17th Century Dutch Water Garden Anyone?

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Looking North down the T Canal.

This week James and I traveled to Westbury Court Garden, more or less situated on the River Severn. This small, two acre garden is the recreation of the once much larger estate of the Colchester family. The property, with a large residence, was once self sustaining, possessing farmland, an extensive vegetable garden, dovecote (pigeon house), rabbit warren, and ponds for fish, providing fresh food for the estate and staff. Eventually the house was destroyed, leaving the garden to be maintained as a sort of private park. Another estate nearby became the primary residence, but the gardens would still be visited from time to time. This was so for nearly one hundred years, until the mid-20th century. The fact that the garden became a lesser priority may have been its saving grace.

A print of the original Johannes Kip engraving of the property.

A print of the original Johannes Kip engraving of the property.

Unlike many large estates back in the day, Westbury was not subjected to the will of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and the more fashionable landscape movement of the late 18th century. Durham Park, another National Trust property, was not so lucky, having its extensive formal gardens swept away and replaced with rolling hills, specimen trees, a myriad sheep and herds of deer. While one part of the garden is being restored to its early 18th century formality, it is a mere fraction of what once existed on the site. This leaves Westbury Court as the last remaining example of the Dutch water garden style in the country.

A print of Durham in its prime, sporting extensive parterres, fountains, canals, and allees.

A print of Durham in its prime, sporting extensive parterres, fountains, canals, and allees.

When acquired in 1967 by the Trust, the canals were silted in and overgrown, the tower dilapidated, and most everything else simply overgrown. The parterre garden, only half its size now, was recreated to the east side of the property and the vegetable garden, designed in a smaller scale, laid between the Long and T Canal. The canals themselves provide strong views to the Tower or into the adjacent farmland, which help make the garden feel a bit larger, despite the compartmental hedges.

The Long Canal facing the tower.

The Long Canal facing the tower.

Many of these yew hedges are in need of reduction, which will take many of them back to nearly half their size. This garden style is meant to be viewed in its entirety, from both the ground and from above, in one sweep. The hedges as they stand now have compartmentalized the garden, in a way you might expect from the arts and craft movement.

A view from the tower East across the Canals.

A view from the tower East across the Canals.

We performed some exacting tasks you might expect of formal gardening; clipping topiaries, edging the parterre, and pruning ivy trained on the walls.

The Parterre requires hand edging once a month, with weekly maintenance trims to keep it crisp.

The Parterre requires hand edging once a month, with weekly maintenance trims to keep it crisp.

Yours truly, ensuring a crisp edge, with some undulations here and there (gives it some character, right?)

Yours truly, ensuring a crisp edge, with some undulations here and there (gives it character, right?)

Yew cones and spheres in the walled garden.

Yew cones and spheres in the walled garden.

A stunning clematis I do not know the name of in the Walled Garden

A stunning clematis I do not know the name of in the Walled Garden

One of my favorite parts of this garden is the Quincunx. Despite having to pronounce it, it is a clever and atmospheric remnant of Victorian design. A grouping of trees is arranged like the five points of a die, and often expanded upon, with a quilted meadow underneath and mown paths connecting tree to tree.

Filled with daffodils, fritillaries, and primrose in the spring, the meadows are now dominated by tall grass.

Filled with daffodils, fritillaries, and primrose in the spring, the meadows are now dominated by tall grass.

Like most meadows this time of year, we cut down the tall grass to refresh the plants and clear the way for next years display.

Like most meadows this time of year, we cut down the tall grass to refresh the plants and clear the way for next years display.

It is not often one can work in a garden such as this, and there is much more behind it than I am able to describe. It was a great opportunity to work with Gardener in Charge, Jerry Green, who has a historical knowledge to be envied, and his great team at Westbury Court. Thank you for having us and hope to see you again!

My favorite tree in the garden (and possibly any garden) is this 400 year old Holm Oak, which sits at the end of the Long Canal and keeps an eye on everything.

My favorite tree in the garden (and possibly any garden) is this 400 year old Holm Oak, which sits at the end of the Long Canal and keeps an eye on everything.

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