Explore the Gardens
Easton Walled Gardens nestle in a beautiful, rolling valley in South West Lincolnshire. They have been owned by the Cholmeley family for over 400 years. President Franklin D Roosevelt considered them one of the best gardens in the UK, writing home to his mother that the gardens were "A dream of Nirvana...almost too good to be true."
The original gardens contained several walled enclosures around a mediaeval manor house. Over the centuries the design of the gardens changed and by the Victorian era the gardens were filled with bedding and borders, ornamental stonework, glasshouses, fine trees and even melon pits. All of this changed when the house was requisitioned during World War II, used as a barracks and subsequently demolished. For 50 years nature enveloped the old site until we started restoration work in 2001.
Ursula Cholmeley, garden owner, describes how she sees this 12 acre garden:
The gardens lie in a particularly beautiful valley. When we first moved here in 1993, the layout of the gardens was still recognisably Tudor and Jacobean. Over the centuries, the Cholmeley family and their gardeners have created a park, moved a river and built bridges, walls and ornamental outbuildings. Despite the presence of modern life - the A1 rumbles along behind a belt of trees - this garden feels ancient, settled and full of atmosphere. In 2001, when most of the area was swamped by sycamores, elder, brambles and ragwort, its extraordinary setting was one of the key reasons for clearing the site. (see History of the Gardens)
Work began that year and since then we have been working to re-establish the gardens. This is an ongoing process and some of our planting will take many years to reach maturity. In other areas, plants have grown quickly and we are able to work with colour and form to create interesting vistas and plant combinations. For many of our visitors this slow revival is part of the beauty of their visit.
Because the layout of this very English garden owes so much to the Tudor and Jacobean period, almost everything can be seen from the site of the old house. The walled gardens were designed to be overlooked so they had to be beautiful as well as productive. I keep this in mind when designing new areas.
Over the past 16 years we have developed: a turf maze, yew tunnel, shrubberies, meadows including an unusual rose garden, cutflower and vegetable gardens, a cottage garden, long borders, orchards and the White Space Garden. Throughout the gardens we try to include small details or plantings (such as the water feature in the cottage garden or the little bank of primroses in the White Space Garden) to inspire our visitors with manageable ideas. As you can imagine, the garden never stands still so we are always looking for ways to improve the complexity of the planting. I have included a few of our future ideas in the descriptions below:
I have been working on the meadows since we started hacking at the undergrowth in late 2001. I think a garden should include movement and sound as well as colour and scent. With so many pressures on our visitors, we would like them to feel immersed in something greater than everyday life. A garden should work for the small voices as well as the obvious human demands so that the whole becomes self-enhancing. In practice, this means encouraging birds to nest near sunlit walks or butterflies to overwinter so that they skip around your head in summer. The meadows now cover at least 2 acres and include the Cedar Meadow (full of bulbs for spring colour), the Terraces (for summer meadows) and the long grasses so important for insect and bird life in the old kitchen garden. You can read more about our meadows by clicking here.
The Woodland Walk
This area is dominated by two beautiful old trees, a horse chestnut and a black walnut. The planting is designed to make the most of the spring light before the canopy of the trees prevents the sunshine reaching the understorey. It includes hellebores, aquilegias, hyacinths, snowdrops and epimediums. The original dog's mercury (an ancient woodland indicator plant) and violets have been allowed to stay and weave through the modern planting. It is one of the best parts of the garden to visit to see snowdrops in combination with other spring flowers.
The Velvet Border
As you enter under the gatehouse, the velvet border is planted with texture rather than colour in mind. It produces some surprising and striking colour combinations as a result. Silky deep red tulips and purple comfrey in the Spring are followed by the old gold of phlomis flowers mixing with the head turning magenta of Lychnis coronaria. The whole border is anchored by the felty grey green leaves of plants that flourish in the warmest border in the garden. Later in the season, deep red and maroon dahlias continue the venetian colour scheme.
The White Space Garden
My aim here was to create a modern garden that would fit within the structure of a garden 400 years in the making. Inspired by the work of Charles Jencks, this garden is ostensibly a traditional white garden but within its structure there are subtle allusions to the nature of the universe and our place within it. In 2018 we added new steps through the hedge to the lawn and two new borders to ensure our visitors felt immersed in this garden rather than viewing it from the side.
The Pickery and Alpine Troughs
Making your way back across the site of the old hall with its Turf Maze and Cherry Trees, you arrive at the Pickery opposite the History Room. 'Pickery' is our own word for the cut flower garden. Originally we planted some gorgeous irises here in a sunny, protected spot. They flowered for two weeks and looked miserable for the rest of the year, so we have removed them to the borders and converted their bed to an area dedicated to alpines. Over the last year these have matured to create a very pretty showcase for alpines. Most of the plants flower in the spring but the addition of autumn flowering alliums and the beautiful white flowers of Zephranthes candida extend the season.
They only take up one corner of the Pickery. The rest is devoted to cutflower beds, especially Sweet Peas such as the famously scented 'Matucana.' After harvest, these beds become fallow. Over winter they are sown with green manures and next year's cut flowers are raised from seed in our greenhouses. In early spring the green manure crop (usually ryegrass or mustard) is dug into the soil and the long task of planting out the seedlings begins. By late summer, dahlias jostle with cosmos, zinnias, rudbeckias and salvias.
The Cottage Garden
More domestic in scale than the rest of the garden, this is the best place to see how plants work together in a relaxed, smaller space. Little raised beds run between the greenhouses and old potting sheds. Dwarf cherry trees line the path and the main bed is dominated by a variegated lilac and Buddleia alternifolia. If the squirrels don't get them, we fill this area with tulips in spring followed by annuals winding through strawberries and punctuated by pots of agapanthus. A small water feature trickles out of the wall and into an old stone trough.
The Vegetable Garden
The Vegetable Garden is a series of long beds lined with green oak sleepers. The vegetables raised here supply the tearoom throughout summer and autumn. Over wintering vegetables include garlic, beans, rhubarb, asparagus and leeks. In the summer this area is very beautiful with contrasting lettuces, courgettes and corn on the cob. Runner beans hang from arches and strawberries have to be contained from dashing across into other beds. In the greenhouse we grow tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies and squashes.
The Long Borders and River Witham
Leaving the vegetable garden behind and heading down to the river, you pass the birdhide and a description of the work we have done to the river to promote biodiversity. The River Witham is the principal river of Lincolnshire and at this stage it is spring fed and is home to native crayfish and trout. These have bought in kingfishers and, recently, overwintering egrets.
Crossing over the ornamental bridge you walk along the gravel path beside 80m of mixed borders. The colour scheme here is broadly based on yellow and white. The borders can be seen from the other side of the valley and these colours shine out. The front of the border is punctuated with Nepeta x faassenii or catmint. On summer evenings, these beds are backlit with sunlight and this has been considered in the planting to maximise the effect of evening light streaming through the foliage and flowers.
Rose Meadows and Orchards
Beyond is the old tudor enclosure with its limestone walls and long yew tunnel. On either side we have planted roses in long grass. David Austin Roses have advised us and we have created our own supports with the help of a local blacksmith to get some height into this area. You can find old roses such as Rosa Adelaide D'Orleans and new cultivars like Rosa 'Lady of Shalott.' The meadows that surround the beds are filled with camassias, vetches, grasses, yellow rattle and orchids.
Above the Rose meadow is our fledgling orchard. We have raised the apples from tiny scions of local trees. Hazelnuts, quinces, plums, pears and greengages are slowly maturing. Now that our walls have been repaired we are considering training new varieties up the south facing walls. Nothing really happens in a hurry here, thinking takes as long as growing.
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