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Audley End - A Garden To BeholdGardenAdvice.Co.UK visits one of the most famous stately homes and gardens in the UK, built in the 17th century it is one of the finest examples of English gardening.

The Bearded Wonder and I reckoned between us that it's basically a very large old (but interesting) house surrounded by loads of land, that had been in the family for several hundred years. And of course a really nice, interesting, garden that's open to the public. After all if I told you about some really fab garden, and you found out later that you couldn't go and look at it, you would be more than a little miffed. Especially if you'd travelled a long way for the privilege!


I decided not to concentrate on the usual ones, that everybody and his wife, not only have visited, but written about at as well! Such as Chatsworth, or Blenheim Palace. So I'll be writing about the somewhat smaller, lesser known ones that can sometimes, in my opinion anyway, be more interesting. This may be because the owners built their gardens more for their own pleasure, than to swank to the rest of the world. I'll start with Audley End, near Saffron Walden in Essex, which I visited the other day.


The house itself was built between 1605 and 1614 and has been continuously lived by the same family until 1948, when it was passed on to the State in lieu of death duties. It was first opened to the public in 1950, and is now looked after by English Heritage, who apart from doing loads of work on the house have also done wonders on the very extensive park and gardens. And they're currently restoring a seriously wicked kitchen garden (in conjunction with the HDRA) first established in the 1750s! Before I go into raptures about that and get told off by the Head Gardener for being too 'Veggie' obsessed, I'll mention one or two other aspects of the main garden which caught my eye.


The trouble with being a professional gardener myself, who has worked in several very big "estate" gardens, is that I get a bit blasé about looking at even more gardens! They can be a bit, of what my mother-in-law calls a busman's holiday. So to get me really excited, a garden has to have something really stunning and unusual and preferably, that I've never seen before. A pretty tall order that! At Audley End it was the "Cloud Hedges" that grabbed my attention. Now I'm not saying this feature is totally unique, and has never been done anywhere else in the world before. I'm sure it has, but it sure as heck impressed me! And The Bearded Wonder too, come to that! Now what on earth are these 'Cloud Hedges' they all cry in unison!


Well basically, they amount to a large hedge that instead of just been pruned and trimmed in the standard 'hedge' manner, straight up & down and flat on top. They've been lovingly trimmed into topiary cloud shapes. A really fun job for the Head Gardener, I bet! Unfortunately, as my trip to Audley End was on a Sunday, I couldn't find any of the garden staff to discuss the "Cloud Hedge" history with. But I'm sure it must have been planted in the middle of the last century, if not before. And is very much worth a look at. Whilst we can't all have such monumental topiary features in our humble gardens, examining that 'Cloud Hedge' can give you ideas. For example it shows us that we don't all, have to do the standard symmetrical Versailles type 'cones' or peacocks. We can have more fun and do our own thing if we want to!


Before I move on to the Kitchen Garden, there are a few other yummy features I'd like to mention. Firstly, there's the very large and wonderful parkland, laid out by Capability Brown followed by the very impressive parterre which was added by the third Lord Braybrooke in the 1850s. Definitely worth a look at.
For those unfamiliar with the term "parterre" it's described as a romantic interpretation of what the Victorians thought medieval gardens would have looked like. It comprises a series of beds, sometimes with a box edging, sometimes (as in this case) not, planted in a geometric design, with gravel or grass (as in this case) walks / paths surrounding them. These beds can be planted with roses, perennials, annuals, low growing shrubs, or a mixture of all four.


Moving on, there's also a pond garden, an "elysian garden" (an informal flower garden dating back to the 1780s), a water engine installed in 1850, which pumped water for the house from a nearby natural spring. And not forgetting, the river Cam which before flowing on to Cambridge, runs through the park. At various periods, this bit of the river was messed about with, first to create a vast canal, and later by good old Capability Brown in the 1760s. He remodelled it's shaped to give it more pleasing sweeping curves, which you can still enjoy today.


And now to what veggieholics would consider the best bit; the Organic Kitchen Garden. This walled garden totals about nine acres and was originally built 250 years ago. In January 1999, work began to restore this treasure to how it would have looked in Victorian times, when it would have been at it's most productive. As well as all the usual veg and fruit that you'd expect to see, there's also an incredible Vine House built in 1802, one of the oldest and probably the largest surviving in the country!


The Grape vines in it are thought to be the original ones planted when the house was built. So that makes 'em nearly two hundred years old! As part of their rejuvenation, last year they were given a real hard prune, and this year you sure can see the results, loads and loads of grapes dangling succulently down. Unfortunately, when I paid my visit, at the end of August, they weren't quite ripe enough for me to pinch one. Rats!


The nice thing about this kitchen garden is that you can actually buy the produce from the garden shop. Local visitors can also subscribe to a "food club" and can get their fresh stuff on a regular basis. I hope this has wetted your appetite for a gander [walk] at Audley End!

Written by Helen Wand.
* Audley End's working kitchen garden.
See Also
* www.english-heritage.org.uk
* www.hdra.org.uk
* For Audley End opening times call +44 1799 522399


Let me know what you think, or share your stately home gardening adventures with the rest of the gardening world, send me an email to helenwand@gardenadvice.co.uk.







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