Herefordshire's Staunton Park Gardens

PUBLISHED: 12:57 18 May 2010 | UPDATED: 09:09 11 February 2013

Herefordshire’s Staunton Park Gardens

Herefordshire’s Staunton Park Gardens

Noel Kingsbury visits Staunton Park where the gardens have been lovingly nurtured by owners past and present

An English country garden

Noel Kingsbury visits Staunton Park where the gardens have been lovingly nurtured by owners past and present

I feel very strongly that this place needs formality, says Susan Fode of the garden around the small country house which she and her husband Nick have lived in since 2002. The house was built in 1927 but looks late Victorian, solid and square in red brick.

I like a house and a garden to work together, she says. Opposite the front door are some yew hedges which set the tone for what she is trying to achieve in the garden; they are clipped into walls and blocks, geometric but with almost every line slightly off the level: Its an old hedge, so slumping a little, but we accentuate that with the clipping, she says. The result is formal in a very English way, slightly off-centre and hinting at a greater antiquity.

Susan has always gardened: My father was a keen gardener, it was a very small garden, he was very pernickety, she recalls. She has always been an enthusiastic garden visitor, and remembers coming to Staunton Park long before she and Nick moved in, as the previous owner opened the garden to the public. Garden visiting plays a large part in inspiring her work here. Great Dixter in Sussex, created by the late Christopher Lloyd, Hidcote in the Cotswolds and Spetchley Park in Worcestershire are among the gardens she lists.

When we came it was all very cottagey, with twisty borders, I didnt think it went well with the house at all, so I straightened everything out. Now the visitor is met by the yew hedges and a large lawn, fronted by a bed of catmint Nepeta Six Hills Giant atop a low retaining wall. At the back of the lawn is the wall of the old kitchen garden. The other, western, side of the house looks out, in classic English country house-style over a very open prospect, towards a large lawn to a lake and to one side there is a ha-ha giving views out over a landscape of fields dotted with elderly oaks.

The tree-planting work of previous owners has left a fine legacy of mature trees around two sides of the lake and along the drive, which passes magnificent wellingtonias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), along with a variety of other conifers and laurel. There are more elderly oaks, 300-400 years old, within the garden, and one very large tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipiferum), about 40m high, probably of Victorian planting, but possibly older, as the tree was first introduced (from North America) in the 18th century.

The first thing we did when we moved in, says Susan, was to rip out an old herb garden and redevelop it as a rose garden. Among the roses are lavenders, sage, hyssop and small box plants clipped into urn-like shapes. There is also some underplanting with the grey-leaved, ground-hugging Stachys byzantina, which Susan says that she first saw
done at Chartwell (Churchills old garden in Kent). These additional plants give the garden character even in the depths of winter.

The roses are a mixture of old shrub and modern David Austin varieties the so-called English Roses, bred to look like old-fashioned varieties with their densely-packed flowers and delicious scent. Among the English roses, Graham Stuart Thomas has done particularly well it is yellow, a colour unknown among old roses. Staunton Park is open to the public every Thursday during the summer, so once a week, says Susan: I deadhead the roses, and at the same time cut them back, so it is like a light pruning, it keeps the plants tight you have to be tough on roses, as they so easily get straggly.

A Victorian-era brick wall behind the rose garden runs along for some 70m. It is home to a variety of shrubs which benefit from its shelter and the tendency of brick to absorb and re-radiate the suns warmth. Pittosporum tenuifolium Silver Queen with its silver-cream foliage, highly attractive at all times of year, yellow-flowered Azara serrata, myrtle, grey-leaved Phlomis fruticosa and Clerodendron bungei this last having the rather odd habit of adventurously (some might say annoyingly) sending up suckers some distance from the parent plant, each one a straight stem to 1.5 or 2m with a head of deep red-pink in late summer.

Everyone has favourite colour combinations or colour themes in Susans case it is definitely dark colours. She plays with these primarily in a 40m long border on the south-west side of the house. Most of its structure is in fact shrubby: spiraeas, yellow Hypericum Hidcote, and Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) but its real impact is from late summer to early autumn with dahlias in dark shades of pink and red, cosmos, white antirrhinums and the bronze-red foliage of the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) which being an annual, has to be grown from seed every year. The butter-yellow lily African Queen is dotted throughout, as indeed are the dahlias. Repetition of plants is something which Susan regards as a key, and very easy, design principle. Also here are several penstemons: King George V and Andenken an Friedrich Hahn, both of them deep red, and both very hardy and long-lived for a group of plants with something of a reputation for being slightly tender.

Elsewhere there are more informal plantings of shrubs and perennials: moisture-loving irises and purple loosestrife along the lakeshore, bulbs and hostas in a new woodland garden Susan is currently developing what she calls the Victorian Garden where the centrepiece is a large Victorian cast-iron fountain, surrounded by a rockery which appears to be made of masonry this must be part of the remains of the house which stood here until 1927.

Staunton Park has so many of the features of a classic English country garden; deeply historic but undergoing many changes with the enthusiasm of new owners adding their layer of ideas and planting to an older landscape framework.

The garden is open for the NGS on Thursdays until September 16 from11am-5pm. Admission 3.
Home-made teas and a small selection of plants from the garden for sale. Dogs on lead welcome.
Staunton Park
01544 388556

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