Whenever I get the chance to go see any of England’s great formal gardens, I take it. With their huge staffs and labor-intensive plantings designed for pure asthetics, they’re pretty far from the spirit of permaculture: nonetheless they are worth seeing just as any great art is worth seeing, no matter who commissioned it or what the class status of its patrons.
So—I finally had a day off, and my friend Nancy and I drove out from Glastonbury to see two gardens now maintained by the National Trust. Lytes Cary was the home of a famous herbalist in the seventeenth century. It has a manor hall that goes back to the 1500s and some lovely grounds. It’s kind of an English garden thing to divide up the grounds with hedges into square garden ‘rooms’, lushly planted with borders that spill out all over the place in color-coordinated mass plantings. Actually I think it’s the perfect representation in plantings of the British psyche, if there is such a thing. All those high, trimmed, hedges stiff as an upper lip, controlled, repressed—then behind them and within those secret rooms, cascades of life and color and scent spilling out over the borders in lush profusion as if they’d had a few drinks and lost their inhibitions.
Barrington Court was rebuilt in the nineteen twenties, and it has a fabulous, walled kitchen garden, built of Somerset stone. Inside, fruit trees are espaliered all along the walls. To espalier a tree means to prune it into a flat plane, often on wires or against a wall, where it will soak up heat from the stone and where fruit will ripen earlier and more evenly. Barrington also has a fabulous white garden—an idea that was started by Vita Sackville-West at her garden at Sissinghurst back sometime in the ‘twenties. Vita was a Bohemian and Virginia Woolf’s lover, although she remained in a long term marriage herself. A little bit of scandal is always good for a garden. I dragged my own long-term marriage partner to Sissinghurst one spring when the roses were still gray sticks but the daffodils were blooming in profusion under the pink clouds of fruit trees. David doesn’t much like gardens but I’ve dragged him to quite a few, where he generally heads for the tea shop to get out of the rain while I have my own private raptures about just how the roses are pruned and mentally criticize the color combinations.
But Nancy was a great companion, happy to admire the foliage and sip tea in the company of middle-aged ladies in sensible shoes. It’s always a bit hard for me to remember that I am a middle-aged lady (well, I’m a woman but I ain’t no lady!) in sensible shoes myself. Nancy herself has a beautiful, small garden in North NIbley—and you just don’t get more English than that!
Some of the beds in the kitchen garden at Barrington mentioned that they were trying out a new, no-till system—mulching in permaculture fashion rather than double digging. So permaculture is making its way even into the National Trust.
(I wrote this over a week ago–then just didn’t have internet access to upload it until now. I’ve got a couple new updates to fill in–then I’ll be home by the end of the week and hope to post more regularly!_