Emma Bridgewater's Favourite Gardens

Emma talks about her favourite gardens.

Baconsthorpe Old RectoryGardens are incredibly important to me. I feel they are the lungs of the house and it only takes the dimmest flicker of the most watery winter sunshine to get me out there. I would like to say that gardening is important to but I am married to such a hyper-active snipper, digger and hoe-er that my actual work is limited to directions and requests, more about our garden later.

We live in Norfolk. We moved here fifteen years ago much influenced by holidays spent with my mother’s cousin Desmond MacCarthy. He lived, and lives, at Wiveton Hall. His mother Chloe is a wonderful gardener and I think that her garden has been the most influential. Her careful but unfussy planting in a garden full of irises, peonies and roses, kitchen garden protected from the sea winds by walls in places fifteen feet high supporting pears, peaches and damsons are my model garden .I really do not like frantic neatness, am unmoved by tidy edges and unworried by uncut grass. Six months after we left our last house I revisited the garden with a friend one evening, in fact in search of apples. It was still untenanted and the large lawn was nine inches high. The garden had a dreamy beauty it had never achieved under our care, overgrown borders melting into meadow lawn, un-pruned Roses heavy with flowers and every gateway barely passable. I know that in the bright light of day it might not have seemed so desirable but the image of the lawn remains and it is one that I love.

Another cousin, Tessa McCosh, opens her garden at Baconsthorpe Old Rectory every year for the NGS. It is a tour de force, borders bursting with glamorous lilies and Alstromerias, walls clad in roses, the centrepiece is a huge Victorian Conservatory dripping with the white trumpets of jungles of scented geraniums and monster fuchsias. I confess I also go for the teas and delicious cakes, hoping that they have not all been eaten when our family descend. As with so many NGS open gardens the plant stall is the most unbelievable value with rare or unusual treats in gratifyingly large pots, plants from the garden centre always seem so mean and take two years to turn into anything decent.

Now our own. When we moved here there was a lovely garden which to my slight shame we systematically destroyed. Perhaps that is always the way or perhaps fashions in gardens do just change and anyway it is creating the garden that is the most fun. Away went a formal rose garden, Irish yew-shaped junipers and rather out of control once-to-be pleached limes.

Over the next three years total war on endemic bindweed saw the walled garden a desert for eighteen months from which a new kitchen garden with greenhouses, gravel paths lined with hoops of willow or sweet peas and an impossibly productive series of vegetable beds have emerged.

New pears and peaches line the walls and a double row of different cretagus form a walk down the central axis to a hut that Matt and I built. It has got a fireplace and has been the site of many summer suppers within earshot of the children’s bedrooms but not of the telephone.

Old photographs show that we have taken the garden full circle. It was full of rather dour cabbages and sprouts just after the war, a use for which it had anyway been intended. It has now got a rather more varied selection of crops. Matthew's obsession with zinnias of the most lurid candy pinks and oranges means that they poke out amongst the beetroot and self sown foxgloves grow through the mantucana sweet peas. He lets the fennel go to seed and keeps rows of last years leeks growing four feet high so that their decorative allium flower heads bobble over the courgettes in some way making up for the neat edges that, as a man, he just cannot resist.

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