Having partied until the small hours, and feeling just a little bit hung over, we weren’t exactly sure if we were up to getting out of bed today, let alone visiting gardens. However, the sun was out and there was a nice warm breeze, so we stopped half way home to blow the remaining cobwebs away.
I knew very little about Easton Walled Gardens before today. We looked them up in a garden guide as we drove down the A1 and were not certain what to expect, but what a find! These extensive gardens once belonged to a grand Victorian mansion which was demolished after World War II. This happened to many great houses over the course of the 1950s and 1960s after being damaged beyond repair or as family finances collapsed. Easton’s pretty gatehouse only survived the wrecking ball because the demolition machinery broke down before the job could be completed. After that, the gardens were abandoned and nature took its course – the terraces became woodland and the many stone walls crumbled and decayed. The Cholmeley family have owned the estate since 1592 but it took the current owner, Ursula Cholmeley, to take the brave step of breathing life back into the gardens. What she has created is something really special and exciting – a contemporary, innovative garden within the surviving ancient structure.
The garden stradles the valley of the River Witham, which is spring-fed at this point and still home to native crayfish and trout. The river itself has been canalised as it crosses the main garden and is traversed by a fantastically ornate and over-the-top stone bridge. Alterations have been made to the flow of the river to encourage wildlife. In fact the whole garden buzzes with insects and birds, encouraged by native wildflowers and lots of colourful annuals. We spotted plenty of butterflies and bumblebees, a goldfinch and swallows, but not the elusive kingfisher. Now that would have made my day! The photograph above shows the wildflower terraces which once led up to the great house and 100 years ago were admired by a young Franklin D Roosevelt.
On the opposite side of the river the former kitchen garden is now home to a newly planted orchard and a selection of David Austin roses and unusual lilacs. The little Dutch style bothies are particularly interesting, some bearing beautifully carved wheat-sheaves above their doorways. A double yew hedge, now grown out into a dark tunnel, was once so dense that the gardeners were able to walk along to top of it to do the clipping!
Parallel with the river a very long border overflows with Nepeta, Alchemilla, cardoons, poppies and Anthemis. The border is planted on a slope which elevates the tall planting at the back giving it real drama. The groupings are big and bold so that it can be read from the terraces on the other side.
Ursula and her four gardeners are big on annuals, sweetpeas especially. These come together in a super little garden called the Pickery, where visitors are invited to pick their own flowers – free Alchemilla mollis with every 10 stems! This generous invitation gives a real sense that visitors are welcome – no “hands off” signs here. As our boot was already full of flowers from the wedding we didn’t indulge, but I loved the whole idea.
A small woodland walk was dominated by stunning magenta Geranium psilostemon, carpets of single flowered feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) and lush stands of Digitalis lutea.
On a warm stone wall near the exit, an immaculate espalier pear was loaded with delicious looking fruit. What a great combination of colours – straight from the Farrow and Ball colourcard. We left, still tired, but with the headaches gone and ready to face the rest of the drive back to London. If you get the chance, this is a fantastic garden to visit – not in the least bit stuffy and a garden which is well on its way to being great again.