What do expect to find in the gardens of an 18th century mansion house that was once crowned the Historic Houses Association/Christies Garden of the Year? Something pretty thrilling, that’s what. Fortunately, Bourton House in Gloucestershire does not disappoint.
Close to the picturesque village of Moreton-in-Marsh, the honey coloured Queen Anne style house sits within a three-acre landscaped garden that occupies an enviable position with sweeping views over the gently rolling Cotswold hills. Within its boundaries are beautiful borders, pristine lawns, water features and one of the best collections of topiary in the country, where every piece is kept in pristine condition.
Despite turning heads today, the garden was in a poor state when Richard and Monique Paice arrived at Bourton House in 1984. Back then the grounds had been neglected for some time and were largely overgrown. Over the next 25 years, the Paices’ dedicated much of their time to transforming the garden they had inherited and were ably assisted by Paul Nicholls, a former gardener with the National Trust, who joined them in 1999.
Paul had an excellent working relationship with the couple, but especially with Mrs Paice. ‘She was the force behind Bourton House, she had great taste and knew exactly what she wanted,’ recalls Paul. ‘After working together for a while, Mrs Paice sensed that I knew what she liked and didn’t like, and gave me a lot more freedom in the garden.’
Although the Paices sold the property in 2010, the new owners retained Paul as head gardener, along with his deputy Jacky Rae. The continuity has obviously paid dividends as the garden continues to attract thousands of garden lovers looking for ideas and was recently received a silver award as best small visitor attraction of the year from Cotswold Tourism.
The garden is divided into a series of connecting rooms with imaginative layouts, exquisite planting and clever touches that make it a joy all year round. Even in the depths of winter there is plenty of interest thanks to former owner, Monique Paice’s weakness for ornaments, architectural plants, topiary and clipped specimens.
A parterre close to the house is kept in immaculate condition. The curvaceous design made from box sits amongst gravel and is punctuated by perfect topiary spirals that resemble the swirling shape of freshly served soft ice cream. Elsewhere, there’s a knot garden that takes on a magical appearance when dusted by frost on a chilly winter’s morning.
‘Mrs Paice really loved the structure and formality the knot garden provided,’ says Paul, explaining that this feature replaced a rose garden that had occupied the same position. Unfortunately, her ‘Iceberg’ roses were struggling, so she dug them all up and put together a plan for this formal feature that is undoubtedly one of Bourton’s highlights.
Made from over 3000 box plants, the intricate network of low hedging and pyramidal shapes sits behind a curtain of yew hedging. At the heart of knot garden is an unusual pond made from an ornate stone basket that was originally an exhibit inside the Crystal Palace erected in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851. A border flanks one side of the feature and provides interest during the colder months of the year thanks to grasses and architectural plants that look delightful when touched by frost.
There are many metres of hedging that need to be kept in trim and numerous pieces of topiary to clip. It’s a time consuming job that takes many weeks to complete when the plans are given their annual prune, between July and September. The results are clearly worth it as the crisp outline is much admired by visitors, who drawn back year after year.