Report: A stroll in an English garden
"Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners", writes William Shakespeare in Othello. As is widely known, the passion the English demonstrate for their gardens never dwindles. The Capel Manor site, in north London represents the ideal location to discover the richness and diversity.
About twenty minutes from the end of the Piccadilly Line, where the rows of identical suburb houses open out onto beautiful residences surrounded by gardens, Capel Manor hides behind a long, brick wall. Martin Day, one of three gardeners working on the land, presents the 12 hectares and the 60 historic, themed gardens, forming part of this magnificent patchwork of an English garden.
The beginnings - a 13th Century garden
To begin with, Martin takes us back to the 13th Century."Queen Elizabeth II was invited to open the Old Manor House Garden in June 2010. The idea was to recreate the ruins of the Gothic manor which stood here 8 centuries ago and to rebuild the surrounding garden which stood at this time", explains Martin whilst pointing out a lavender flower bed."There are no plans or prints from the time, therefore it has been difficult to decide which plants and flowers accompanied the manor", he continues. Roses will definitely feature. The love affair of the English with roses is ever-lasting.
Just a stone's throw away from what remains of the manor, a stretch of water is home to aquatic plant species."Capel Manor, is also a horticultural school; we use all the available space to plant the plant species which can be observed by students and the public", continues Martin.
Stroll around the themed gardens
A bit further on, your eyes will be immediately drawn to a hedge featuring a series of various colored painted pipes. You will be truly amazed by the contrast with the"Gothic extravagance"."Yes, it is surprising, admits Martin with a smile on his face, Kim Wilde designed it - you've heard of her, the singer turned gardener". Laurent Voulzy's heroine is now a famous gardener...
She is not the only celebrity to become an expert gardener. It is believed that Prince Charles knows more about horticulture than an expert in the subject. It must be in the family genes - in the miniature garden section, Martin pauses and makes a stop in the Queen Mother's garden."She loved roses, mauve, violet and crimson shades. We reconstructed this space according to her tastes", explains Martin. You can just imagine the Queen Mother sipping her daily gin and tonic, encircled by all these roses.
On the other side of the path, you can observe a formal, English garden typical of the small Victorian town houses."Colored herbaceous plants make an appearance. Every year, they are planted in boxes, surrounded by extremely low-cut hedges. It is referred to as box gardening". The contrast is further enhanced upon observing the flanking section where a charming jumble of climbing roses, wisteria and clematis take center stage. A carefully-thought out mixture which is reminiscent of the magnificent cottage garden belonging to Anne Hathaway, the wife of Shakespeare...
From the 17th Century to Victorian flamboyance
Martin then jumps forward in time to the flamboyance and opulence of the reign of Queen Victoria. Along the greenhouse path where his colleague, Sharon, passionately takes care of the herbaceous plants, Martin leashes the perfectly symmetrical gardens of the 17th Century with vast hedges, cut to perfection. All of a sudden he comes to life right in front of a flowerbed of thalia flowers:"Look at how beautiful they are. Every year, they manage to survive the winter and grow".
Buried amongst books, plans, tools and as expected, seeds, Sharon has no time to put her feet up."At the moment, there is lots to do, she explains as she lovingly observes the plants, I am preparing a new bed of flowers and I am doing everything, from beginning to end, it is really exciting". She admits placing a labeled sticker on her FELCO pruning shears so that they are not taken by a school student or a colleague! A fear expressed by Martin:"FELCO tools are very light and reliable. They can provoke jealousy, principally amongst students, so much so, that students are forced to hide the tools..."
When creating her designs, Sharon finds inspiration in Victorian gardens."I am fascinated by the opulence of the period as well as the fusion of species, colors. The Victorians were not shy when it came to being excessive and extravagant. It reached the extent where they would change the flower beds on their properties during the night in order to impress staying guests the following morning"...
My visit to Capel Manor has come to an end and I already feel the urge to discover other English gardens. Nothing could be clearer: the land of Shakespeare, Prince Charles and his grandmother, Kim Wilde, houses the most fascinating gardens in the world.