Christopher Woodward has a taste for the grandest gardens; fair enough, they were usually the ones with the longest history. He has just led his coterie, supporters of the Garden History Museum, to what is in some ways the grandest garden in England. The fourth Literary Festival was held in perfect weather (another of Christopher’s trademarks) at Boughton House in Northants.
In modern garden history Boughton is best known for the remarkable horti-couple who lived there: Sir David Scott and his wife Valerie Finnis. He was a nephew of one Duke of Buccleugh and great-uncle (I believe) of another. He gardened there with love and style and industry until he was 99. His was the ‘wild’ garden; Valerie’s the alpines.
Meanwhile the 10th duke (Duke Richard to his staff) has taken a new look at the more than impressive landscape. His commission of Kim Wilkie to design a contemporary take on the mighty earth-and-water works of the past is already famous. Matching the noble mount (the corollary to a noble pond) Wilkie dug a hole of corresponding size. Its name is Orpheus (who you remember visited the underworld to retrieve Eurydice). So the square pond at the bottom is the entrance (and in Orpheus’ unusual case exit) to/from Hades. The Orpheus depression (hole sounds too banal) has perfect acoustics. We sait on the grassy bank in early evening sunshine to hear I Fagiolini sing madrigals. Fa la la indeed!
If anything even more impressive than the glittering great plans d’eau are the avenues. The first duke planted limes in tens of thousands. The planting still goes on. With some of them three hundred years old, maintained (by topping, if necessary) at a height of 130 feet and astonishingly uniform, they are the ultimate garden accessory. Something like 30 miles of them.
But we were there to hear writers, a score of them, enlarging on their books. They ranged from Roy Strong to Alan Hollingshurst (who spoke on Assignations in the Garden. Maud was not the only who was wooed), from Anna Pavord to Michael Heseltine, Roy Lancaster and the Bannermans.
The strength of the symposium lay in its philosophical and poetic undercurrents. It was about the Why, not the How, of gardening, and it bore prolific fruit.