November 2016 – Gardens and the National Trust – Veronica Bennett

Kenneth Clarke, the renowned art historian once commented that ‘gardens are the greatest gift to culture’ and by the end of Veronica Bennet’s lecture we all agreed. We are fortunate that we have the National Trust to care for over 300 splendid gardens – the most diverse collection in Europe and possibly the world.

Way back in 1907 Barrington Court was given to the National Trust – one of its first properties, and very expensive to repair and maintain. Hopefully the filming there of Wolf Hall has helped with the on-going maintenance. It is noted for its Arts and Crafts style gardens for which Gertrude Jekyll provided planting plans in 1920.

By way of background, the NT was helped greatly in 1937 when parliament enabled it to take money from its properties by accepting additional property, cash or securities to provide income producing endowments. By the end of WW11 the NT owned 23 houses – many of which came with generous endowments. For many within the National Trust the thinking is now that they have enough houses and perhaps they should protect the landscape more. The readers can decide for themselves – for me, I wonder if that includes providing cycle trails in parkland……

Back to the subject… Veronica described many National Trust gardens and their idiosyncrasies. Visit Blicking Hall with its formal garden – the result of three generations of inspired planting, all keen to maintain the historical elements of the gardens. Then there is Hidcote designed by Major Laurence Johnston, influenced by Gertrude Jekyll – is this the most influential gardens of the 20th century? Bodnant provides a gardeners’ paradise with Italianate terraces and that wonderful laburnum arch.

The NT tries to preserve the individuality of the gardens but there is certainly not a corporate view. Surveys are undertaken to ensure statuary is recorded, archaeological remains and historical features noted, parks advisers monitor standards and visit regularly to monitor projects. At Wimpole trees are replanted strictly in accordance with Capability Brown’s original plan. Garden conservation plans are handed on to new Head Gardeners ensuring continuity of approach.

Biddulph Grange has been restored to its original fine Victorian garden. All the mature trees at Emmetts Garden were blown down in the great storm of 1987 – the Trust immaculately took cuttings, propagated them at Nymans with a 97% success rate so that you can again enjoy the bluebells!

Too many gardens to mention now but how can I omit the wonderful Sissinghurst with its series of garden rooms inspired by the Arts and Craft movement. Finally, be assured – the NT gardeners are very well trained; the Trust has an Academy to ensure this and over 3,000 volunteers help them in the gardens. New projects appear frequently- some gardens now allow the public including schools to tend their own plot growing fruit and vegetables. Trust gardens send their produce to Trust restaurants as a matter of course. NO-peat based compost is the norm in the Trust gardens, I could go on and on…

Join the National Trust and visit more of their houses and whatever you do, don’t forget to walk around the gardens!

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