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Bryan’s Ground: Bloomsbury Revisited, on the Edge of Wales

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Bryan’s Ground: Bloomsbury Revisited, on the Edge of Wales

August 10, 2017

Like Great Dixter in Sussex, the house and gardens at Bryan’s Ground in Herefordshire were put together by artistic people at the beginning of the 20th century. Howard’s End author E.M. Forster might have dreamed up the setting with its wisteria-draped loggia, sunken garden, and skating pool, and yet the space is ever-evolving. As an expression of Arts and Crafts ideas, there is a logic and sincerity that you can’t argue with in its division of space, human proportions, and use of local materials. In the hands of David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell, Bryan’s Ground is as new and exciting now as it was a century ago.

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer, for Gardenista.

A view that is classic Arts and Crafts: a small round pond surrounded by four beds and much topiary besides. The pond is not only the center of a cruciform but the beginning of many, many more vistas, laid out in topiary, in trees and with water.
Above: A view that is classic Arts and Crafts: a small round pond surrounded by four beds and much topiary besides. The pond is not only the center of a cruciform but the beginning of many, many more vistas, laid out in topiary, in trees and with water.

A photograph exists of George Bernard Shaw playing with a dog on the terrace by the house; he was a friend of the family who built Bryan’s Ground, on a field of the same name. A prominent aunt and uncle co-founded the London School of Economics and the New Statesman magazine, with a view to “permeating the educated and influential classes with socialist ideas.” Like any Bloomsbury-esque setup, the head of the family at Bryan’s Ground had one foot in the world of commerce, having been a cotton broker in Liverpool.

Although the garden is in England, its southeastern tip rubs up against Wales: the two countries are separated by the River Lugg. Nearer to the house, the very ordered Arts and Crafts layout is an excellent starting point for anyone wishing for a better understanding of the English, their gardens, and their dogs.

Iris sibirica &#8\2\16;Papillon&#8\2\17;, surrounding 30 different varieties of apple trees around the front door. Some minimal excavation told the current owners that an orchard had been there before.
Above: Iris sibirica ‘Papillon’, surrounding 30 different varieties of apple trees around the front door. Some minimal excavation told the current owners that an orchard had been there before.

Today Bryan’s Ground is in the capable hands of the editor and art editor of the quarterly periodical Hortus, the New Yorker of horticultural reading. If they can also be compared with Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, David (the editor) is Vita with his loose, flamboyantly self-seeded plantings, while Simon (the artist) is Harold, with a penchant for straight lines, pleached allées, and gaps cut in hedges to enhance the view.

Each apple tree in the orchard is planted in a \10-foot square of &#8\2\16;Papillon&#8\2\17; iris. The apples are a mix of favorite old varieties, may of which were local, or contemporary to the house.
Above: Each apple tree in the orchard is planted in a 10-foot square of ‘Papillon’ iris. The apples are a mix of favorite old varieties, may of which were local, or contemporary to the house.
Not used for breeding pigeons, a dovecote is the focal point for vistas while providing a vantage point for people sitting in the dining room upstairs.
Above: Not used for breeding pigeons, a dovecote is the focal point for vistas while providing a vantage point for people sitting in the dining room upstairs.

Simon’s genius has been in strengthening the Arts and Crafts bones of the place without being in any way slavish. At the same time he has been adding structures such as the half-timbered dovecote, above.

The long canal is surrounded by a double row of Pyrus calleryana &#8\2\16;Chanticleer&#8\2\17;, slow to shed their leaves at the beginning of winter and quick to bud at the end.
Above: The long canal is surrounded by a double row of Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’, slow to shed their leaves at the beginning of winter and quick to bud at the end.

The George Walk, leading from the dovecote toward the long canal, is one of several areas of the gardens named after David and Simon’s dogs. George was part of the original menagerie that arrived at Bryan’s Ground with their humans in 1993. The canal is shaped like a geometric dog bone.

The focus of the long canal is a nod to George, a favorite Labrador dog.
Above: The focus of the long canal is a nod to George, a favorite Labrador dog.
Fennel, lupines, foxgloves, lilies, iris; part of the abundant planting that romps around shaped yew and hawthorn.
Above: Fennel, lupines, foxgloves, lilies, iris; part of the abundant planting that romps around shaped yew and hawthorn.
The formal garden is divided from surrounding fields by a clipped hedge and mown path. Gaps appear in the hedge at the end of vistas; in two places a ha-ha replaces a length of wrought-iron estate fencing, for a view over miles of open country.
Above: The formal garden is divided from surrounding fields by a clipped hedge and mown path. Gaps appear in the hedge at the end of vistas; in two places a ha-ha replaces a length of wrought-iron estate fencing, for a view over miles of open country.
The dovecote is adjacent to a tea room and small but charming nursery.
Above: The dovecote is adjacent to a tea room and small but charming nursery.

Like the house, the dovecote is painted a flattering ochre, a color seen on several old houses in the region.

Arne Maynard’s orange house is an hour and a half away, in Usk: Designer Visit: Arne Maynard at Home in Wales.

Old wisteria drips over the porch at the back of the house, next to a division of garden rooms.
Above: Old wisteria drips over the porch at the back of the house, next to a division of garden rooms.

An Edwardian lawn tennis court once stood to the side of the house but the space is now skillfully divided into secret spaces and rooms that cannot be rushed through. Equally, the garden planting has not been hurried over, though a staggering amount has been achieved in a relatively short time. Since the millennium, more than 1,000 trees have been planted in a new area called Cricket Wood, designated as an arboretum. The balance is tipped so that the acres overlooking Wales are formally informal, while the “formal” area around the house is, in the best Arts and Crafts tradition, informally formal.

Bryan’s Ground is open from Easter until the end of July, and for groups, by appointment. For more information, see Bryan’s Ground.

N.B.: Are you planning a trip through Wales? Don’t miss our favorite Garden Travel destinations:

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