A Taste of Capel Manor by Anne Luder

Our speaker at a well-attended meeting on 21st May was Anne Luder. Anne is a retired horticulturalist, garden designer and part- time lecturer at Capel Manor College in Enfield. The college is primarily a horticultural college and offers a wide range of courses to students from the age of 16  to 60 and beyond.

The site of Capel Manor  was  formerly known as Honeylands owing to its association with the nearby Waltham Abbey where the monks were famous for their production of honey and a honey-based drink similar to mead …

The estate has many royal connections. It is thought to be the burial place of King Harold. It was a hunting ground for Henry VII and Henry VIII and at one time was owned by Elizabeth I. She gave it away as a royal favour to one of her courtiers as she didn’t need it for herself because she owned the nearby, and much grander, Hatfield House. The royal connection has continued until the present day. The Old Manor garden at the college which displays plants associated with the period was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and a room named for Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire was opened by Prince Charles. 

Anne showed pictures of the current Capel Manor house which is a modest sized house dating from the 1750s and she talked about the many private owners of the estate before it  was established as a college, initially under the ownership of Enfield council and then as an independent trust. The Duchess of Devonshire was a driving force in the establishment of the college, using her dominant personality to extract funds from her many connections. Another forceful woman who did much to secure the success of the college was Frances Perry VMH a well-known horticulturalist in her day. By the time the college was set up the gardens on the estate had largely been lost although there are still a number of fine trees whose ancestors were sent over from their Indian tea plantations by members of the Warren family who were the owners of the company that is now PG Tips.

There are 34 acres of land at the college and there are at least forty separate gardens  designed as teaching aids and for public viewing as  a source of inspiration for the wide range of possibilities offered by typical garden plots, many of them long and narrow. From its early days the college has been open to the public as a means of raising funds and it is open for 363 days a year.

The college was set up initially to provide training for nurserymen and parks gardeners but the range of courses has grown enormously and is now carried on at a variety of sites in addition to Capel Manor.  The bias is still heavily in favour of horticultural subjects providing qualifications nearly up to degree level including RHS qualifications  and the royal connection is continued with plans for the establishment of the Princess Royal College of Animal Management and Saddlery.

Anne’s personal connection with the college has been as  a part-time lecturer on using horticulture as therapy for the severely physically disabled. Capel Manor has for a long time exhibited at the Chelsea Flower show and Anne was for many years a member of the team going to Chelsea. She told us of the wonderful experience of being there at 5.00 in the morning with few people about and she also spoke about the way she has seen design ideas and even structural objects being recycled from earlier shows. 

Anne concluded with an account or one more Capel royal connection which was personal to her. A new garden was being developed in honour of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and, at the age of 100 the Queen Mother agreed to come to Capel  Manor to open it. To everyone’s surprise she did a lot more than the official, limited, programme and she went on a tour of some of the gardens. For many years Anne has run courses for disabled children who were brought to the college by ambulance. One of these courses coincided with the Queen Mother’s visit but no-one had realised this to say it should be cancelled. As ambulances arrived the Queen mother’s equerry authorised the go-ahead  and the children finished up having tea with the royal visitor. This was the Queen Mother’s last public engagement.

The next BGA meeting will be on 18th June and will be given by Geoff Hodge on “Weeds and the weed free garden.” Our plant sale on 18th May raised £165 and we are very grateful to all those who brought plants to sell and those who came in the rain to buy them.

Jeremy Arthern

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