For the last two years, at our January meeting, members of the Gardeners’ Association have given presentations on their own gardens. These talks have always been very popular and this year was no exception with almost 60 people attending. We had two guest speakers Kate Jones and David Watson, both of whom have houses and gardens of historical interest in Biddenham.
Kate spoke first – she and her husband Peter bought Biddenham House in 1986. The house had been built in 1766 and originally the garden had comprised three and a half acres.
However, the people who bought the house from the Miss Howards sold off three plots of land prior to Kate and Peter moving in and there is now one and a half acres of garden. Kate said that the garden had become much neglected when they took it on, a large rockery had to be cleared and herbaceous and shrub borders were planted. However, the soil was excellent and there was a good range of trees – most notably the fabulous hornbeam tree, which has a stunning shape due to initial pollarding and an oak and some excellent ancient yew topiary.One of the first projects was to build a tennis court (there had previously been three in the garden) and a pond for Peter’s Koi carp which were transported from their previous garden pond. A conservatory was added later and they now have a green house as well. Kate and Peter’s aim was to have a garden which provided interest all year round and which could be maintained without huge amounts of outside help. Kate’s slides showed that this aim
had been achieved; there is good all year interest from the many shrubs and heathers which provide winter colour including silver birches – a silver wedding present and a winter garden through to primroses and bulbs in spring, summer flowering roses, water lilies and herbaceous plants and a camellia which flowers in November. Kate brought with her a water colour of the house and garden painted by well known Bedfordshire artist Sylvester Stannard in the 1930s showing a bright and cheerful herbaceous border at the side of the house, typical of the period.
David and Liz moved to No 17 Biddenham Turn in 1986 to a house and garden in the Arts and Crafts style. Originally known as The Three Gables it was built in 1900 by Charles Edward Mallows for his father-in-law Henry Peacock.
It later became known as Compton House and then Barringer. One of the key features in Mallows’ design was that the house and garden should be integrated. David had a number of drawings and photographs which showed this unity of house and garden. Of particular interest was a photograph of two of the Peacock boys just returned from the Boer War standing in front of the house.
The garden continues to be laid out in the original format with four distinctive areas; a formal garden at the front with fourteen beds planted with roses and clipped hedges – although the roses are a newer addition, originally they were herbaceous beds; a lawn with pergola; a wild spinney area and a kitchen garden and orchard.
The garden now comprises about an acre, part of the kitchen garden and out buildings at the back having been sold as a building plot prior to David and Liz moving to the house. The Three Gables was noted as being a good example of an Arts and Crafts house and garden. It was depicted in a drawing of 1910 for a book written by Gertrude Jekyll “Gardens for Small Country Houses” and also featured in Country Life magazine in 1912 in an article entitled “The lesser country houses of today.” David and Liz have tried to maintain the garden as it was originally and bricks and tiles from the old garage have been used for a new garage and greenhouse. The whole garden is on solid clay but is good for roses which flower in abundance. Over 200 yards of hedges – yew, holly, hawthorn and box have to be clipped and maintained. Some trees have had to be removed as they were overcrowded particularly in the spinney area and sixteen of the trees are covered by a Tree Preservation Order but management is paramount as was shown by the improvement in a cedar following the felling of a neighbouring tree. Although the gardens of Biddenham House and No 17 Biddenham Turn are very different there are similarities. Curiously they were both acquired by their present owners in 1986 both of whom have a keen interest in restoring and maintaining original features whilst making their own mark in terms of planting. Both gardens have areas which are prone to flooding,
both gardens have wells which are now used for underground watering and irrigation systems and both sets of owners maintain extensive composting areas to continue to enrich the soil. David and Kate said how honoured and privileged they felt to be custodians of places of such historical interest and were passionate that these gardens should be preserved for the future. It was a real pleasure to learn about these two very important gardens of Biddenham and David and Kate were thanked for sharing their photos, drawings and paintings with us.
Our next meeting is on February 18th when Michael Perry from Thompson and Morgan – the seed and plant merchants, will be talking about New, Different and Unusual Plants.