration from it. Whereas she had organized basins by the beds, planted round with Iris stylosa and pampas grass, Mr Pearson took the scale of the stone tub and changed the basins with field cubes, which give simply the fitting structural reassurance for the beautiful free planting, in addition to echoing the square-based geometry of the backyard.
Miscanthus grasses type a significant a part of the plant structure and, because the seasons progress, there are successional waves of daring planting teams which can be designed to be considered from the lounge. They embrace swathes of astrantia, long-lasting purple-blue spires of Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and equally hued Salvia verticillata ‘Smouldering Torches’, interspersed with sinuous spikes of white Eremurus himalaicus.
If, as Christopher Hussey opined (Nation Life, January 28, 1922), ‘the gardens of Folly Farm train a lot wider attraction over folks than the home’, then it’s truthful to say that no a part of the backyard does this greater than the Sunken Pool Backyard. That is arrived at by a niche within the yew hedge that separates it from the Parterre and who doesn’t cease, on the boundary, and marvel? Specified by 1912 by Lutyens, this space was primarily based on the design of the traditional Indian board sport Pachisi. Much like Ludo, its sq. board has 4 ‘properties’ or, on this case, 4 raised platforms reached by curved steps, the place mounds of Euphorbia mellifera ‘Roundways Titan’ attain greater than 9ft alongside benches that catch the solar at completely different instances of day. Across the edges run herringbone-brick paths and at its centre is an octagonal pool enclosing an island. The central island was crammed with lavender in Jekyll’s day and, by 1922, the backyard had been dedicated to roses with flowering cherries. Roper famous that the lavender had been changed by Brachyglottis greyi in 1975.
Certainly, he discovered the architectural design ‘maybe over-complicated’ and it could have been for the roses, which ultimately succumbed to mildew and blackspot on this enclosed house the place circulation is poor. Such situations are, nevertheless, splendid for the unique planting launched by Mr Pearson. This seems resplendent and permits Lutyens’s design to shine. Among the authentic Eryngium agavifolium at the moment are being thinned and some annuals, such because the purple Geum chiloense and orange-flowered G. coccineum ‘Cooky’, are being launched so as to add to the brilliant spots of color supplied by Crocosmia ‘Columbus’, C. ‘Emily McKenzie’ and C. ‘Crimson King’, in addition to Kniphofia ‘Inexperienced Jade’, Ok. ‘Wealthy Echoes’, Ok. rufa and Ok. ‘Timothy’. As well as, giant pots, planted by Ann Williams, the gardener in command of ornamentals, present a stand-out choice of combined species that features, in a single instance, Ipomoea ‘Candy Caroline Sweetheart Jet Black’, Petunia x Petchoa ‘Stunning Caramel Gold’ and martagon lilies, in addition to a mixture of succulents.
There are additional treats within the Wind Backyard, the place Mr Pearson, persevering with Lutyens’s play on squares, reworked the outdated croquet pitch right into a grid of 4 by 5 sq. platts planted with a repeating, however barely completely different, mixture of grasses, shrubs and camassias that sway within the breeze. In autumn, the sq. of cornus underplanted with black ophiopogon turns a dramatic purple and black.
Past stretches the newer addition of a wildflower meadow and a pond, with small plank bridges resulting in the Walled Backyard, which measures precisely one sq. acre. That is divided into 4 equal quarters, with a dipping pond within the center and cruciform paths, and is maintained to a very excessive degree, its many species ingeniously displayed. On the entrance, Lavender grosso is planted, Grasse type, in lengthy rows (and changed on a five-year cycle), interspersed with rows of agapanthus, catanche and Centaurea orientalis. To the left, Rachel Roncon, who leads the Walled Backyard crew, is chargeable for a formidable show desk organized on staging, with terracotta pots crammed, in summer time, with diascia, pinks, nicotiana, London pleasure and astrantia, amongst others. Each fortnight, the choice adjustments.
There are plenty of flowers for chopping, a group of clematis, delicate fruits, asparagus, roses and a citrus assortment. In a single nook, reached by way of a stepping-stone path by a garden of camomile, is the Flower Drying Room. Across the vine pergola, the place the household eats in summer time, are organized pots of begonias, sage and cerinthe and but others brimming with the healthiest-looking blueberries. As for the raised beds… phrases fail. Violas are planted with beetroot in a single, hop poles rise above subtropical summer time bedding in one other and hazel wigwams twined with gourds are set amongst sunflowers and squash.
It is a backyard that lingers powerfully within the reminiscence and is one which I hope will proceed to be cherished within the many years to come back, as it’s so properly cherished now.