13 May 2012

Garden Open Today

The parents were very keen gardeners (my Dad still is) and when I was around five years old they built one garden from scratch (a brand-new bungalow in Maiden Newton) before moving on to transform a much larger garden in Weymouth.

For a few years Dad belonged to a gardening book club and once a month he would receive an impressive hard-backed book through the post. Many of these were on specialist topics like fuchsias but he also got all of the Beverley Nichols books and the title and cover of this one made a strong impression on me.

And then, some fifty years later, I find myself living not a mile away from the very garden that Nichols wrote about.

Sudbrook Cottage lies on Ham Gate Avenue, the road that leads from Ham Common to Richmond Park. It is one of a series of small cottages once serving Sudbrook Park Mansion that now survives as the home to The Richmond Golf Club. Next door one side is Ormeley Lodge, where Lady Annabel Goldsmith lives, and on the other is Sudbrook Lodge, so the cottage is in grand company.

The cottage has been extended over the years but very much retains its charm and none of these changes are visible from the road where the impressive line of brick remains.

While the cottage is somewhat lesser than its neighbours its garden is as grand as any and grander than most.

I took over a hundred photos on my recent visit there (it was open for an afternoon to raise money for charity) and managed to whittle those down to just 48 for the album that I posted on Facebook.

That still made it a very difficult job to select just a few to show here so I decided to pick just pictures that showed the overall design of the garden and rejected all of the close-ups of flowers and ornaments.

The garden has several distinct areas defined by their shape and construction while the garden as a whole is unified by a common planting scheme.

The pond above is the most obvious construct but there are many others.

Here a path links two lawns and as you cross you feel that you are walking through history. The stone ornaments and metal benches are clearly very old and you can but hope that some of them date back to Nichols' time.

The planting here is typical of most of the garden in that it looks unplanned. The flowers and shrubs are very mixed and there are no straight lines to betray the hand of a designer.

Completing the crossing to the east and then turning north the garden changes character.

In a section sunk just a little lower than the rest of the garden are some formal beds with regimented planting.

In the centre is a statue that looks at peace in the garden.

There are also large wooden benches at each end and an assortment of stone ornaments, like there are throughout the garden, but the garden is sufficiently large to carry all these artifacts without looking the least cluttered or messy.

If you look carefully you can see that next to the bench is a cute hour-glass shaped plant-pot. It is this sort of detail that I like about the garden.

It is not all old stuff though, alongside the old and battered stone pots there are several modern ones made from galvanised steel. They are a bit too ubiquitous for me these days, pubs chips always come in them now, and I much prefer the unusual charm of the old against the familiar new.

Moving a south and back towards the house we can look back over the lawn towards the sunken garden we have just left. From here the white statue that was so prominent earlier is hardly visible thanks to its sunken setting and the hedge in front of it.

The long wall along the east side is magnificent.

It is high to keep deer out as this was once part of Richmond Park.

Again the ornamentation is old, large and unfussy, much like the planting along the wall.

I love this long bench and I love it even more for it being left alone for the moss to colonise.

The bench has been repaired since last year but that was done without disturbing the moss. The new concrete looks a little white but that cannot be helped and all the rain we have had this Spring will help it to darken.

Two more stone balls give the seat a sense of grandeur that the moss does not take away. This is growing old gracefully.

Sweeping back towards the garden gate gives us our final view of the garden for the moment. Here tulips play, as they do through the garden, and in the background you can see one of the four or five sets of table and chairs that are laid out waiting for guests to take a rest.

This is an exceptional garden and I have only given a hint of its beauty in these few pictures. I'll have some more to show you the next time that I go there.


  1. Hi Matthew, I am reading Garden Open Today and really enjoyed looking at your garden photographs. I was wondering if you have any photographs of Sudbrook Cottage itself? Many thanks, Jennifer Kent.

    1. Jennifer, there are some in my other blog, Ham Photos, e.g. http://hamphotos.blogspot.be/2009/05/sudbrook-cottages.html. You should see more if you use the tag ham_gate_avenue but I am afraid that there are quite a few photos to plough through. Let me know if you need something else and I'll go and take it for you.

  2. Hi Matthew, Thank you for your reply. The house is as lovely as I imagined it to be. I wish Mr. Nicholls had included some photographs in his book. I also enjoy the books Cottage Garden Flowers and We Made A Garden by Margery Fish. A couple of years ago, when visiting England, my husband and I went to East Lambrook Manor. It is really lovely as well. There is a web site for East Lambrook Manor. Thank you again for the photographs as now I will be able to visualise the garden whilst reading. Best wishes, Jennifer Kent.


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