A garden for all seasons

PUBLISHED: 11:46 16 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:31 20 February 2013

A garden for all seasons

A garden for all seasons

Englefield Gardens are a feast for the eye, no matter what the time of year...

An inscription, dating back to 1601 welcomes visitors to these remarkable seven acres of grounds near Theale. It reads: "If you help towards Englefield Gardens, either in flowers or in invention, you shall be welcome thither."

Perhaps one of the most amazing things about Englefield Gardens is that they are 'welcoming' throughout the year. A garden that looks marvellous in summer but still holds its own as autumn turns into winter is a rare thing. As temperatures drop and nights draw in, it takes an all-weather robustness of attitude to stand and appreciate the changing of the season, to think about what is going on in the garden - and to provide the horticultural equivalent of a cup of cocoa with a good dash of brandy in it.

The garden at Englefield House is, therefore, a bit of a gem. Set on a slope, the woodland garden at the top of the hill metamorphoses into formal lawns and balustraded terraces, with long views across the countryside beyond.

Structure is plentiful. Mature trees tower over a dense, green, leathery-leaved understorey of Azaleas and Skimmias, Camellia and Davidia; the formal areas are defined by clipped yew and box, while a tiny stream running down the hill feeds into the rill and pours into a pool on the lower terrace.

A network of paths winding through trees and between evergreen shrubs creates a real sense of journey. And as with all the best journeys, there are discoveries and surprises along the way.

A wooden bear stands on its hind legs among the trees, a charming ivy house comes complete with ivy chimneypot. Pinecones are arranged in a decorative rustic style line the walls of a mirrored grotto while jets of water will soak the unwary visitor in the delightfully individual children's garden.

In this garden, the usual summer suspects fade away to leave more unusual characters to show their mettle. As leaves fall, shrubs like Callicarpa bodinieri with its clusters of improbable indigo berries become more prominent, as do the handsome scarlet stems of Cornus alba 'Sibirica', while the persistent fruits of Malus 'Golden Hornet', light up a chilly November day. Textures and patterns become more evident on the buttressed, craggy bark of vast pine trees, while eucalyptus and deciduous species demonstrate fascinating camouflage patterns. Current owner Lady Benyon is also keen on winter-scented shrubs and the flowers of Daphne bholua, Sarcococca and Hamamelis mollis contribute a sweet, and surprisingly intense, fragrance.

This is a garden that is comfortable in its surroundings. Over 400 years it has evolved with the fashions and the character of its owners to become formal yet light-hearted; elegant yet idiosyncratic. Despite its age, it remains fresh and lively, poised to captivate the senses and very much a garden for all seasons.

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