AUTUMN LECTURE 2021

Following our formal Annual General Meeting, our Autumn Lecture this year was about Kiftsgate Court Gardens in Gloucestershire.  The talk was given by Vanessa Berridge who was the launch editor of The English Garden magazine and is now an internationally published garden writer and historian. Her books have included The Princess’s Garden: Royal Intrigue and the Untold Story of Kew and Great British Gardeners: From Early Plantsmen to Chelsea Medal Winners. She won the 2019 Garden Media Guild Book of the Year Award for Kiftsgate Court Gardens: Three Generations of Women Gardeners.

The gardens at Kiftsgate in Gloucestershire occupy the top and bottom of Baker Hill, a wooded hillside, with views out to the Severn plateau and the distant Malvern Hills. They provide a contrast to those at its famous near-neighbour, Hidcote Gardens, created by Lawrence Johnson and now National Trust. Vanessa’s talk followed a year’s ‘residency’ there, exploring both the archives and the gardens themselves throughout the seasons, developed by three women from the same family: Heather Muir, her daughter Diany and granddaughter Anne.

 

Heather and her husband Jack bought the estate in the early 1920s, with earlier lime and elm avenues as well as Scots Pines the most obvious legacy of previous owners. Although she had no horticultural experience, Heather had a vision for a terraced garden, terraces and hedges to protect plants from the winds. With their experience of the Mediterranean, Heather introduced perennials, shrubs and a mixture of low box and yew hedging as a context for abundantly planted beds with grassy paths (though without a traditional ‘English lawnscape’) acquiring knowledge and contacts. She introduced the famous Kiftsgate Rose, now intertwining with the tops of copper beech trees, as well as roses such as Rosa Gallica, while Kiftsgate’s White ‘Sunken’ Garden predates Sissinghurst by some 20 years.  Vita Sackville-West wrote to Heather that she felt ‘disgruntled’ by her own garden following her own visit there, but was pleased to note that they shared similar tastes in planting.

kiftsgate winter.jpg

Heather’s four square beds near the house were subsequently developed by her daughter, Diany, who introduced large swathes of colour rather than individual plants, for example white Deutzi in the Rose Garden and Asters, Astilbes and Cornus in the Late Summer Garden Borders and yellow, orange and cream tulips in the Yellow Border. Heather’s granddaughter, Anne Chambers, and her husband have further developed the gardens. For example, as well as opening up views from the top to the bottom through the woodland, there is now also a more contemplative water garden (inspired by Geoffrey Jellicoe) on the site of a former tennis court, which has very clear water to reflect the sculptural flowers and hornbeam hedges.  The photo, courtesy of the Chambers family, shows an aerial view of the water garden in winter.

 

The gardens, with their Mediterranean features and ‘timeless feel’, are still being complemented by garden designers and won Christie’s Historic Garden of the Year Award in the early 21st century. The introduction of spring bulbs along the driveway and orchard areas and herbaceous planting for late summer also have facilitated the gardens being open from April to October. Well worth a visit! https://www.kiftsgate.co.uk/home

Fiona Hope

Executive Secretary, Berkshire Gardens Trust