Eastleach Characters – Stephanie Richards
Gardeners who live in the southern reaches of the Cotswolds enthuse about Stephanie Richards’ magnificent garden at Eastleach House. Mid-winter exposes the structure of mature yew hedges, box paths, knot gardens and topiary close to the house and the landscape beyond it; frost or snow highlight every clipped ball and pyramid against the baleful sky. But this is a master-class in plantsmanship and inspirational colour theming as well as design. Yet few people beyond the borders of Gloucestershire have ever heard of it.
Stephanie and her late husband, David, started with a blank canvas in the early 1980s. They were fortunate that the house stood high on the plateau that marks the end of the Cotswold scarp and the begining of the Thames Valley. It was also aligned to the four compass points: this precise orientation has influenced the planting throughout the garden.
For instance, to the south of the house there’s a sun-baked garden where Stephanie grows aromatic Mediterranean plants in raised beds, creating a border of soft silver, blue and pale yellow. The space is curtailed, rather than enclosed, at the southern end by a pair of ornate wrought-iron gates. Decorated with a twining clematis motif, these were installed to celebrate the millennium and preserve that all-important long vista beyond. On a clear day, you can see the Marlborough Downs some 30 miles away.
An avenue of burnished red-twigged limes (Tilia platyphyllos ‘Rubra’ ) glow in the winter sunshine as they stretch from the millennium gates to the horizon. At the furthest point a rondel of neatly clipped yews, partially trained to form an arching feature, stand out against the sky. When seen from afar they resemble a group of figures who are linking arms. This living sculpture is partly encircled by a wider arc of pleached limes, framing a seat from where you can admire the sunset and the view.
In spring, the lime avenue comes alive when two varieties of narcissus flower: the yellow, early ‘Carlton’ and the creamy, late ‘Mount Hood’. “The two overlap so we get six weeks of colour,” Stephanie says. “First the bright yellows, then the mixture of yellow and cream, followed by all cream.”
It’s hard to believe that the luxuriant yew hedges that separate and screen the intimate garden spaces were only planted 20 years ago. Stephanie always planned to make a traditional English garden with yew and box: “Rosemary Verey was my inspiration. I read in one of her books that there was no reason to think that yew is slower than any other hedging plant. And it gave me the confidence to plant lots of screens and backdrops.”
The two most intensive parts, the rill garden and the walled garden, show the breadth of contrast between mood and colour. This can only be truly appreciated in summer when the borders, which are packed with plants that include iris, peonies, clematis and roses, are at their best.
The walled garden is quiet and serene. A soothing fountain, warm blue seats, a summer house and a terrace surrounded by a planting scheme of softly subdued whites, pale pinks and baby blues invite you to linger. Few visitors realise that there are eight walls and no right angles; it works only because it was so skilfully laid out. The intricate framework of box lattice work, hedges
and topiary, includes the herb garden’s four mophead holm oaks (Quercus ilex). All are expertly trimmed by the gardener, Stuart Austin. This master of artful clipping and shaping begins in June and finishes in late November. A husband-and-wife team, Shirley and Brian, work part-time; Stephanie mows all the lawns.
In dramatic contrast, the Rill Garden is a blaze of colour and sweeping lines on a west-facing slope. The water slips peacefully enough down a series of stone steps in the middle, framed by golden conifers (Thuja orientalis ‘Aurea’). The curved, box-edged borders are arranged according to colour. In high summer the borders on the right, planted with a clever mixture of warm reds, oranges and yellows, glow in the evening sunshine. The cooler colours – purples, blues, pinks, greens and acid yellows – are on the shadier side of the rill.
Stephanie’s favourite way to relax is by going on painting holidays; from the top terrace above the rill garden you can really sense the artist at work as she mixes a rich palette of colour and texture. Gardeners – and gardens – like this are few and far between.
Photo by kind permission of www.homersykes.com
Taken for the Mail on Sunday “You Magazine” in the early 1990s for a feature on village life in the Cotswolds.
Article from: www.telegraph.co.uk