Restoration or Revival? A Modern Dilemma. (Revival = a new presentation or production)
Margery Fish created a masterpiece of cottage garden style and she was a plants women extraordinaire – people came to visit her gardens here not only for inspiration but also to see a vast collection of, what was at the time, rare and unusual plants growing in natural and enchanting surroundings. She was unstructured in her approach and had no formal training in horticulture, having spent most of her adult life in Fleet Street, London, working for the editor of the Daily Mail Newspaper. However, having moved to East Lambrook Manor in Somerset she became an avid plant collector and toured the country both swapping and acquiring new and exciting varieties of plants. In the 1950’s commercial plant nurseries were almost unknown and in fact she is almost as famous as a pioneer of commercial plant selling as she is for her natural gardening talent. So in the new millennium, over thirty years after her death, would Margery Fish want to see her garden restored or revived? She was innovative, creative, instinctive, undaunted, and never intimidated. She was passionate about her plants. Our feeling today is that a garden is a living, breathing organism and as such should never be stifled or made into a static museum piece. However, the gardens should remain a ‘living’ monument to her place in horticultural history - this is, after all, the ‘home of English Cottage Gardening. And as such the garden team, just as Mrs Fish would do if she were alive today, are planting new and exciting varieties of plants in the ‘Cottage Garden Style’. This was and still remains a true ‘plantsmans’ garden.
The Project- Year 2000 to Present Day
For the first 4 years the gardens were cleared and numerous dead trees were removed – the garden was over 60 years old and sadly many shrubs and trees had reached the end of their natural life. There was also a battle against ‘out of control’ geraniums, and perennial weeds had taken hold in many areas. Some plants had simply outgrown their position or had swamped other more delicate plants. Indeed, as the new millennium dawned, it was a wild landscape and stretched even Margery Fish’s concept of ‘jungle planting’! A cottage garden is a chaotic landscape and that is what makes it enchanting, but there “must be some order in the chaos” and this was now to be the goal of the garden team, lead by Head Gardener, Mark Stainer.
The garden work commenced in 2000 with the replacement of the famous Margery Fish Pudding Trees. The avenue of chamacyparis lawsonia fletcheri had out-grown their life span and were suffocating the area known as The Terraces – cuttings from original plants were taken, the old trees removed and new baby trees planted in 2001.
The Terraces are a series of planting beds on a slope and the top left and right terraces were the ‘trial’ beds from 2001 to 2003. During this period valuable plants from these top beds were carefully removed to storage areas, while perennial weeds such as couch grass and ground elder were repeatedly extracted. Each of these two beds was then ‘double dug’ with a special East Lambrook Manor enriching mixture (our own 2 year cycle compost, ash from our incinerator and local horse manure).
Margery Fish’s old planting records were carefully studied and although the team replanted using many of the plants which Margery Fish popularised such as artemesia, cottage garden scented ‘pinks’, gigantic poppies, and plants discovered here, such as Polemonium ‘Lambrook Mauve’, Artemesia ‘Lambrook Silver’, Euphorbia ’Lambrook Gold’, they also recognised that Mrs Fish was an avid enthusiast of new and exciting varieties, and hence replanting also incorporated many new modern discoveries. In Autumn 2003 the other 6 terrace beds were finally cleared and replanted in Spring 2004. This area is being given new life – the emphasis is still on creating a tapestry of colour in the cottage garden style.
The Scented Garden
This area was untouched and had never been addressed by Mrs Fish. Along with the garden team it has been decided to open this area and create a scented garden which can be viewed from both the gardens and the plant nursery. This new creation also runs along the edge of a beautiful seating area and hence visitors can sit and enjoy the scents of the daphnes, roses, lavender and other plants while enjoying the tranquillity of the gardens.
The White Garden
This area had become overgrown and many of the original white flowering plants had long since disappeared. This was a classic case of trees and shrubs originally planted by Mrs Fish in the 1950’s having now outgrown their space, creating shady, dark and dingy areas. The hedges which Mrs Fish had planted had been overgrown with vinca and the lack of light had caused their disintegration. The first step was to begin clearing and replanting the hedges and this project was given to our German Horticulture student, Arndt. Liasing with the garden team, Arndt, spent 4 months dedicated to this project in 2002.
The Long Border
This area is a wide border which runs along a long stone wall separating the gardens from the village road on the other side. Here we have a wonderful avenue of trees from the Prunus padus to the Acer platanoides Goldsworthy Purple which, when originally planted by Mrs Fish in the 1940’s, created a very different vista to that of today. The trees are now some 30ft high and their canopy shades a vast area of the planting border below.
The garden team have had to approach the replanting in this area with a completely different emphasis from Margery Fish, although her many suggestions from her book, ‘Gardening in the Shade’ have been immensely useful. The project of clearing and replanting this area was given to our German Horticulture student,Manuela, and she created stunning hand-drawn planting plans and successfully re-established this important border having spent 4 months of dedicated time on the project in 2004. It will be a joy to see this area mature and develop over the next few years.
The Wooded Helleborus Garden - Major Project for 2005
Started in Spring 2005 this was the biggest single project that the garden team have undertaken so far. It was project managed by our Head Gardener, Mark Stainer, and took several months of dedicated time.
The area has been best known for the display of snowdrops and helleborus in early Spring and the woodland effect has supplied the necessary dappled shade and environment suitable for these plants to thrive. However, the area is infected with honey fungus and we finally lost the last large tree in the Woodland Garden in 2004. It is also apparent that Mrs Fish planted the woodland garden with little concern for public access or maintenance by gardeners of the future and so it has been decided that the area should be stripped clear. A woodland garden remains essential if we are to replant the snowdrops and maintain a significant helleborus collection, and the team wish to redesign the area, making it more accessible. However, the first and most delicate part of the project was the removal of the extensive and famous snowdrop collection which commenced after the snowdrop season finished in March 2005.