Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Garden review: Misarden

Back in July I had an odd afternoon off, so I went back to Misarden Park Gardens for another look round - this is a small garden with a minor identity crisis (it's Misarden-with-an-a Park Gardens, on the Miserden-with-an-e Estate) outside Stroud, just off the A417 but very tucked away. The route from the A417 involves turning off at the Winstone turn, then following a narrow windy lane that - following my sat nav - gets narrower and windier, clinging to steep hills, skirting woodland, and diving into tiny hidden valleys.

It's almost worth going there just for the journey!

Having survived the cross-country part, you arrive at Misarden village and then have the challenge of finding the place, as - in common with many of these places where the Estate "owns" the village - they don't feel the need to put up nice clear signs, and every turning looks like the entrance to somewhere private.

I've been there three or four times before,  but I still went the wrong way and had to do a 3-point turn before spotting a turning that I vaguely recognised. It still felt like entering someone's private drive, but no, it turned a corner and lo! and behold, there was the tatty old barn, there was the gateway to the Plant Nursery associated with the garden, and there was the field of pristine grass which does not say "car park" but which seems to be used as such. This time, I was the only car there, so I bravely parked on the grass, wondering as I did so if some groundsman somewhere was looking out of a window and cursing these thoughtless visitors who park all over his nice green sward...

As always, there was no-one in sight, so I put my money in the Honesty Box, took a leaflet/map, in case they had added anything since my last visit (I hold them very gently, and if they are undamaged, I replace them on my way out), and set off. The recommended route takes you through a doorway in a stone wall:

 ...nicely framed by a wall-trained Cytisus battendieri, a strangely Zorro-sounding name for something whose everyday name is Pineapple Broom.

Pineapple? Well, I suppose so, but to me it look more more like a cross between a yellow Buddlea and Laburnum.  I thought the silvery foliage was lovely, though,  and it should be evergreen in mildish winters.

Resisting the urge to take a cutting, I went through the doorway which led straight into the big borders: a sloping lawn with two very deep herbaceous beds (one is a border, one is a bed with grass beyond) running down the slope towards the formal lawns: there is so much to see that the only way to do it is to go down the left-hand one, admiring the full depth as you go: back up the inside of the right-hand one, then down the far side of the right-hand one. Luckily the fourth side of the box, the wall, does not have much of interest on it, just a few shrubs.

Alas, I was so busy looking at the plants that I forgot to take a photo, but frankly I have found that amateur photos of herbaceous borders are simply not worth looking at - I don't know exactly how the professionals do it, must be something to do with depth of field, but every "border" photo I take is just a bland presentation of a mass of green with dots of colour.

Turning left from the double borders takes you into what they call the walled garden, and this year they have changed things around a bit: it's always interesting to see how "big" gardens do this. They seem to be paying lip service to the Grow Your Own brigade: plonking what is possibly the highest and chunkiest raised bed I have ever seen, in the middle of one of the formal sections of the walled garden.


And proportionally all wrong... it's too small!

*shakes head*

Makes you wonder whose bright idea that was. At least they managed to get it dead centre, and at least they put a nice mowing strip all around it, so I suppose if they were aiming to create a fusion of formal garden and veggies, they could be said to have succeeded.

Moving on, and trying not to laugh, I encountered another "new" area, this time rather more successful:

That's more like it! A large square had been marked and edged, a good firm path laid round the outside, then each of the four corners populated with a sturdy, shapely, elegant support, each planted with white sweet pea.

Have I already used the word elegant?

Well I'll use it again - very elegant.

The whole area was set as a diamond shape within the walled garden, which made a nice change from being set square, as it were, and I liked the simplicity of the layout, the repetition of shapes, and the single colour of planting.

If I were being picky ("Who? Me?") I would say that you would probably have to step off the path in order to pick/deadhead the flowers, which made me wonder: would it work if, having cleared the weeds (presumably here they lifted turf for the paths and beds so it wouldn't have much of a seed bank in the soil), you planted the sweet peas then mulched the bed with gravel to match the path? It would look even smarter, and you could step all round the planting without getting muddy shoes.

Of course, you'd have to, at year end, carefully scrape off the gravel mulch, and wash it clean for re-use, but hey, that's what the under-gardener is for, right? *laughs*

The next area of interest is, of course, the compost heaps!!

 You can tell a lot about how a place is run by the state of their compost heaps... in this case, what is the verdict?

Well, they are a very good size, they are open fronted which is less efficient but makes sense when most of the material is going to be brought up here on the back of the ride-on mower.

They all have weeds growing on them, so they lose a couple of points for that... and they don't appear to have a proper rotation going on. To me this is unforgivable, but I do know that in many of these large "estate" gardens, they have machinery to move stuff around: so when all three pens get half full, they use the digger to put all the top halves together, ie the unrotted stuff, so they can get to the good stuff. Each to their own, I guess.

Right, back to the garden: walking back down alongside the run of old buildings, I was trying to admire the Fruit Tree Wall, but my eye kept being distracted by the terrible edging of the border:

Come on, guys!

Get out there with an edger and make it straight!

Or at least make it nicely curvy!

I can't quite see why anyone would bother to weed under the fruit trees, yet not bother to put an edge on the grass... ho hum.

And it's not as though it is out of sight, it's on the main route back to the formal garden.

Perhaps they hope that people are so dazzled by the compost pens that they won't see it?

Or maybe they hope that the eye will be drawn ahead, to the rather lovely border running down to the formal lawn?

Bearing in mind what I said earlier about my inability to take photos of borders....

... there, not brilliant, but not bad, eh?

I was very struck by the lovely combination of purples in this border: small berberis at the front, and a mix of purple-leaved Elder (Sambucus nigra - possibly Black Lace but who knows) Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' (also known as Smoke Bush, also comes in green, but who would have boring old green when you can have dramatic black?) and my personal favourite, Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diablo' which rejoices in the never-used name of Ninebark. (I have no idea why, it does not appear to have nine types of bark: cursory internet research suggests that the plant is described as having "exfoliating bark" so maybe people thought it had nine layers of bark to shed?)

The rest of the garden includes a very nice inset water garden, rather like the one at West Green House which I like so much (when it is not ruined by screaming children, that is) but on a smaller scale. I wonder if this one was the inspiration for it?

Meandering past it and down the big stone steps, I was accosted by a rather nice spaniel who wanted to show me the dead bird he was carrying. Yum, lovely! His owner apologetically told me that he could not be parted from it... she was on her way to the veg garden with a trug, to "pick some produce", so she was clearly the owner of the house. We had a short chat about the garden, but I didn't have the nerve to ask, as I always want to ask, how the owners of these places feel about having strangers wandering around all over it. There must be times when visitors ignore the "private" signs and look in the windows... do they not get tired of it? I would be constantly irritated by having people walking round my garden, but do they feel less ownership of their house and grounds, because it was inherited rather than bought with my hard-earned cash?  If you grow up with housekeepers, staff, gardeners, grooms, tutors, do you feel less connected to your house, less protective of it? Often you hear that the family are only "in residence" for certain months of the year, so maybe moving from house to house means that they think of all their houses the way I think of hotels: it's "my" room for now, but it's not "mine", and people such as cleaners and staff have the right to just walk into it.

Leaving aside such unanswerable questions (for now - one day I will meet a garden owner who is sufficiently friendly that I feel I can ask those questions. One day!) and returning to the garden, I continued my "usual" tour by slithering down the steep grassy bank to the main lawn and going right round the house to the far terrace, up the little steps - it's all right, it's on the map, we are allowed to be there - to a sort of terrace or patio, raised above the lawn, but so overgrown with a massive magnolia that you can't walk onto it:

...isn't that fab? You have to bend double to duck under the branches!

I love this little area, because it is the size of my entire garden at home, yet - she said, wryly, trying not to seethe with jealousy-  they have so much space that they can afford to let the Magnolia take it over, without even feeling the loss of it. *sigh*

My tour continues with the long walk across the big lawn in front of the house, then round into their small arboretum and back up the slope to the entrance, pausing to have a look at the Well en route.

Once again, I was virtually the only visitor: the lady I spoke to said that it is busier at weekends, (which is the main reason why I like to go garden visiting mid-week if I possibly can) but I got the impression that it is never heaving with visitors, so if you like a quiet, peaceful outing, with nice views over rolling fields: not too large a garden, but interesting: then put Misarden Park Gardens in your diary for next year, as they are closed now for the winter, and open again in April. 


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