The first garden visited was Mapperton House, near Beaminster, the ancestral home of the Earls of Sandwich. According to a vote by ‘Country Life’ it is ‘the nation’s finest manor house’. The Earl and Countess’ son, Luke, and his wife, Julie, the Viscount and Viscountess of Hinchingbroke, live there and manage the estate. It has also been described as a fabulous estate, set in countryside of the utmost beauty.
On our arrival we had tea and coffee before being guided round the 15 acre gardens, set in its own secluded valley, overlooked by the sandstone Jacobean manor house. The garden is Italianate in style, with orangery, topiary and numerous herbaceous borders, descending to a long formal reflecting pool and an arboretum. This is complemented by views of the surrounding countryside of small steep valleys and wooded headlands which stretch to the sea five miles away.
Topiary, consisting of lofty yew cones, line the pool over which rises an exquisite stone summerhouse. Nearby stands an assembly of traditional topiary shapes, many disclosing their age and tending to defy the formal design, but all looking very healthy, showing the care they must have been given over the years.
The second garden, a walk away from the restaurant, was Farrs, in the centre of Beaminster. It’s the home of the renowned furniture designer, John Makepeace OBE and his wife Jenny who have designed and created from scratch two very different gardens, Jenny a traditional country garden and John a contemporary garden composed entirely of grasses, said to be amongst the best of its kind.
What unifies the whole and what immediately captivates the visitor is the virtual barrage of ancient yew topiary which encompasses the elegant 18th century house. A quiet haven from the bustle of the town was thereby created and formed backdrop to the two gardens.
After crossing the formal grass lawns at the front of the house, was John’s garden. Here a riot of luxuriant grasses of many varieties are interspersed with what John describes as ‘events’, namely sweeping walkways, curving bridges, pools, a terrace and sculpture. At the perimeter, as if on guard, stands the yew hedge, looking very much like a family of giant, dark, Moomins. An interesting architectural feature is the contemporary stone and glass summerhouse which is reached by a bridge over a pool. All artefacts are reminiscent of John’s furniture designs.
In complete contrast was Jenny’s garden, which adjoins, comprising a colourful potager, with a new cleft oak fruit cage, glasshouse and straw bale retreat. A sense of serendipity was created by Jenny’s profusion of flowering plants but it became apparent that this is created by her thoughtful planning.
There was also an opportunity to see some of John’s furniture and contemporary art collection in the house.
Middlebrook is the home of Mr and Mrs Richard Strange, who invited former EBTS UK Chairman Bruce Ginsberg together with other members of EBTS to see their garden, which is in course of development. Its designer is Charles Chesshire, who has an extensive practice both in the UK and abroad. Richard gave an explanation of his and Charles’ objectives for the garden.
With many thanks to David Milanes for suggesting the first two gardens, Bruce Ginsberg for the third and Chris Redston for the photographs of the day.