Lost in a tamed wilderness
Words & images by Colin Barlow
Nestled on the border of England and Wales in Stapleton, Herefordshire lies a hidden gem, an Arts and Crafts garden where romance and formality meet the ‘wild garden’. I should have known that something magical was a foot while driving slowly along the narrow country lanes, when suddenly I had to stop to avoid a young fawn skipping playfully along the front and side of my car until it slipped through the hedge into the pastures beyond. Only metres down the lane again I stopped as a young rabbit slowly hopped across the road. It felt as though I was watching a Disney movie.
As I entered the driveway of Bryan’s Ground via two large copper beech I was welcomed with an amazing serpentine brick – edged canal flanked by an orchard of apple trees in squares of blue Iris sibirica ‘Papillion’ and framed by a copper beech hedge.
Built between 1911-13 for two spinster sisters and named after the field upon which it stands, Bryan’s Ground has been transformed by the latest owners David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell, who purchased the property in 1993. Both famed for the literary gardening journal ‘Hortus’, where David is the editor and Simon the illustrator, this is how they originally met. Simon has drawn and painted numerous illustrations for Hortus along with his own separate successful career as a painter and garden designer.
The artistic nature of the owners is evident in the blending of the gardens Arts and Crafts style with classical formality and lush herbaceous planting reminiscent of Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West. Gardens named the George Walk, the Dutch Garden, the Cuckoo Walk and the Empty Quarter relate directly the architectural influence and alignment of the house with vistas set to viewed and enjoyed from indoors. The Dutch Garden is a long canal shaped like a dog bone with a canine statue at the end and was built in memory of Georgie the Labrador, David and Simon’s first Labrador.
One of my favourite areas was the Sunk Garden with its circular lily pond surrounded by pots of colourful Violas, flower beds, box topiary, clipped yews and hawthorn obelisks. The Wisteria on the loggia was a site to behold as it encircled the house and together with the voluminous garden planting seemed to be taking back ownership of the house.
The colourful timber Dovecote is the focal point of several important vistas and is open on three sides. The Dovecote Garden comprises sloping flower beds with colourful yellow and orange planting with eight yew topiary obelisks that lead the eye beyond the ha-ha to a bend in the river beyond.
The kitchen garden area has been adapted to include a reflective Skating Pool bordered with iris and framed by pleached hornbeams and a lower beech hedge. The greenhouse built in 1913 and reglazed in 1993, was a horticultural delight. A central pond inspired by David and Simon’s time spent in Andalusia was constructed in 2010 and filled with potted succulents, pelargoniums and bonsai.
Redundant and rusting artefacts including old mowers, zinc fencing and beds are integrated throughout the garden with self seeding perennials and wildflowers giving a slightly wild and dishevelled look that has been cleverly intended by the owners.
The wilderness of Cricket Wood once a donkey paddock mown each year for a local cricket match has been transformed into an arboretum of more than a thousand trees. Order and formality is brought to this wild and romantic setting by a series of interwoven paths that lead visitors through avenues of trees and shrubs and give the area a magical and almost dream like experience particularly when you are the only person in the whole garden as I was on that enchanting day.