Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the garden created by Margery Fish at her home at East Lambrook Manor Gardens. Margery, and her husband Walter began the garden in 1937 and she continued to develop it after his death in 1947 . The creation of the Garden is detailed in her delightfully entertaining book, We Made a Garden, which I reviewed here. (Please note that the Book Titles in this Post are affiliate links)
Although I only live about 40 minutes away from the Gardens, I have never managed to visit, my only previous attempt was on a day they were closed! My companions for the day, Sue and Liz, hadn’t ever been there either so it was interesting to see how the three of us would respond to this iconic garden. As we travelled by car I was able to fill them in on the background to the development of the plot but it didn’t really prepare us for what lay ahead.
Having parked the car opposite to the Manor we crossed the road and entered through the big gates, whereupon I began to squeal with delight! To be actually standing on the very driveway Margery describes in detail in her book. Suddenly it all became alive! Walter Fish was very exact about how the driveway was to be made and maintained, and I think, Margery was somewhat pained by his efforts and pernickety ways, particularly when it came to the ongoing maintenance……You will have to read to the book to find out more (I don’t want to spoil it for you!)
When you arrive there is a marvellous view of the house to your left with a large lawn in front of it. The tree Walter and Margery saw through the open door when they visited in 1937 is still standing (Acer pseudoplatanus variegatum)
Whilst ahead lies what seems an even bigger building which was the Cow house and the Barton, which are now the Tea Room and Gallery area. The gardens are accessed by a narrow archway by what was the old Privy. We stepped through, as if in time travel, to the iconic Cottage Gardens, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Margery coming up the path to meet us.
Please don’t think I am given to histrionics but again I squealed with delight. I don’t know how many times I have read We Made a Garden but to be actually standing there made the pages come alive. I realised we were standing on paths Mrs Fish had laid, looking at plants tumbling over low walls the she had created, and I had read about! Looking at the age of some plants the were undoubtedly the ones she had planted, whilst other planting has changed over the years, successive owners have stayed true to the ethos of the place
The planting in Margery’s garden
Visiting in late June meant that we didn’t see the Spring planting and perhaps not even the garden at its prettiest. There was plenty of interest throughout but somehow it felt as if we should have seen it the week before. However there were some individual plantings that delighted our eyes and perhaps if there had been more it would have been too much. I remember visiting another open garden, some years ago, with a long herbaceous border and there was just so much in flower all at once, it was overwhelming. Whether it was because there were too many different varieties or the balance was wrong I don’t know, I didn’t stop to analyze as it was so overpowering.
There are many unusual plants and varieties in the gardens. I use the word in the plural as the plot is divided up into gardens or rooms as we call them today. Some are bounded by low hedging others by the use of shrubs and low walled beds. Don’t expect to see labels – there are very few – it is not that sort of a garden. My companions relied on my plant knowledge but I was stumped by this beauty:-
And I even got Phlox and Sweet William muddled up in my excitement too!
Margery Fish wrote a book called “Carefree Gardening” a somewhat curious title, in a way, as Cottage gardens cannot be considered low-maintenance. But she recognised the need for labour saving where possible and this was achieved mainly through her choice of plants. Another aspect of her gardening was aiming for year-round interest (a subject dear to my heart) and Margery again achieved this through her careful selection of plants. Ask anyone to describe typical Cottage garden plants and much of what they list are Herbaceous and of Summer interest only. Look at the East Lambrook Manor Gardens and you realise that a cottage garden encompasses far more than Foxgloves, Hollyhocks and Delphiniums.
As we stood in the area named the Top Lawn I realised it is probably no bigger than the average back garden for many of us. And this is the beauty of visiting these Gardens, they are full of ‘take-home’ ideas. You can relate to the space far more easily than those of large gardens, however beautiful they may be. Yes flower and plant combinations can be observed in all the amazing Gardens we can see, and repeat at home. But for me, there in Margery’s garden, to see those wonderful planting ideas in the context of a plot the size akin to my own means so much more. I came home fired up again with enthusiasm for my small garden, ……….. and half a dozen treasures from the Manor nursery to
squeeze in plant!
So what was the reaction of my companions for the day? They loved it! They agreed it was a garden you could really relate to, and the three of us decided it was a garden we needed to visit again.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit East Lambrook Manor Gardens, do go. Whatever the time of year, there is so much to see in a relatively small space and plenty to inspire you for your small garden. If you are able to read “We Made a Garden” before you visit you will experience a book coming to life, and the garden will make much more sense when you know the background to its creation.
And if you should see a middle aged lady standing in the garden squealing with delight, it will be me so come and introduce yourself!