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English elegance.

Byline: Elizabeth Shaheen

IF you are travelling to England this summer, then I should highly recommend that you take in the beautiful English countryside, for I feel that there is no finer destination in the world. I should further recommend that you head for south Devon, where sits a romantic 16th century walled garden surrounding the ruins of a centuries old vicarage.

This is The Garden House and is renowned as one of the most exciting gardens in the UK.

It is not only described as one of the most beautiful one-and-a-half acres in England, but here you will find a new style of gardening in the newer parts of the garden.

What's more, they sell plants from their nursery and we have a few of their treasures growing in our Bahrain garden.

This new style I speak of is said to take "its inspiration from natural landscapes and plant associations in a style that has been loosely dubbed 'new naturalism'. The entire garden is simply humbling.

Its naturalness presents a truly romantic aura, almost impressionistic, the plant life blending into one another and the random use of colours is exactly what I use in our own Bahrain garden.

This is truly my style of planting, using density and diversity, and the end result is one of endless beauty with a dreamy flow of colours.

Keith Wiley was the garden designer and curator. All through his life he has had a passion for natural landscapes and in The Garden House he has reflected, in the plantings, his love of the countries he has visited and loved: South Africa, Crete and Switzerland to the - as he says - "equally beautiful settings around the UK".

Built in the early 19th century, The Garden House is a wonderfully elegant mansion.

It was built to replace the old medieval vicarage (the ruins of which you will see in The Walled Garden), to provide a home for the vicars of Buckland Monachorum.

It is The Walled Garden that forms the nucleus of The Garden House. A stunningly serene view of the bygone days where, in 1945, retired Etonian schoolmaster Lionel Fortescue and his wife Katherine embarked on the establishment of what is today perceived as one of the pre-eminent gardens in Britain.

Lionel's wayward pupils received a most wonderful punishment, that of forced labour in his school house garden.

And, prior to considering purchasing a home, he would have the garden soil first analysed before committing himself.

He wouldn't do too well here in Bahrain. Here we can't be too picky and we have to constantly improve our sandy soil.

Lionel died in 1981 and his wife in 1983.

Keith Wiley joined the team in 1978 but is no longer at The Garden House, for he moved on to create his own.

Keith and his artist wife Ros, with Lionel's approval, began the second major phase of the garden, expanding it to incorporate the fields and pastures that formerly lay beyond The Walled Garden.

They transformed the arena into a ground-breaking spectacle of planting, earning The Garden House national repute.

The soil is naturally acidic with a pH of around 5.5. But, where generations of kitchen gardeners have added lime to the soil, the bottom terraces of The Walled Garden have become neutral or faintly alkaline.

Such conditions allow for an extensive array of plants, with more than 6,000 varieties growing most contentedly.

Room after room will open up before you as you stroll through this idyllic setting.

Over 20 different areas, each inspired by different parts of the country and the world, with unremitting evocative resonance of a bygone age of secret paths, weathered yet mellow stone, tumbling ruins, rushing brooks, lush borders and ethereal monuments.

The eastern edge is titled The Long Walk and Ten Trees, which has as its focal point a beautiful old chestnut tree.

The South African Garden is one of the most recent additions and is magnificence itself. It is close to the driveway and reflects the world legendary spring flowering of South Africa.

The raised shaped beds are top-soiled in sand with compost underneath, mirroring the dunes.

This showcase of profusion of colour embraces annuals of South Africa alongside bedfellows from wider Africa and similar regions.

For instance, the California poppy dressed in vivacious orange. This beauty blooms in our garden in April and is a truly wondrous plant.

I feel so honoured to be able to grow it in our garden.

In fact, our garden this year presented many south African natives as well as Californian, North American, English meadow and Mediterranean. It was a complete free-for-all - a magnificent concert.

A quaint bridge will take you to The Quarry Garden, which is, at its finest, in May and June.

A great deal of the stone for recent buildings has been quarried from here.

The planting scheme is of naturalistic alpines and plants that require good drainage and is evolving to allow for as much of the natural rock to be left exposed as is feasible, and the babbling water creates movement and life.

This is but a window view of the scenic beauty of The Garden House and I do so urge you to take time out and visit it at leisure.

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Jul 20, 2008
Words:891
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