The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Monday, June 2, 2014

Barnsley Being Barnsley

The highlight of the trip to Barnsley House was seeing the Laburnum Walk, in the late Rosemary Verey’s garden, in full bloom. We had a tour with the head gardener, Richard Gatenby, who also authors a blog called The Gardens at Barnsley House. Richard worked under the tutelage of Rosemary Verey for the last two years of her life and has continued to develop the garden in her spirit after the house and garden were sold and became a boutique hotel.

We were particularly fortunate to se the Laburnum Walk looking so lovely because Richard is in the very difficult position of needing to renovate the allee of labrnum and wisteria, underplanted with Allium aflatunense, in the next year or two. The laburnum trees are in decline and need to be replaced. He noted that if the garden is serious about a long-term future, the five-year period required to rejuvenate the picture is a necessary evil.

This is not the first project Richard has taken on to keep the garden looking good for the future. Two years ago, the pavement in the Temple Garden, which was uneven and unsafe was redone. I visited the garden last year when the project was being completed. Now, you would never know anything had changed since Rosemary Verey's time.

A relief sculpture of a pair of Cotswold rams, carved from spangled Purbeck, by Simon Verity was also meticulously replaced last year, at Richard’s insistence. This year, he has been encouraging moss to grow on the sculpture to replicate the patina it once had.

The Potager Garden, which Verey created in 1978, was continuing to achieve her initial goal of productivity paired with the beautiful design.

The Cornus controiversa ‘Variegata’ tree in Parterre Bed no. 3 was looking particularly lovely.

Rosemary Verey believed in the importance of well-executed corners in her borders. She felt that people were less likely to cut the corner of a border when it was planted beautifully. Here Richard continues Verey’s longstanding combination of purple ajuga and echeveria. Richard acknowledges that this unlikely pairing is not correct in nature but asserts Mrs. Verey’s tendency for the hierarchy of beauty over ecology in certain circumstances.

I have seen Barnsley House for the last four years and it looks better with each passing year. I wish I had seen the garden when Rosemary Verey was alive but I am happy to see it supervised by such a talented and dedicated head gardener as Richard Gatenby.


  1. Hi Michael - I´ve been there...
    I mean; I have tryied to practice this style myself in my former garden at Østertoft. Noel and Piet call it "The Rosemary Verey Style of Gardening"
    I love your photos and I think your post is a love for the garden, Rosemary Verey and the gardenstyle. All thou´ I think your own garden is a destilled version of it, as far as I have noticed through your photos on the blog. And I think you have a gardeners eye for a more modern or at least a domestic version of this style. I´have read all madame Veryes words. Tthey used to inspire me, but to day I find her gardens too oldfasion, out of style and I think most of them looks like they were made centuries ago and not in the 1900. I know it´s hard comments. I know too, that I admire the headgardener for his good work at Barnsley. But sadley I must say; Barnsley Garden has been created by an amateur, and when it´s best it´s a pastiche of old gardens out of time. The colours are boring, the flowers too heavy, the lines and structure stolen from grand gardens and they don´t fit in at this site.
    So: my dear gardenfriend Michael; I´ve also been there - using fine words on blogs and famous gardens, and if I had something else (maybe a little negative to say); I used to keep my mouth shut.
    Not to day.
    Please! can somone tell me the good things about this garden, that miss Verey not already have told herself?

    Join the discussion - with great greetings

  2. Kjeld, you always make me think! On this tour, I was encouraging the participants to critique the gardens. We used the book What are Gardens For? ( I know you aren't a fan). the suggest looking at the garden these points of view 1) describe the garden 2) classify the garden 3) contexualize=place in history 4)interpret= intention of the designer. When I do that, I come away with a favorable impression of the garden. It, like Sissinghurst is going to stay in a bit of a time capsule because that is why people will visit the garden; they want to see Mrs. Verey's work.
    I am going to do a post about some contemporary gardens Oudolf/Stuart-Smaith/Hitchmough at Wisley. They should be critiqued by asking the same questions. I wonder what we will think of their work in 20 years; will it feel dated? I think they might. As far as the plantings, the Laburnum Walk was lovely. I was thrilled to see it.
    In my own own gardens, I am trying to mix all the gardens I have visited and read about and take parts that attract me and make something that feels right for my evolving tastes, my location and interest in plants. It is a work in progress for sure, but it endlessly challenging and enjoyable. I hope this conversation gets continued....

  3. Funny - if the Wisley-compagny are falling in the same ditch this year! Ha ha!!
    I see your point Michael!
    The differences between Sissinghurst and Barnsley to me is, that the Nicholsons both were artists, Rosemary was not. Sissinghurst has no adornments, Barnsley is overdone with intertainments of that kind. All though the Nicholsons were inspired from other gardens I think the plantings and the design is with no time. Imagine the buildings and the walls were not there, and the garden would be a concentrated area of wildgrowing vegetative in contrast with straight green lines of minimalistic hedges and solid pavements without hysteric patterns. (Rose Mary incuriched all her clients to use patterns everywhere) I think that Sissinghurst in that matter is a kind of timeless garden. Yes it´s old and it has old buildings around it!
    I love old gardens, but they has to be old, or else it´s `wanna-bes´.
    I too love old houses, but I fell shetet if its a new house build yesterday intending to be raised centuries ago: If you understand what I mean!?
    I know that gardens and gardening can be a kind of escapism, - missing ones childhood or lack of love, confronting ones loneliness og other psycic analyzes.
    But I still wonder why so many gardenpeople are practicing styles from long time ago?

    Your gardenfriend

  4. Kjeld,
    Richard was quick to mention Mrs. Very was an amateur gardener and this was her private garden that was not "designed". I understand what you mean when you compare BH to Sissinghurst. Sissinghurst is very straightforward in design and it makes sense traveling through the garden. The idea of focal points is timeless in my opinion and can be reinterpreted in new ways that feel contemporary. It is funny what you mentioned about Sissinghurst without the buildings and structure. My co-leader on this tour believed that without the structure, the plantings weren't inspired as compared to Great Dixter which we saw the same day. I found the plantings more inspiring than he did. I like old gardens as well. I think we Americans long for old gardens because we are such a young country. I totally agree about new houses looking old. I often feel the same way about contrived water features in gardens.

    Speaking of psychic analysis, I am thinking of doing a post of what my garden and the way I made it, says about me. I may need a psychological evaluation first! I'd be interested to hear other gardeners explore that topic.
    Thanks for commenting!

    1. My problem with Barnsley House was the incoherence of the design - that way the various elements are plonked about the place with no real relationship with each other. And as for the mimsy potager - the scale is awful.
      Nothing wrong with old. Just let them be good.
      Hope your next tour takes in the edge of Wales - be good to see you. Now off to read somewhat sceptically about Dixter...

    2. I understand what you mean about the design, Anne. As I said before, Richard does acknowledge that this garden was 'designed" it evolved as personal landscape. I think there are parts that are well thought out and executed well, the walkway with yews is good design. One thing I have noticed is a place like Sissinghurst is easy to photograph because all the axes and the ability to get an arial view. The potager looks much worse in my pictures than it did in person. I think it would read better if the paths were wider, but then there would be less room of the plants. I have to say, that Laburnum Walk was magic as far as I was concerned.

  5. Wonderful photos of all these British gardens! I've missed a lot, not having looked at your blog for a while. Michael, it seems you guide a tour of the greatest hits of UK gardens, is that right? You mention seeing them year after year..... I'd be interested to know for the future. Thanks, Sarah

  6. Thanks, Sarah. Yes, I help guide the tour. Discover Europe is the company. The website is on my 'Links I like' list. The tour is called The Best of English Gardens and is May for the Chelsea Flower Show.

  7. I visited Barnesley House three years ago and was overwhelmingly unimpressed. The place felt like it was trying to be superior, or rather, that it thought it was. (Psychoanalyze away, Michael. I think your gardens would create a different profile, and a different effect.) I felt the same way when reading Verey's books. So many 'should's', so many rules about the 'best' way to do something. I could almost hear her sniff of disapproval as I walked around, looking, sometimes admiring, sometimes criticizing. I found the garden over-stuffed with too many bits and pieces, too many styles, too many gestures writ small, ideas that needed space to be fully achieved. Still, the laburnum walk in full bloom was lovely and your photos do it justice, far more than mine did. I'm also happy to see the improvements in every area, particularly around the temple.

  8. Thanks, Pat, for your honest critique of Barnsley House. It is interesting the different impacts garden writing has on us, and for me, during my self-education as a gardener. I read and re-read Verey's The Making of a Garden. It was early in my development as a gardener, and I think I craved someone to tell me how to do it, which is exactly what Verey does. I don't think that book would have had as big of an impact on my today as I have matured and am beginning to find my own voice as gardener. One book she wrote called The American Man's Garden, which profiled about two dozen American male gardeners had a huge impact on me. I read it in 1993 and it inspired me, as an American guy, to try to be the best gardener I could be and for that reason Rosemary Verey (and Barnsley House) will always have a soft spot in my heart. I have a mentor, who knew Verey, recently tell me how much better the garden was in the 1980s and 1990s. Nostalgia or fact; who knows? Thanks again for this thoughtful comment.



Related Posts with Thumbnails