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Garden Visit: A Modern Garden for a Gothic Estate in the Cotswolds

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Garden Visit: A Modern Garden for a Gothic Estate in the Cotswolds

May 5, 2017

Is perfection achievable in a garden? Some would say not, but Wortley House in Gloucestershire comes very close to achieving it with its eclectic combination of enclosed gardens, structure, statuary, and varied garden buildings, all immaculately maintained and softened by knowledgeable planting.

In the last 32 years Simon and Jessica Dickinson have tackled a different area almost every year, resulting in a sublimely flowing garden of enclosures leading out to wilder areas of an arboretum, woodland walks, and a lake. To kick-start her horticultural odyssey Jessica took several courses with Rosemary Verey at Barnsley House, where she mastered the art of good structural design as well as horticultural techniques, alongside the then under- gardener Rupert Golby.

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer.

 From the original \16th-century house, terraces lead out to the walled garden, watched over by antique statues and divided by yew buttresses.
Above: From the original 16th-century house, terraces lead out to the walled garden, watched over by antique statues and divided by yew buttresses.
 The last few weeks have been tulip season and by adding new varieties each year Jessica has established a display of rich colors.
Above: The last few weeks have been tulip season and by adding new varieties each year Jessica has established a display of rich colors.
 Solomon’s Seal mingles with the fringed Tulip Blue Heron in the borders surrounding the kitchen.
Above: Solomon’s Seal mingles with the fringed Tulip Blue Heron in the borders surrounding the kitchen.
 Sometimes mistaken for a peony, the blowsy Tulip Angelique intermingles with the species Tulip Bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’.
Above: Sometimes mistaken for a peony, the blowsy Tulip Angelique intermingles with the species Tulip Bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’.
 A French limestone statue of a kneeling figure tops the gate leading from the walled garden to the lower terrace, with the ironwork date ‘85’, marking the start of Jessica and Simon’s gardening story at Wortley House.
Above: A French limestone statue of a kneeling figure tops the gate leading from the walled garden to the lower terrace, with the ironwork date ‘85’, marking the start of Jessica and Simon’s gardening story at Wortley House.
 The lichen encrusted walls are softened by many happy self-seeded geraniums, primroses, and ferns&#8\230;.
Above: The lichen encrusted walls are softened by many happy self-seeded geraniums, primroses, and ferns….
&#8\230;as well as an audacious Digitalis which has found a home in the crevice of an old Acer tree.
Above: …as well as an audacious Digitalis which has found a home in the crevice of an old Acer tree.
 Jessica freely admits to copying Isabel and Julian Bannerman’s Antler Temple at Houghton Hall in Norfolk.
Above:  Jessica freely admits to copying Isabel and Julian Bannerman’s Antler Temple at Houghton Hall in Norfolk.
A closeup view.
Above: A closeup view.
From the Antler Temple, there are views back to the Urn Garden.
Above: From the Antler Temple, there are views back to the Urn Garden.
 From a seat in the temple, you can hear the running water in of the stream behind, on the banks of which mingle Camassias, Solomon’s Seal, and the fragrant, multi-headed triandrus Narcissi ‘Silver Chimes’.
Above: From a seat in the temple, you can hear the running water in of the stream behind, on the banks of which mingle Camassias, Solomon’s Seal, and the fragrant, multi-headed triandrus Narcissi ‘Silver Chimes’.
 Leaving the formal areas of the garden through a Gothic gate, the Nut Walk presents another surprise with its fiery crimson leaves of Copper Beech under-planted with bluebells, cowslips, fritillaries and cuckoo flowers.
Above: Leaving the formal areas of the garden through a Gothic gate, the Nut Walk presents another surprise with its fiery crimson leaves of Copper Beech under-planted with bluebells, cowslips, fritillaries and cuckoo flowers.

Walking through this guard of honor, we were showered with petals of pink confetti from the cherry trees in the nearby orchard.

 Mown grass paths lead past the Potager and an apple and pear arch to a memorial Dachshund Obelisk, surrounded by shrubs such as Vibernum plicatum ‘Mariesii’ with its lacy corymbs of white flowers.
Above: Mown grass paths lead past the Potager and an apple and pear arch to a memorial Dachshund Obelisk, surrounded by shrubs such as Vibernum plicatum ‘Mariesii’ with its lacy corymbs of white flowers.
  Sometimes known as the Japanese Snowball bush, Vibernum plicatum ‘Mariesii’ is part of the Adoxaceae family.
Above:  Sometimes known as the Japanese Snowball bush, Vibernum plicatum ‘Mariesii’ is part of the Adoxaceae family.

In the wider landscape, references to other gardens and makers are in evidence. In the words of Charles Caleb Colton’s quotation that “Imitation is the sincerest of flattery,” Jessica and Simon have created a thatched banqueting house framed by the Gloucestershire hills, for which a golf buggy can be borrowed if your legs aren’t up to the parkland stroll. Rustic garden buildings were once a regular resting place on the 18th-century pleasure grounds circuit.

 Elsewhere, overlooking the lake with its thatched duck house, a pale blue Gothic Folly is a copy of Charles Hamilton’s \18th-century temple at Painshill in Surrey.
Above: Elsewhere, overlooking the lake with its thatched duck house, a pale blue Gothic Folly is a copy of Charles Hamilton’s 18th-century temple at Painshill in Surrey.
The circuitous walk returns to the formal gardens, but there is more.
Above: The circuitous walk returns to the formal gardens, but there is more.
A gate leads out to the pleached lime avenue, which leads on to a wildflower meadow speckled with Queen of the Night tulips.
Above: A gate leads out to the pleached lime avenue, which leads on to a wildflower meadow speckled with Queen of the Night tulips.
 The delicate pink flowers of the bush honeysuckle Lonicera tatarica ‘Rosea’, bely its hardiness and strong growth.
Above: The delicate pink flowers of the bush honeysuckle Lonicera tatarica ‘Rosea’, bely its hardiness and strong growth.
 A cheeky satyr with a rich cloak of green moss guards the entrance to the enclosed Italian garden.
Above: A cheeky satyr with a rich cloak of green moss guards the entrance to the enclosed Italian garden.
 Beyond this are more surprises and borrowed vistas but perhaps it would be unfair to give away all of Wortley’s secrets. It certainly warrants a return visit to the National Garden Scheme open day on June \20, when the huge range of roses should be at their best, bringing yet another dimension to this garden of gifted amateur creators. I am off to book my ticket.
Above: Beyond this are more surprises and borrowed vistas but perhaps it would be unfair to give away all of Wortley’s secrets. It certainly warrants a return visit to the National Garden Scheme open day on June 20, when the huge range of roses should be at their best, bringing yet another dimension to this garden of gifted amateur creators. I am off to book my ticket.

N.B.: For more of our favorite destinations in and about the Cotswolds, see:

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