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October / November 2012

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Mary Davies is in the midlands

I drove some weeks ago across the country, speeding on a fast road under glowering skies, to stay in a place that was new to me. A narrow roadway led to a severely elegant, square-fronted house, three storeys tall, dating back to the middle of the eighteenth century. Its interior was a surprise: the hallway with its graceful curving staircase was not unexpected, but the rooms on either side were vaulted and intimate, not at all grand. The house, it seems, had begun life as a charter school; these downstairs rooms would have been classrooms, rather than drawing rooms intended for show.

The house had been used for various purposes over its long existence, but the garden at the front had an air of having survived intact over the centuries. The view across the lawn was framed by two truly ancient trees. One was a magnificent lime; the owner praised its beauty in springtime with the morning light shining through the emerging foliage. The other, at the left of the lawn, was an equally ancient horse chestnut. But this tree was showing signs of its great age: branches had broken off and others carried dead leaves hanging brown against the green.

One of the joys of this front garden was the behaviour of the swallows, soon to leave. The expansive space gave them room to swoop low over the grass, almost at ground level, diving at speed to left and right of us as we crossed the lawn. And behind the great lime tree was the start of another world - the modern gardens that extended over three acres to the side and back of the house.

An extensive and elaborate Japanese garden filled a large corner. A pavilion, Chinese lanterns of great size, a rill edged with rounded pebbles, boulders, flights of steps, and a mysterious tunnel feature - nothing had been spared, all with a backdrop of mature trees. At one side, a long pergola draped in wisteria offered promise of delight in early summer.

Behind the house there was more to see. The long double border was past its peak, but an old orchard beyond was colourful with ripening apples. There was a lengthy rock garden by a terrace, pools with a wooden bridge, a herb garden, several fountains. And, most intriguing of all, one boundary had a modern ‘folly' - a substantial pair of battlemented square grey towers linked by a bridge and together the size of a small house. Built to last, this was a quirky equivalent of the follies that were being added to great estates at the time when this house was new.




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