Non Morris is enchanted by the garden buildings, attention to detail and abundant planting in a recently made Wiltshire garden. Photographs by Val Corbett.
The view out through the French windows from the pale-stone interior of the ‘indoor-outdoor’ swimming pool is intoxicating. The milky-blue water catches the sunlight and holds hovering, theatrical reflections of the leafy cloister garden beyond.
If you get your romantic timing ‘absolutely right’, Julian Bannerman tells me, ‘all the rose petals blow in, too’. The façade of the bath house is quilted in wisteria and the series of elegant French windows is flanked by lovely stretches of the creamy-white and blush-pink climbing roses Félicité Perpétue and New Dawn.
The building was designed by Isabel and Julian Bannerman as part of a ‘monastic settlement’ and painstakingly installed over almost a decade around the Wiltshire farmhouse of fashion magnate John Robinson, founder of the Jigsaw chain.
However, although the ambitions of the scheme are indeed grand and theatrical, the garden itself is welcoming and comfortable throughout. ‘My favourite place for lunch is out on that wire table outside the bath house. A Sunday lunch with lots of family,’ smiles Mr Robinson when I meet him.
Mr Robinson bought the farmhouse and a 300-acre ‘two-overcoat’ farm – so called because it’s always a few degrees colder than anywhere around – in 1980. As a teenager, he’d been to agricultural college and worked on a farm, but he’d always had an unerring eye for what would sell, from sweet peas on the roadside when he was a schoolboy to Afghan coats brought back from an overland trip to Istanbul when he was a student.
Following the huge success of the Jigsaw fashion brand, he was keen to establish a home and an organic farm away from it all in this peaceful and gloriously unspoilt setting.
In 2001, with a growing family and inspired by the ‘ruined pool’ the Bannermans had created at Hanham Court, their nearby home, Mr Robinson asked them to help him develop the garden and extend the house. They returned with ‘a giant model of the whole thing, cutting out the hill’ and ‘sweeping away the falling-to-bits “Diana Dors” swimming pool’. What the Bannermans were offering for Euridge was a whole new world. ‘We thought the red pen would come out,’ adds Julian, ‘but it didn’t.’
The plan was to create a sheltered, sunny courtyard from this fiercely cold, wind-blasted Wiltshire hillside, with paved areas for dining and box-edged beds spilling over with roses and Mr Robinson’s favourite peonies. The original farmhouse would form one corner and a series of faux medieval monastic buildings, some ‘adapted’ by the Georgians and some left as ruined walls, would become the remaining sides of the square.
‘John was the best of clients – coming from retail, he was businesslike and visual and knew his own mind, but respected the talents of others,’ records Isabel in the book Landscape of Dreams.
The project began with trips to salvage yards all over the country for decorative pieces of stone and old church window frames – equally passionate about old buildings, Mr Robinson discovered numerous key pieces himself – and involved the direct hire of a cheerful and ever-expanding band of skilled labourers to bring it to life. ‘Euridge was probably the happiest thing we have ever done.’
The Bannermans’ enduring pleasure in the place – they continue to visit regularly – is evident as we walk around. Julian takes pains to point out the handmade lead gutters on the cloister walls and, as we arrive at the gatehouse, Isabel exclaims with delight at a bulging specimen of Daphne x translantica Eternal Fragrance – ‘Look, it’s worked!’ – and shows me the generous wintersweet shrubs planted on either side of the arch: ‘We always plant masses of it. You get this amazing smell as a surprise in January.’
The cloister garden itself is peopled by handsome yew topiary emerging from crisp box hedging. ‘We bought cones, but we knew they’d have something on top as they naturally lend themselves to one shape or another,’ explains Isabel. The yew topiary has been expertly nurtured by head gardener Andy Wain, who also has a special regime to ‘stop the box from dying’.
There’s a fine, chess-like grid of topiary filling one corner and an avenue lined with yew frames the view of the gatehouse arch. The topiary gives the garden a settled, rhythmic quality.
Elegant benches are deftly embraced by the neat box hedges and the yew provides a wonderful foil for the blush-pink, strongly fragrant Old Rose Souvenir de St Anne’s. The parterre is also important for giving year-round structure. ‘I love winter with the frost all over the yew,’ Julian tells me, ‘and the birds live in them – they’re a sort of hotel for goldfinches.’
The process of building the bath house and the orangery above it involved the garden becoming its own quarry. Julian describes the thrill of digging out the pool from which ‘beautiful 8ft by 10ft giant Weetabixes of bath stone’ emerged. There was further excitement in the creation of a frieze of dolphins and octopuses for the grotto made from shells.
Isabel describes with story-telling wonder the ‘iridescent, very very dark paua shells’ they used and explains how they’re ‘only found in the deep waters off the south coast of New Zealand’. ‘They’re also very delicious to eat,’ she adds with a smile.
The elegant orangery on the floor above is for overwintering terracotta pots of orange trees and, says Mr Robinson, ‘it’s extraordinary for parties’. It leads directly onto an Italianate roof terrace that overlooks the cloister garden. Parts of the terrace have barely 1ft of available soil, but huge, glossy Magnolia grandiflora seem literally to form the external walls of the orangery.
There is a beautiful Gothic tracery screen and fountain, rows of immaculately underplanted orange trees and an intricate box parterre. Box is cleverly planted beneath the stone coping around the two pools, bestowing them with a demure, ankle-hiding, ecclesiastical feel.
There are exhilarating views from the terrace out to the rolling countryside beyond the ‘ruined’ stone walls, which are laden with rambling roses: Albéric Barbier, Paul’s Himalayan Musk and Rambling Rector. Where no roses can reach, cheerful stretches of Erigeron karvinskianus, honeysuckle and pink and white valerian grow out of crevices in the stone.
A later stage of the Euridge project was the addition of a substantial new wing: a south-facing drawing room with an extensive ‘Elizabethan’ loggia and a master bedroom above.
The spacious loggia terrace is ‘where I spend a lot of my time’, Mr Robinson explains. That’s hardly a surprise once you see the magnificent formal pool dug into the hillside below the loggia, with its audacious ‘cow’ fountains, an exquisite thatched oak boat house and views out to the gorgeous countryside beyond.
Wonderfully crisp hourglass shadows on the smooth paving are cast by 17th-century stone balustrading. Further balustrading for the flights of steps was immaculately copied by architectural stonemason John Abbott. The solidity of the pool, its soft natural colours against the calm, mirror-like expanse of blue-green water and the almost improbable castle-like section of house above is really extraordinary.
Carved into the hillside beside the formal pool, there’s a new walled kitchen garden, which has seemingly endless box hedging, fruit trees in deep green Versailles planters and abundant artichokes, with sweet peas and the riotous pink climbing rose Cécile Brünner clothing a frame at the centre.
In the tier above, an ingenious strip of Provence – in the form of a skinny terrace above the kitchen garden, lined with yards of Iris pallida and Verbena bonariensis – turns out to be a pair of boules courts
The orangery at Euridge has recently become available for weddings. You can get married at nine places within the grounds, but not the tump, the spiral mound made from excavated stone that has magnificent views out to the east. ‘There has to be a roof, so I’m afraid you can’t get married there,’ declares Mr Robinson, who thoroughly enjoys this new influx of guests.
The ambition and scale of the garden and buildings at Euridge Manor Farm, the quality of the materials, the attention to detail and the pervading, almost fairytale-like sense of fun and excitement are an enchanting combination.
Euridge Manor Farm, Colerne, Chippenham, Wiltshire. For weddings or to stay at The Lost Orangery, Euridge Manor Farm (01637 881183; www.uniquehomestays.com). For more information about Julian and Isabel Bannerman, visit www.bannermandesign.com
Need to know
- Size: About three acres of garden, including the kitchen garden
- Altitude: 600ft. John Robinson describes it as ‘a two-overcoat farm – always a few degrees colder than anywhere else’
- Soil: Free-draining soil over limestone
- Special challenges: ‘The hillside is blasted with wind,’ explains Isabel Bannerman, ‘which is why creating shelter is so important’
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