Bryan’s Ground, so-called after the Herefordshire field in which the 1913 Arts and Crafts house was built for two wealthy sisters, is truly a garden to lift the spirits.
David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell (editors of the garden journal Hortus) bought the house with three acres of formal gardens in 1993. With evident passion for the Edwardian Arts & Craft style, Simon has used his skilful artist’s eye to create the formal layout harmonised by David’s plantsmanship and clever use of form and colour in the delightfully informal planting. Together they have created an imaginative, slightly wild garden within a formal framework of yew and box hedges and topiary.
The formal part of the garden is divided into a series of ‘rooms’ interspersed with curiously named, thought provoking follies such as ‘The Sulking House’ or ‘The Lighthouse’. A five acre arboretum ’Cricket Wood’ is largely informal but is given structure by tree avenues and vistas.
While Simon explained the history of the house his audience’s attention was slightly distracted by his latest water feature, a 45 metre long brick edged serpentine canal which meandered through heritage apple trees underplanted with squares of soft, pale blue Iris sibirica 'Papillon' which sadly had just finished flowering. The wavy waterway, created to prevent David parking his car in front of the house, was overheard to generate much discussion, not all entirely favourable. However there was a promise of delights to come and we were not disappointed.
The house, with its rich ochre walls and blue-grey woodwork had an almost Mediterranean feel on the sunny day we visited. These colours are reflected in the adjacent Dutch-style ‘Dovecote’, a half-timbered tower folly. The terrace, alongside the house charmingly overgrown with roses and climbers above an herbaceous border, overlooks a sunken garden with the original 1913 circular lily pool. The whole area is united by an airy vista of self-sown fennel floating among tall Irish yews and box domes interspersed with yellow daylilies.
To the west of the house the former kitchen garden has been divided into a series of interconnecting ‘rooms’ bounded by new hedges. The Rose Cabinet, Skating Pool, Little Orchard, and potager – all overlooked by ‘The Lighthouse’ folly that stands to one end of another topiary court.
The Dutch Garden contains a tranquil canal pool of still water with a striking statue of a Great Dane at its head. This shady place with only elegant fastigiate 'Chanticleer' pear trees set in grass is especially restful.
The entire garden compels you to move onwards towards another view, another surprise. There is a clever play of light and dark, moving from areas of deep shade such as the brooding red and purple planting which leads to the gothic folly ‘The Sulking House’.
But this is not a garden entirely dedicated to horticulture, quirky humour abounds: in a small grass paddock a rusty brass bedstead with a grass valance, its springs used elsewhere as a trellis, and a car dashboard with a grassy chassis. Small collections of bits and pieces ranging from old tools, through rusty metal objects, to a bizarre group of five stone grotesques perched on top of the kitchen garden wall. Perhaps an interesting juxtaposition of man’s wastefulness in comparison with the natural world.
A fully restored nine metre Edwardian greenhouse, filled with terracotta pots of flowering pelargoniums, has a Persian tiled water feature at its centrepiece. Metal watering cans ordered by size are strung from the roof.
At the turn of the century in 2000 a five acre arboretum was planted with autumn colour in mind. It was named ‘Cricket Wood’ after locals said it used to be mown for the village cricket match. It contains some 600 trees including several specimen plantings.
The main walk into the arboretum from the formal garden is along a mown path, prettily bordered by foaming cow parsley and golden buttercups. There are still a few surprises, old bicycles seemingly pedalling through space hang from tree branches.
Even here, a formal structure of tree and shrub avenues has been introduced to give an elegant Arts & Crafts order to the more random elements of the planting and the landscape, which includes a small lake and the meandering River Lugg (which marks the border with Wales). And for the arboretum’s showpiece, a formal square planting of wild cherry trees, Prunus avium, called the Mezquita, from which a grass path leads to The Cricket Pavilion in the far distance.
Bryan’s Ground is an eclectic mix of follies, fancies, formality and wildness but above all it is a memorably entertaining garden to visit.
First published in the Somerset Group Newsletter January 2014
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 35.
© Copyright for this article: Liz Buckingham
This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2015. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.