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The garden we purchased

We have found no details of Elizabethan gardens at the house. In fact, there is strong evidence that the ground in front of the house was lowered by about 18 inches to the bedrock  and nothing remains of any garden archaeology before this date. However, when we levelled the ground at the front we found seven pits, each cut into the bedrock by about three feet deep, but we do not know the date and purpose of these.

The house faces south and the front garden comprised a poor quality lawn and a rectangular flowerbed. The land sloped from the north east to the south west and the triangular shape caused design problems.

The inspiration for the garden

Our research showed the stone cladding of the house took place in late Elizabethan times and we assumed such major work would have included a new garden. The Ramsdens’ had influential and wealthy relatives one of whom was Sir Henry Savile, a tutor to Queen Elizabeth and a Provost of Eton College. This led us to make another assumption – that the Ramsdens’ would have had a garden suitable for their status of Lords of the Manor.

In 2001 we set about finding a design of the right period and that would fit into the restrictive shape of the garden. The first book we bought was Restoring Period Gardens by John Harvey and in this was a photograph of the garden at the Tudor House at Southampton. This seemed to have everything we needed and in August we went to Southampton to have a close look at it.

The first impression we had was the wonderful mixture of scents coming from the plants. The guidebook told us Dr Sylvia Landsberg, the designer, had used plants that are recorded in England in 1600 and it included a list of the plants and comments about their symbolism. This was a fortunate discovery and set us on the path of forming our ideas about the garden we would build.

Whilst we had a design we could use we had to learn how to apply it to the garden, and before we could do this we had a great of levelling to do. Because the work to the house had priority we did not start work on the knot until 2003.

Dr Landsberg and Southampton Cultural Services gave us permission to base our garden on the design at Tudor House. The next step forward resulted from the purchase of Knot Gardens and Parterres at the RHS bookshop at Tatton Park. This not only had interesting information about gardens it had an essential section on how to build a knot garden.

To test our skill we cut out the pattern of the knot on the front lawn and the use of pegs, string, tape measure and a memory of school geometry produced a satisfactory result.

The levelling of the ground turned out to be a prolonged task. During this exercise we discovered that bedrock lay about nine inches under the soil for about a third of the area. We also found a spider’s web of tree roots that had not found cracks in the rock to grow into. Also, we found the first of the seven holes cut into the rock. We hoped it was the long lost well, but it turned out not to be. One suggestion we have had is they are planting holes for trees that were necessary because of the shallow soil.

We did not keep a record of the amount of soil and rubble we moved to get the garden level - at the deepest point the fill is four feet. Some consolation for the effort was the finding a large amount of medieval and 16th and 17th century pottery, some of which John Hudson, a local potter who had appeared a few times on Time Team, has reconstructed.

Next came the making of the wooden boarders for the beds. Oak was the first thought, but we chose a foreign hardwood that we were assured would last about 20 years longer. We then filled the beds with soil and left them fallow for six months.

This took us to late 2004 and we had to use our geometry skills again to mark out the pattern in the soil, which we outlined in sand. Maybe due to a lack of confidence we used plastic strip next to make the pattern more permanent, instead of using metal. We then planted box and cotton lavender.

In the spring of 2005 we planted wall germander and winter savoury to complete the knot. This was not the end of the work however, as we then had to replace the plastic edging with metal and this took some time, which we have just finished as the wet weather made the soil unmanageable.

Work on the house intervened again, but by the spring of 2006 we were ready to start the final phase. We have travelled across much of northern England to find the correct plants and have now planted many of them bought from nurseries in Huddersfield, Burnley, Selby and North Cave. Not knowing the characters of all plants, we have been caught out by the size and invasiveness of some them and will have to make adjustments to re-position them. We still have quite a few to find and came across others that were not on our list. The ancient roses are ready for planting in the autumn.

Whilst attending the Tatton flower show in 2005 we came across a display made by Summers Gardens of Bala, which had a centrepiece of a font with a trickle of water flowing over the edge and down overhanging plants. It was love at first sight! Last year the nursery delivered the font, and after overcoming a few problems with the bedrock we now have a wonderful water feature.

The top coat of gravel is down on the paths around the knot and we are now working on extending the garden forward and this involves more levelling and shifting of soil. If we have some fine weather we may finish it by the end of the year. We can then concentrate on the back garden and the wood, which has received intermittent attention so far.

Robin Gallagher

August 2007


Plants we still want to find - please help us if you can

Fleur de lys, purple                                     Iris germanica
Flower of Constantinople                             Lychnis chalcedonica
Gillyflower, carnation                                   Dianthus caryophyllis hyb
Gillyflower, stock                                        Matthiola incan vars
Gladdon                                                     Iris foetidissima
Jasmine                                                     Jasmine officinalis
Lily, orange                                                Lillium bulbiferum var. croceum
Lungwort                                                    Pulmonaria officinalis
Marigold, pot                                              Calendula officinalis
Orris                                                          Orris florentina
Peony                                                        Paeonia mascula
Wild gillyflower, pink                                    Dianthus plumarius var
Sweet William                                             Dianthus barbatus
Wormwood, Roman                                     Artemisia ponticum

Books used in our research

Restoring Period Gardens - John Harvey, Shire Publications, 1988
Knot Gardens and Parterres - Robin Williams and Anne Jennings, Barn Elms Publishing, 2000
Gerard’s Herbal 1597 – John Gerard, Senate 1998
Practical Guide - Hedges – Michael Pollock, RHS 2001
Practical Guide – Herb Gardens – Richard Rosenfield, RHS 1999
Discovering the Folklore of Plants – Margaret Baker, Shire Publications 1999
The Medieval Garden –Sylvia Landsberg, The British Museum Press, 1998
The Nature Gardens of Sebastian Kneipp – Hans Horst Frohlich, Sterling Publishing, 1997
English Plants for your Gardens – Jill Duchess of Hamilton, Penny Hart and John Simmons, National Trust, 2000
Plants of Mystery and Magic – Michael Jordan, Cassell & Co, 2001
The New Flower Expert – D G Hessayon, Expert Books,1999
Pergolas, Arbours and Arches – Paul Edwards and Katherine Swift, Barn Elms Publishing, 2001
Complete British Wildlife –Paul Sterry, Harper Collins, 1997
The Joy of Wildlife Gardening – Geoffrey Smith, RSPB, 1989
Wayside and Woodland Blossoms, Vols I and II – Edward Step, Frederick Warne & Co
Mr Middleton’s Garden Book –C H Middleton, Daily Express Publications
Familiar Wild Flowers - F Edward Hulme, Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co, 1906Home

Plus numerous articles and pamphlets