Real gardens: The Manor House at Upton Grey

When Rosamund and John Wallinger moved to Upton Grey in 1984, they found the Manor House they had bought derelict. The garden was over-run with brambles and untamed trees and shrubs.

“There were virtually no borders,” says Rosamund. “The pond had completely dried up. The dry-stone walls had collapsed. Our first challenge was to clear all this.” Rosamund later adds that one of her main concerns in addressing the site was that neither she nor her husband had gardened before.

As clearing began, the neglected remains of a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll in the early 20th century emerged. Very few of the original plants from Jekyll’s designs had survived, so the Wallingers obtained copies of Jekyll’s original 1908 and 1909 plans for the garden from the Reef Point Collection, California. Then the work began in earnest.

The couple cleared the garden of weeds and any specimens alien to Jekyll’s designs. They dug trenches for yew hedges, and started to grow plants from seed. Slowly the garden began to return to its former glory.

The garden at Upton Grey is now believed to be one of the most accurate restorations of Jekyll’s designs. The herbaceous borders are thick with the flowers Jekyll originally planted, with colours drifting through the borders from cool whites and blues at the ends to vibrant yellows, oranges and finally reds in the centre. Meanwhile the wild garden has returned from a scrubby mess to a tranquil path mown through a wildflower meadow past rambling roses and a pond, now filled with water and covered with waterlilies. The Wallingers have also experienced the joy of discovering two very rare plants: Rosa ‘Kilarney’ and Gladiolus brenchlyensis.

As with all garden projects, this has not been an easy ride. “Herbaceous gardens are VERY hard work,” says Rosamund, going on to explain that her attitude towards garden chemicals has also changed over the years. “I have learnt to use as few chemicals as possible on the garden after spraying much of the garden with Round Up instead of fly spray. I used chemicals for everything. Now I use as little as possible.” Rosamund feeds her plants with compost made from a mixture of manure, grass cuttings and all organic matter from the garden except ground elder and ivy due to their invasive nature.

The garden at the Manor House reaches its pinnacle in the second two weeks of May and throughout June, although Rosamund remains most attached to the wild garden, which is “beautiful throughout the year, whereas the formal garden is seasonal.”

Gardening in Gertrude’s footsteps: Rosamund’s top tips for new gardeners:
When starting from scratch on a largish scale, hire as much expensive machinery as possible rather than buying.

  • Go slowly, don’t feel rushed.
  • Listen to experienced friends.
  • Buy from nurseries rather than garden centres
  • Use your own common sense with nature…each garden has its own conditions.

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2 Responses

  1. Helena Ericson-Wik

    What a fantastic garden! I would like to know more about the rare Gladiolus brenchleyensis since I have found it on an old plantlist from 1880 here in Sweden. Pleas e share information about it with me!


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