Reading about garden history is not everyone’s cup of tea, certainly not mine. Most garden history books seem to me to be rather dry heavy volumes. However, I do like to know a little about the garden-maker when I visit a garden.
When I visit England I scour the charity shops and car boot sales for gardening books and am never disappointed. This year I chanced on a delightful little book called the “Seven Deadly Sins of Gardening.” Written by Toby Musgrave and Mike Calnan, it is a lighthearted look at the garden makers whose English gardens are visited by thousands every year. Many, but not all, are now cared for by the National Trust. As we were to visit two of those well known gardens, Snowshill Manor and Garden and Hidcote Manor Garden, the following week, here was my chance to read a little about the men and women who created these gardens. Both Snowshill and Hidcote lie in the county of Gloucestershire, in that well visited area known as the Cotswolds.
The 16th century Snowshill Manor was in a derelict condition when purchased by Charles Paget Wade in 1919. The house had once belonged to the sixth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr. Henry confiscated the land from Winchcomb Abbey at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. The garden, however, was the creation of Charles Wade, who believed “The plan of a garden is much more important than the flowers in it.” He terraced the steeply sloping hillside to create a number of outdoor rooms, each with its own character.
His story is included under Greed, but this has nothing to do with the garden but more to do with his obsessive collection of every kind of object you could imagine. Even so I think that this is rather unjust. After all he did leave his house to the National Trust so that everyone could share in his collection.
Every room in the house is filled with his collection, and there are many rooms, some dating back to Catherine Parr and others later additions over the centuries. The attics are filled with an incredible collection of bicycles dating back to the very earliest. Other rooms filled with clocks, kitchen paraphernalia, chests, Samurai warriors, bone carvings made by Napoleonic war prisoners. Every room is a jaw dropping experience. In fact he was so obsessed with collecting that the house became so full and he had to move out into the small priest’s house. Here was an eccentric man who caused Queen Mary to comment, on her visit, “that the most remarkable part of the collection was Mr Wade himself” What is even more remarkable is that he collected all these items in the second hand and antique shops in the vicinity of his home. At the time no one was interested in such items.
His work on the gardens began around 1920, with the help of his friend and landscape architect M H Baille Scott. The gardens offer a respite from the dark cluttered house in which the light levels are kept low in order to preserve the collection. He retained the dovecote, which had been part of the previous farmyard, and used the other farm buildings by adding walls to create garden rooms.
From the visitor parking it is a ten to fifteen minute walk along a pathway which skirts the hillside and giving the impression that the house is set deeply in the countryside. In fact, the house itself lies on the main street of the village of Snowshill. A long straight pathway leads up to the front door of the house. Entry to the house is by a timed ticket so we had an hour to spend in the garden before our time. To reach the lower terraces we took the pathway, planted on both sides by cottage garden flowers, which runs along the high stone wall.
We resisted the opportunity to enter through two gates, instead continuing down past the late medieval dovecote, now the home of white pigeons.
Charles Wade believed that it was impossible to reproduce nature’s green and used a turquoise, later known as “Wade Blue,” to paint gateways and benches. Here the gate at the lower terrace is painted in that color.
He believed that water should be included in the garden to bring in the reflecting sky which adds depth to the garden. The sunken garden includes a sunken lily pond. The small patch of soft lawn has at its center an antique well .
Beyond, a painted sundial clock, designed by Wade himself and known as the Nychthemeron ( 24 hour clock), brightens the Cotswold stone wall.
Looking back towards the dovecote.
The plantings are understated with blue and purple predominating and spill over onto the pathways to soften the edges.
The Dutch armillary, used for centuries by astronomers, has been mounted on a shaft of stone that once served as gatepost to the farmyard.
This is the cottage in which Charles Wade lived. On the wall a teak carving of St George and the Dragon, copied from a small French original.
Who would not be happy with a view like this looking over the lush Gloucestershire countryside. This garden should be on everyone's list of places to visit when traveling to England. If you do plan to visit England then you might want to look into joining the Royal Oak Foundation. Membership allows free admission to 200 National Trust Properties, for American visitors.