As a small boy I was presented with a rocking horse, a dapple grey on a firm wooden base. I may have been the wrong age, but I soon grew bored with it, as it would only go back and forth, with a buck at the ends of its travel. It was not Christmas or my birthday, and some years later I concluded that it must have come via my Amor grandfather, who worked as a gardener and odd job man for an elderly spinster who presumably was clearing out unwanted items. Another of his tasks was looking after the lady’s donkey. My paternal grandfather had not trained as a gardener, coming to gardening late in his working life, whereas my maternal grandfather had progressed from one garden to another, increasing his knowledge and skills. I have mentioned previously that he later became a judge at village flower and garden shows. Unfortunately I do not seem to have inherited this part of their DNA.
A few years ago my wife was given a hot air balloon trip as a present on a notable birthday. The launch venue was Barrington Court, near Ilminster in Somerset and I was invited to help fill the basket, with extra payment. As we rose above the site the pilot suggested we look down at the Gertrude Jekyll garden below us, and we admired it from above. I have since read that Gertrude Jekyll did not actually design the garden, but it was laid out following her influences in the 1920s.
Many of the large gardens in our area were designed much earlier. Puncknowle Manor House has small enclosed areas in front of the sixteenth century house reflecting the inward looking nature of the time.
Later landscape gardening became the vogue. A well known name in landscaping is “Capability” Brown who laid out the area of Milton Abbas between 1771 and 1790 for Joseph Damer, Viscount Milton, according to Christopher Taylor in Dorset. Damer ordered the small town to be removed to improve the view from his house, moving the residents to a new village half a mile away. The attractive park is now set in a valley, with trees and a lake in front of the house and abbey. This period ended formal gardens and the change to landscape gardening. “Capability” Brown was so-called because his habit was to say of a project that it was capable of improvement. Brown also laid out Longleat, another of our near neighbours. Sir Walter Raleigh had built Sherborne Castle, with water gardens, orchards and a bowling green, but Capability Brown added a romantic parkland, lakes and copses, largely as seen today. These designers probably had gardeners like my grandfathers working under their direction.
Minterne, near Cerne Abbas, was landscaped in the manner of Capability Brown in the 18th century, and has been owned by the same family for 350 years.
Abandoned by the end of the eighteenth century, Eastbury House, at Tarrant Gunville, has preserved its garden layout, designed by Mr Bridgeman, combining formal gardens terraces, groves and lawns with a pool, and views over a small valley to terraces surmounted by a temple. Bridgeman invented the ha-ha, basically a sunken wall and ditch to keep animals out of the garden, yet allowing an unrestricted view of the landscape from the house. I wonder if Bridgeman was influenced by seeing our local hill forts, as the ramparts have a similarity to the ha-ha? A ghostly carriage pulled by headless horses is said to drive from the house, according to Tim Laycock in Dorset Folk Tales, driven by the Steward. He had cheated his master of all his money, and on the verge of discovery hanged himself. Perhaps this is why the house became ruined?
If my memory is correct Parnham House, near Beaminster, has a ha-ha protecting its formal gardens. Dr Sauer, The owner of Parnham from 1910 added three extensive terraces on the south side of the house, with lawns leading down to a lake.
These designers had been influenced by landscape painters.
In the nineteenth century the landscaped park lands up to the house became unfashionable. By 1835 Sir Charles Barry altered the earlier parkland of Kingston Lacey House to include formal terraces and gardens. Forde Abbey which had first been laid out by Cistercian monks 800 years ago had its gardens redeveloped in the 1800s.
Mapperton near Beaminster, now in demand by film makers, has the remains of a 17th century parterre and a later croquet lawn with an Italianate garden laid out by Mrs Ethel Labouchere in the 1920s. Abbotsbury with its sub tropical garden stands alone above Chesil Beach.
So many gardens to be enjoyed in the forthcoming seasons!
Bridport History Society will be in the United Church Main Hall, East Street on Tuesday April 12th at 2.30pm for a members show and tell about family heirlooms special to them. All welcome, non members entrance £2-50.
Cecil Amor, President, Bridport History Society.
Tel: 01308 456876.