Waterperry Gardens

By Andy McIndoe

Warterperry gardens are known internationally as home to the renowned horticultural college which operated there from 1932 to 1971. They were originally developed and designed as a teaching resource: the focus on food production and the highest standards of horticultural technique. Behind the Waterperry Horticultural College was the towering figure of Miss Beatrix Havergal who fulfilled her dream of establishing a horticultural institution for young women with no inclination to settle down and marry to keep a house. Her students were equipped to work as equals to men in a male dominated horticultural world. Miss H put pressure on the head gardeners and parks superintendents of the day to take her ‘gals’ in equal roles.

[caption id="attachment_9561" align="alignleft" width="541"]Miss Beatrix Havergal Miss Beatrix Havergal[/caption]

Today the gardens are still a wonderful horticultural resource steeped in tradition, but moving with the times. They are well known for fine collections of fruit trees, herbaceous perennials, especially asters and the National Collection of Kabschia Saxifrages. The Waterperry Gardening School http://www.waterperrycourses.co.uk/ offers a wide range of courses from one day horticultural technique workshops to the Royal Horticultural Society certificates. Certainly there can be no more inspirational place to learn about gardening than Waterperry. Many well-known gardening authorities speak here, including My Garden School tutor Noel Kingsbury http://www.my-garden-school.com/course/planting-design-with-perennials/ . Waterperry and My Garden School share the same values of the importance of quality horticultural education.

[caption id="attachment_9562" align="alignleft" width="550"]The avenue of cordon fruit The avenue of cordon fruit[/caption]

I spent a wonderful later autumn day with Head Horticultural Tutor Annette Pursey. Annette didn’t start out in gardening, but is certainly a great example of someone inspired by the wonderful world of horticulture. The gardens look quite beautiful in the mellow light of late fall. Rich autumn tints have become softer and the parchment, russet and chestnut shades take over. Evergreens stand out from the crowd and berries and fruits shine amongst the faded remains of perennials.

[caption id="attachment_9563" align="alignleft" width="550"]Berries and grasses in the late fall border Berries and grasses in the late fall border[/caption]

The borders in this garden have wonderful structure from the backdrop of walls, clipped yew and box. I loved this gateway from the long colour border, carefully carved from box against the darker backdrop of English Yew. In these borders the colours are balanced across the border; worth another visit in summer I think. The large shrub in the left hand foreground is a viburnum. The foliage resembled Viburnum x burkwoodii, but the colour was outstanding.

[caption id="attachment_9567" align="alignleft" width="550"]Yew Henge Yew Henge[/caption]

There are extensive orchards producing abundant crops of apples and pears, many grown for juice production. Immaculately trained extends along the pear avenue, cordon avenue and into the pear orchard. Many of the trees are several decades old; filled with character and maturity.

[caption id="attachment_9565" align="alignleft" width="550"]The Pear orchard The Pear orchard[/caption]

I have only come across “family trees” with three varieties of apples before. Basically three different compatible varieties are budded onto the same plant – so different branches grow to bear different types of apple.  At Waterperry a magnificent mature tree with low spreading limbs has been budded with forty different varieties, every one labelled. Unfortunately I was too late to see it bearing fruit but it must be an amazing, if somewhat bewildering sight.

[caption id="attachment_9566" align="alignleft" width="550"]A family tree A family tree[/caption]

The garden blends seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.  Between the Long Walk and the Pear Walk stands “Yew Henge” a circle of Taxus baccata at various heights, resembling a prehistoric stone circle. I really love this feature. It’s a great feature in an open naturalistic setting, such as a meadow. I think it could be adapted to a smaller space and I certainly intend to try it.

[caption id="attachment_9567" align="alignleft" width="550"]Yew Henge Yew Henge[/caption]

The Lily canal is another stunning feature in a large, open lawn. The still water reflects the surrounding countryside without obscuring the views. Looking back towards the gardens the water is set against a backdrop of massive yew cubes, immaculately trimmed which had contained vibrant orange and red dahlias.

[caption id="attachment_9568" align="alignleft" width="550"]Lily canal Lily Canal[/caption]

The small formal garden with trimmed, flame-shaped boxwood and a knot of box and red-leaved berberis has recently been replanted following a bad case of box blight which has decimated so many formal gardens.  The new planting is taking shape but this garden already has superb structure to hold the design together. A long pergola covered with mauve and white wisterias forms a tunnel along one side. Although it must be a magnificent sight in bloom it is really rather wonderful as the leaves fall and the old twining stems become the feature.

[caption id="attachment_9569" align="alignleft" width="550"]Wisteria pergola Wisteria pergola[/caption]

Perhaps one of the more controversial element of Waterperry is the more recently added red granite Egyptian-style obelisk with gold lettering and decoration. It is a surprise I admit, but it was designed by Simon Buchanan to reflect the School of Economic Science who own Waterperry Gardens. The Sanskrit lettering, translated into English convey the message that peace should be everywhere. Even those that look in horror at this piece of sculpture will relax their views when they read:  'All be happy. All be without disease. All creatures have well-being and none should be in misery of any sort'.

Waterperry Gardens is in Oxfordshire, England http://www.waterperrygardens.co.uk/

[caption id="attachment_9570" align="alignleft" width="550"]The Obelisk The Obelisk[/caption]

Andy McIndoe

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