. . . now that April's here.*
Is there anything better in this world than opening a book and falling into — and in love with — another world? I could go on at great length about this book — Herterton House and a New Country Garden — since I took about 4 pages of notes. Suffice it to say that it is a rapturous read if you love all the details of English country life, the work of bringing a long-abandoned 17th C. house back to life and every aspect of creating an outstanding garden.
Wonderful stories and characters abound and the photos of the house and garden are breathtaking, including those of the derelict property as it looked when Frank and Marjorie Lawley (below) moved into this National Trust site in the 1970s. Without the "before" images of both the buildings and the grounds it would be impossible to appreciate the feats of design and construction that this couple managed. While the Lawleys did much on their own they also teamed with an array of craftspeople whose work and personalities get equal billing in the book.
As an American I can only dream of creating a garden enclosed by walls that look as old as the house because they were often built using old stone found on the property, or bought or bartered as the years went by. Though Marjorie raised many plants from seeds and cuttings, early on they took advantage of a going-out-of-business sale at a 300-year-old nursery. The Lawleys came home with a treasure trove of plants including a 100-year-old "Harry Lauder's Walking Stick."
They opted to use many yellow-foliaged or yellow and white evergreens to "radiate heat" in the bare garden during the winter months, an idea that many of us cold climate gardeners might follow. As the image below shows, not every part of the garden was filled with flowers. Geometry and structure play a major role throught the property.
The Lawleys had enough room that they could grow on plants for the garden as well as for sale. They sold them wrapped in damp newsprint in plastic bags, the same way I usually package a plant for a friend. The book is graced with Frank Lawley's evocative — and often poetic — writing and Marjorie's detailed drawings and plant lists. As if their amazing gardening feats were not enough to bowl me over, the couple created an equally creative home as evidenced by pictures of them working away at needlepoint upholstery for their fireside chairs. No project inside or out was deemed too small or too large to be undertaken by this talented couple, and always with aesthetics as the first and the final consideration. I enjoyed every moment I spent with the Lawleys and think you will, too.
*(with apologies to Robert Browning).