To St Paul’s Walden Bury on one of the rare fine evenings of June to wander round one of England’s most romantic gardens at that moment when the very air seems charged with chlorophyll. It must have been on such an evening that Marvell wrote ‘a green thought in a green shade’. The oaks and ashes are joyfully green against an azure sky. Every plant is in improbable perfection; towering forest trees, magnolias in the infant innocence of pale flowers, rhododendron of every hue, billowing white clouds of Siberian malus, ivory flowered dogwoods and wild service trees the size of oaks.
But this is a woodland garden disciplined by calm grass rides, arrow-straight, turning your steps towards a statue, a pavilion, a grassy theatre overlooking a simple fountain. At one moment lilies distract you, at another the perfume of azaleas: all the spring garden pleasures are there, all the more intense for the calming effect of geometry and proportion, measured out in straight beech hedges.
Behind it all are two indefatigable treasure-hunters, Sir Simon and Lady Caroline Bowes Lyon. Laid out this evening on the billiard table in the house were a hundred fascinating photographs they had taken in the previous weeks in Bhutan, many of rhododendrons planted or to be planted in Hertfordshire. Such enterprise, such order, and such an evening are really the summit of gardening.