When I did a garden design course years ago, we all had to do a project on a designer/plantsperson of our choice. For some reason I chose Rosemary Verey, who wasn’t strictly a garden designer – rather an extremely well connected ‘owner-gardener’. But I was fascinated by the idea of potagers and knew that she had created one in the garden at her home, Barnsley House.
The house is now a hotel but you can still see the garden by either going for lunch or tea, taking a pre-booked group tour, or by paying £10 (including a coffee and a petit four), which is the option we went for. It’s a pretty classy establishment and we weren’t exactly dressed for it, but the staff couldn’t have been friendlier – they urged us to make ourselves comfortable in the armchairs near the log fire (yes, in July – the weather was terrible) while we sipped our coffees.
Afterwards, we pretty much had the garden to ourselves. It is famous for its Laburnum Walk, which had gone over by the time of our visit, of course, and the Lime Walk. I’ve seen a couple of lime walks recently, and have to say that I’ve found them rather dark and oppressive. I’m sure they’re lovely in spring when they’re just coming into leaf, with spring planting underneath, though.
But of course, we made a beeline for the potager. It’s huge – bigger than most people’s gardens – but there were plenty of ideas that could be scaled down for a smaller garden. It’s intricately laid out to a design that is not dissimilar to a knot garden, and is full of structure – topiary, trained fruit trees, box edging, arches, attractive plant supports and so on. Interestingly, some veg, such as courgettes, squashes etc aren’t grown in the potager, presumably because they take up too much room and don’t look as attractive – they’re grown in a nearby veg patch. The potager is saved for the prettier crops – globe artichokes, tree fruit, alpine strawberries and herbs. Plus flowers of course – opium poppies added splashes of colour everywhere. I loved the living willow supports for sweet peas.
Of course, my own veg patch looks woeful in comparison. I did manage to divide it up with loose brick paths earlier in the year, and was full of good intentions, but I took my eye off the ball just when the plot needed attention. The runner beans and courgettes got eaten by slugs, so I had to buy plants from the garden centre (a very expensive way of doing things) and my autumn-fruiting raspberries went down with a virus. Many of my flowers for cutting just haven’t got going. I have resolved that there are going to be some changes next year…