January 2, 2007
How would Capability Brown have got on with English Heritage, I wonder. Or with Planning Guidelines or Building Regs. He would have had a fit, and we would be looking at a different landscape. No greensward sweeping down to winding water; no hanging clumps of oak or beech. Overgrown topiary would be towering everywhere, and avenues fanning out all over the country. Still, the weeding industry would provide thousands of jobs….
How did we let ourselves be dictated to like this? It is one thing to acknowledge a public interest in what we do with our houses and gardens, but quite another to accept dictatorship by bureaucrat. We all have our stories. Mine is how we invited all the relevant planners for coffee and a tour of the house. In its 500 years everyone has had a go, adding wings or subtracting them, building new staircases and corridors and chimneys. The listed buildings officer dropped himself in it. “What I love about these old houses,” he said, “is that each generation leaves its mark. “Funny you say that. this,” said I, producing plans, “is the conservatory we are going to add.”
Don’t try to chop a tree down without a permit, though. Not even a self-sown sycamore. Not even an elder. Plant whatever you like; no one questions the innocent little tree you bring home in a pot. Just remember when it reaches 50 feet high to ask permission to cut it down.