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A Visit to Petworth

We went garden-visiting on Saturday, a day of tours of private gardens, entered into by the organizer's personal connections. (It was another Smith Club event.) Petworth itself is a lovely little town, a twist of streets with art galleries, antique stores, and craft shops, wrapped around by the walls and monumentality of Petworth House, and centered on the old Market Square, now a minor mess of parking and traffic. It's on a broad hilltop with views of the North and the South Downs.

Petworth House was first built in the twelfth-century, but was rebuilt in the seventeenth, by the bored, stuck, and very rich Earls of Northumberland. It's so excessively large and grand that half of it is now open to the public via the National Trust, and the current family has the enormity of the other half to live in. (The entrance hall was probably larger than our entire house, for scale.) The park is open to the public as well, but the family retains some land attached to the house, including what were built as nineteenth-century walled vegetable gardens.

Lady Egremont is a professional garden designer, and she has, over their years of residency, completely redone many acres inside the three parallel gardens. They're subdivided into "rooms", divided by hedges, so they are grand, but not overwhelming. One has trellised walkways full of white flowers, centered around a fountain fed by a local spring. Another is sunken down in layers of walkways and roses. Yet another contains a swimming pool, with changing rooms made out of dense hedges. Further, a fledgling fruit orchard - apples, pears, quince, plums etc. - is just getting established. There's even a vegetable garden coming along, once again.

Then we walked across the park, a Capability Brown-designed landscape with hills and a lake. The trees, carefully arranged in clumps, were tidily trimmed by deer along the "browse line". Our walk was vigorous, up and down hills, along paths, with views over a plain filled with frolicking deer, and then up an narrow pathway, out of the park, and to the top of a hill to find a village there, wherein was our next garden.

The second garden was extraordinary. It was long, meandering, thin, and very, very dense, all rooms and courtyards of grass and trellising, sheds, a canary house, and curving pathways. It felt far, far larger than it was, a wonderment of beauty. There were water features everywhere, large pots sprouting the elegant tiers of plants rendered in metal, a few feet high each, designed and made by one of the garden's two owners. There were pavilions of vines and at the end, a view of the South Downs. There were tables and benches tucked hither and yon throughout, achieving remarkably numerous niches of intimacy.

The other of the garden's owners - its designer - also does catering. She provided our lunch, a feast of salads and quiches, particularly memorable for the cauliflower quiche, nearly liquid in its creaminess. Afterwards, a cautious assortment of desserts appeared, also excellent. (We were scheduled for afternoon tea later, so our host had been warned off of over-provisioning us with sweets.) Wine and elderflower squash - always so good! - completed the abundance of food.

A bus took us back to the town for our third and final garden of the day. Someset Lodge was in the heart of the town, tucked in layers behind a seventeenth-century lodge, to which our hosts, a pair of architects, had retired. Behind the house, a restored wall supports the garden, overlooking neighboring properties and onward to the hills and North Downs beyond. The garden makes use of the hill, putting a vegetable garden in to modestly-sized beds edged in little boxwood hedges; a slope is a small wildflower meadow; a delicate pavilion of oak frames the furthest of the views, while, in the other direction, overlooking a small pond. Paths wander through narrow walls of hedge to find further little grassy expanses. Throughout were minor features meant for their grandchildren: a couple of swings, a sand pit. So civilized a trip was it, we ended with afternoon tea, chatting in the shade of a mature ash while nibbling on the afternoon's second round of desserts.

I'd come with C. and J. - we drove - and so were free to explore the town for a little while before returning to London. We opted not to buy a UKP 95,000 enormous 1930s desk from the antique store, and instead came home empty-handed but full of inspiring memories, enough that we finally finished repotting the rest of the plants this afternoon, and dreamed of more lavish and better-managed gardens than our own little first one which we have now had - as of Friday - for an entire year.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
sartorias
Jun. 14th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, how I would love to see those! I cannot imagine the sprinkle systems to keep such gardens blooming. It takes me half an hour every day to water my tiny patio and quilt-sized front "lawn". (During the six months of summer each year, that's twice a day.)
owlfish
Jun. 14th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
The really big private garden at the stately home has one full time and three part-time gardeners, not counting the designer. The others - I don't know if they have help or not. They would still be a very large amount of work!
owlfish
Jun. 14th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
P.S. I finished A Posse of Princesses earlier today and almost immediately found myself rereading it to find out how it read now that I know how it ended. I'm finding it just as compelling the second time through! Also, I'm now paying particular attention the use of gardens in it. (And was grateful that it was a book with stew in it, given my current research project.)
sartorias
Jun. 14th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
lol! Glad it worked for you!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )