The Garden at Miserden – Virtual Tour
The garden at Miserden is nestled within the rolling Cotswold hills in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Winner of the Historic Houses Association / Christies Garden of the Year Award in 2018, this lovely, unspoilt garden provides commanding views across the former deer park to extensive woodland beyond and still retains a wonderful sense of timeless peace and tranquillity.
Miserden is not quite a garden per se, but an estate in the true English sense. With a manor house and circa 2,900 acres of farmland and woods. And the local village. Naturally.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Greenhampstead and known as such until the Middle Ages, it is thought that Miserden is derived from ‘Musardera’ (or Musard’s Manor) after the original owner of the land, Hascoit Musard.
Originally, a castle existed on the land; first recorded in 1146 Miserden Castle became unoccupied sometime from 1266 to 1289. After the demise of the castle, Miserden changed hands multiple time over the next 700 years. At times, belonging to various reigning Monarchs including Henry VII and Henry VIII. A period of ownership stability occurred in the 17th and 18th Centuries when the estate was owned by the Sandys family, who set the framework for much of what is seen today. After another series of ownership changes during the late Victorian and Edwardian era, the estate was acquired by the Wills family in 1914 and remains in their hands today.
The current manor first appears in historical literature around 1620 when Sir William Sandys came into possession of Miserden. He almost immediately began work on building a magnificent Jacobean house on a bluff overlooking the River Frome and the spectacular Golden Valley beyond. After a period of ‘desertion and decay’, in the late 18th Century the manor underwent no less than five major remodellings reflecting the changing styles and periods along with the hands that owned it. Finally, in 1919, there was a large fire which destroyed a significant portion of the manor. Captain F N H Wills, who had purchased the house in 1914, instructed the famed Edwardian architect, Edwin Lutyens to remodel the house and its surrounds. Lutyens added the east wing and loggia with his influence also visible within the garden.
The Modern Estate
The Wills family take an active role in maintaining the estate today. A mix of farming, along with commercial and residential property has kept the estate alive where many others have floundered. The estate has recently converted the village’s heating energy supply to biomass removing the dependence on fossil fuels for heating entirely. The plan is to become self-sufficient in generating this biomass by chipping fallen trees from the estate and waste from the surrounding forestry industry.
Miserden Park covers some 850 acres on the estate and was previously a deer park that encompassed the manor. It was mostly laid out in the 17th Century under the ownership of the Sandys family. Since ownership by the Wills family, it has undergone extensive restoration work – particularly as its stock of trees were much depleted during WWII as timber was required for the Allied war efforts – although its structure has mostly remained the same.
The Garden at Miserden
The garden itself covers approximately 14 acres with both formal and informal components. Much of the original garden is found within ancient Cotswold-stone walls, which are at one point completely engulfed by the Tolkien-like roots of a remarkable sycamore tree, thought to be some 250 years old. A stunning arboretum now exists on the south bank, with a variety of trees which are of particular interest to Major Tom Wills.
Perhaps the finest feature in the garden is the double herbaceous border within the walled garden. It is thought to be the longest herbaceous border in private ownership and was first established in the 1920s by the wife of Captain Wills. It was initially twice the width, extending all the way to the wall. Major Wills reduced the width by putting a grass strip on the other side so that the border could be enjoyed from both sides.
In 2004, the borders underwent a massive restoration to remove perennial weeds that had taken hold. The borders were designed new from scratch with all the plants being propagated on site by the gardeners themselves. The arbors were added to provide climbing frames for clematis and roses, and to divide the borders to enable cross paths. These new beds were planted using colour theories first introduced by Gertrude Jekyll, a close friend and collaborator of Edwin Lutyens; pale yellow and blue at each end to carry the length and create distance, with hot colours in the centre of the beds. Rose obelisks and taller shrubs are added for interest and additional colour.
Extensive yew hedging bisects the walled garden and creates a notable yew walk in the process. It is thought that this was added, or at least inspired, by Edwin Lutyens to provide structure to the garden. It is currently undergoing significant restoration to protect it from snow and wind damage.
Summerhouse and Rill
There was no water feature in the Miserden garden so it was thought that at the time of the millennium, this area would be redeveloped to mark the new millennium with a water feature and pavilion. So the rill was established with the fountain to provide the calming sound of rippling water. The Pavilion was created out of stone from the estate, with the tiles and timber used to create the bench and roof, respectively, also coming from the estate. The only things that were bought in were the pillars and the carved stone.
To account for the changing levels in the garden, are a series of grass steps which are fairly unique to Miserden. It is thought that these steps were ‘influenced by’ Lutyens and they behave somewhat like a ha-ha, deceptively concealing themselves until you are right upon them. These steps are planted with lobelia and allysum to give white, pale blue and darker blue shades as if to represent a cascading waterfall.
Violets and Tea's Thoughts
Images credit: Eliza Ford