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Dean House Gardens

On arrival we were served the proverbial coffee and cake – delicious as they were – in a traditional Orangery which was constructed in 1982 and was perfectly designed to be in keeping with the Queen Anne/late Georgian House.    After these refreshments the Head Gardener, Julian Blackwell gave us a brief history of the house and the development of the gardens.

There are so many individual gardens and features within the grounds which made a very interesting visit as one did not know what surprise would be around the next corner.  The Estate has some magnificent huge old trees including among others, a Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’, a Fagus sylvatica Purple-leaved Group, an Platanus x hispanica (London Plane),  a Metasequoia, a Catalpa bignoniodes, a Davidia involucrata and a Liriodendron tulipifera. There was also an attractive,  more recently planted circle of 10 Hawthorns, each of a different species and I am told there are more than 100 different cultivars and species of trees altogether. The ground was mostly heavy clay on a bed of chalk as is typical of the area and the whole garden was a cold, damp frost pocket.

We were allowed to wander wherever allowed and to look inside any of the garden doors which revealed some interesting facets to the maintenance and history of the garden.

Entering from the sweeping drive to the right,  on the side of the house, were two small mirror image beds which were uniquely bordered by a ‘paling’ fence clipped from box hedging.  Opposite, on the other side of the drive were two large curving borders tastefully filled with a mixture of planting and where they almost met was a way through to a large lawned area with more borders filled with different planting with many trees on its periphery along with statues and seats.

Walking around the perimeter of the formal area, through the orchard past the tennis court and swimming pool was a gap in the hedge where one discovered a stumpery and a ha-ha overlooking the forever fields.  On re-entering the formal area one was confronted with the long tunnel which was covered in wisteria,  laburnum, clematis and roses underplanted with alliums, hellebores and ferns.  I understand that this is pruned by a gardener using stilts.  At the end of this was a good view of the rose garden which was planted from East to West in a colour scheme of yellow, amber, white, peach, pink through to purple. Adjacent to the tunnel and bordering the rose garden are two long borders once again filled with an attractive combination of plants.

One then came across the two South facing glasshouses one of which contained a multitude of exotic plants grown for house and garden with the other used for propagation of vegetables and plants also for domestic use.

Through a gap in the hedge one entered the huge walled garden. The area is filled with a large quantity of boxed, raised beds arranged both vertically and horizontally and filled with over 125 varieties of vegetables as well as many fruit bushes and fruit trees.  The goodies that are not eaten are re-composted.   At the back of the area was a large metal sculpture of a potato peeler and in the centre of the plot, overseeing the site,  was a very fashionable scarecrow given the name of ‘Vita’.  On opening the door of the tool shed in one corner was an array of tools more suitably seen in a surgeons operating theatre so pristine was their condition. This also proved to be where the aforementioned stilts reside.  This is also where one can find the third glasshouse.  This is used mostly to house tender plants and is usually fallow in the summer

The pond garden in front of the house consisted of four matching box bordered beds planted with a standard rose, Nepeta, valerian and lavender ‘Hidcote’ In the middle of these beds was the round pond.  Steps radiating from this area led one to the rest of the garden and to take which direction one wished.

There have been a variety of influences in the design and planting of the gardens over the years but I feel today most credit must be given to Julian who was first employed there in 1986.   His hard work, dedication, vision, planting and maintenance of the many different areas, gardens, borders and seating of the 7 acre estate in his time there are to be thoroughly admired.  He has been ably assisted by previous Head Gardener, Bill Davies who now works only part time and also by Kate Matthews.   He has put together  a plant database which documents nearly 2000 different species and cultivars grown on the estate and commissioned a painting of the garden.   On opening the garden for the NGS and other private parties much money has been raised for charity and compliments for this must go to the owner for allowing members of the public to revel in the glorious ambience of the garden and his thanks must also go to Julian for such great stewardship.

Sandra Cooper

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