Making The Gardens
A garden is like a painting, it is never finished.
Sir Roy and his wife came to The Laskett in May 1973. There was no intent of making what many now salute as a remarkable garden. Julia had green fingers, but Sir Roy’s had yet to twitch, which they quickly did, particularly when the farmer – to whom they rented a large three-acre field – decided that he no longer wanted it. It was at this point that horticultural madness of furor hortensis set in, one which has never abated through four decades.
The Laskett has been subject to constant change and development through the years; indeed, it is a monument to the fact that gardening is a mutant art. The impulses and inspirations which influenced its design and planting are eclectic. Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds, that magical garden of rooms, was one, as indeed were many other gardens of the pre-1914 golden age. In addition, the formal gardens of Tudor and Stuart England and those of Renaissance Italy. Later, in the 1990s, other places contributed such as Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta and Clough Williams-Ellis’ Portmeirion. The Laskett developed piecemeal as and when its owners could afford it. So, the paving and the sculpture arrived years after the hedges, avenues, shrubs and other trees went in.
For the first 15 years the only labour were two gardeners who came for one day once a fortnight. Later that increased to one untrained man full-time and, finally, to the present team of two trained gardeners for four days a week.
Julia died in 2003 and a decision had to be made as to whether the garden was to stand still or be subject to further change. By then, conifers which were planted two or three feet high were soaring monsters engendering claustrophobia. The Gardens were also hopelessly over-stocked and much of the planting tired and in need of renewal. Boldly, Sir Roy set out, with the aid of his two excellent gardeners, to take out most of the conifers to let in the light; reduce and re-cut many of the hedges; drastically prune overgrown evergreens; open up vistas to the surrounding countryside; and refresh the planting, emphasising one of the Gardens’ keynote features – that of topiary.
The great axis path from the Fountain Court to what is now the Colonnade Court was built, the latter re-laid out and the Silver Jubilee Garden, subject to constant flooding, given drainage and redesigned. Do not be surprised if there are further changes, for change is the lifeblood of any proper garden.