Gardens compared: Witley Court and Hampton Court

Two gardens caught my horticultural eye last week.

The first with ruins of the stately party-house, Witley Court & Gardens in Worcestershire – the evocative remains of a medieval manor turned country mansion.

Repeating mistakes

English Heritage gardener, Martin told me how they removed the grass on the east site to reveal the exact shape of the former parterre.

The team then recreated the box-lined formality – past ‘mistakes’ included, where the perfect circles are just a tad squashed. Some circles used forty plants to complete; others merely 30. Perhaps deliberate perspective. But certainly with satisfying authenticity. Especially by using plants grown from a rare surviving box.

New planting brings Witley Court back to life after decades of decline. The box parterre was recreated from the outline found beneath the turf.

There’s more satisfaction in the audio guide by English Heritage. This has voices of the people that remember Witley when it was the social place to be. The voices add atmosphere to the wonderfully restored ‘Persue and Andromeda’ fountain.

Carefully maintained ruin of the once great stately party-house

Tinged with sadness

The most lavish rooms at Witley Court were destroyed by a 1930s fire. Then antique dealers and vandals damaged what survived.

The ruins were rescued by English Heritage in the 1970s. Witley was made safe, but not returned to glory. I’m thankful it survived demolition when so many great countryside homes were lost.

Witley tell stories of a time, but is frozen in time.

New investment

Hampton Court & Gardens, meanwhile, is far from frozen in time in Herefordshire. My second visit.

This once derelict, 15 century castle with Victoria thrills was put back together by a wealthy benefactor in the 1990s. Sadly, death occurred before the family settled.

I was greeted by the now owners of a busy visitor attraction with wedding venue. Their practical attention to detail was abundant and – as with good business, defining. The property stays alive by attracting new people to visit for a new purpose.

Property and gardens returned to life at Hampton Court

New gardens

Speaking of lively, head gardener Hannah Wilks showed me around the new innards for her Victorian walled gardens. A high-budget creation with canals, pavilions and avenues.

The gardens are managed by four keen gardeners using organic methods. There are green manures nestled among crops. Together with heritage varieties to impress visitors when they escape from the yew maze. Both are satisfying.

Hannah’s garden budget would fit in a seed packet, so was delicately suggested, but there is tenacity in the planting with saved seed and planting donations. Every plant is valued as a result.

Clover green manure with sweetcorn in an organic garden

Concluding thoughts

My horticultural eye was excited by the contrast in gardens – one recreated, another created. Both with commitment by professional gardeners to have their plants tell a satisfying story.

My thanks to the gardening teams for sharing their enthusiam.

Find out more

Witley Court & Gardens (Twitter)
Especially friendly welcome by the English Heritage team on the front desk.

Hampton Court & Gardens, Privately owned (Twitter)
Visit with the Institute of Horticulture ‘West Midlands and South Wales’ branch on the 20th July 2013. Click here for details

Many thanks

Philip Turvil