An English country house and garden in Herefordshire is a treasure trove of historic wonder.
Garden treasures abound in Britain, from the magnificent estates of the royals and the rich to the historic and haughty-cultural. However, there are many beautiful gardens far from the madding crowd that are equally enchanting to visit.
Bryan’s Ground in Herefordshire, the home of writer and editor David Wheeler and artist Simon Dorrell, is a charming example. The property is a classic of the Arts and Crafts style in English architectural and garden history, and the pair have restored and kept the atmosphere of the Edwardian era while also adding their own stamp.
Bryan’s Ground (the name recalls a 12th-century lord who roamed their patch of north-west Herefordshire) was built between 1911 and 1913 for the Misses Holt, two spinster sisters of a merchant shipping and cotton broking family based in Liverpool. As David explains: “The architect who designed Bryan’s Ground graced it with a three-acre formal garden comprising several of the period’s signature components: a Lutyens-esque sunk garden with a circular pond, yew and box topiary, rose pergola, orchard and the obligatory country house lawn tennis court, plus kitchen garden and large greenhouse. Together, we’ve further divided up the garden, creating 20 different colour-themed ‘rooms’, adding follies and installing seven more ponds. Our premise was that someone had gardened here happily before, and we would carry on.” And they have — in spades!
Simon, with his interest in art, architecture and design, is the planner and has physically built the ‘bones’ of the design, while David, the plantsman, has fun filling out the garden with trees, shrubs and flowers.
All the formal new ‘rooms’ have been created by using and adding to the existing yew or clipped box hedging, enhancing the strong architectural lines of the garden. David and Simon have chosen an eclectic range of ideas and plants, borrowing from the past occasionally, but with a new twist or interpretation wherever possible. “We’ve embraced a style that favours symmetry, small varying enclosures, vistas and an abundance of flower and leaf,” says David. “I think in our fast-changing world, a garden must, above all else, conjure a mood of timelessness.”
This sense of timelessness, of a new interpretation on an old theme, is seen at its best in the orchard at the front entrance. The dazzling grid of 30 different varieties of apple (culinary, cider and dessert) is an Elizabethan idea but, in a contemporary twist, the trees are under-planted with sheaves of blue Iris sibirica ‘Papillon’. A long pool with serpentine edges is the centrepiece (below). “The shape was inspired by the rounded canopies of the apple trees that are in rows either side of it,” Simon adds.
A 19-metre-long canal pool (above) in the Dutch Garden is enlivened by a statue of a much-loved dog at one end; the Sulking House, a Gothic pavilion with purple flowering plants, is hung with tattered velvet and dried teasels; there’s a crinkle-crankle beech walk, crocus lawn, a parterre of Portugal laurel (Prunus lusitanica) and formal herb garden.
Beyond these cultivated formal parts of the garden, grassy walks lead to David’s passion — a two-hectare arboretum that is full of his favourite trees and shrubs. “We named it Cricket Wood, as it was the site of the village’s former cricket pitch and disused since the 1950s, but it’s now within our boundary,” David explains.
“Part of the essence of the Arts and Crafts style is a mix of formality and wildness,” he adds. “That’s what we like — planting that’s not too elaborate or unnatural. The house and garden are one entity and belong to the countryside.”
A wander through the nearby meadows to the riverbank brings you to the end of England; across the River Lugg is Wales. A detour back to the house along another grassy walk is via a rustic belvedere, which David and Simon say is their favourite part of the garden.
“It’s a quiet place in the shade where the brain can relax after being overloaded with colour and fragrance,” says Simon. From the belvedere, the view is sublimely rural of rolling green pastures to gentle hills. It’s the perfect place to survey the landscape and contemplate the beauties of Bryan’s Ground.