In the 1950’s the Castle Gardens were split into two sites and a 3 and half acre ‘L’ shape of land, the most lovely of the original garden because it ran down to the Mill Pond, was the site of a new bungalow built from the old stables that were there. Mary Baldwin did a rather lovely job of converting these Stables and a grainy black and white photo shows her standing outside a rather colonial inspired single storey building that is more reminiscent of ‘The Flame Trees of Thika’ than the Isle of Wight.
Subsequently as the house was altered, it lost its romance until it became the brutally mundane white bungalow called ‘Olivers’ which we have taken possession of. Of course, I plan to reunite this site with the gardens of the Castle and also connect it to the Kitchen Gardens (see ‘The Old Gate Pier’). Despite the bungalow, its concrete drive, plastic oil tanks and horrific planting, nothing can ruin the beauty of this site. My summer slowed to a pace which afforded me a few precious early mornings picking mulberries from this lovely old tree and a few sneaky sunny afternoons lying under its branches, from where I could admire the views of the harbour and piece together the history of this part of the garden. During a late night stroll, I found glow worms in the mown verges, gently emitting a fading light which I initially thought to be the embers of cigarette butts left by local kids ( who had been busy emptying the sheds of fishing rods, garden chairs and any portable property). Night time walks scared badgers and in the early morning, pheasants and buzzards.
This site was originally an orchard and the bottom of the ‘L’ was grazing areas for the horses. The Castle garden connected to the grazing area by a narrow but attractive flight of steps, the sides decorated with stone plaques of reclining women. When we declined to buy the old statues from the ‘Olivers’ site last year, the owners asked a clearance company to come and remove them all and the dubious people they employed stripped the steps of all this stone work. After an irate phone call to the former owners, they were returned, broken in to many pieces and crudely stuck back together, so there is work to do to restore them and get them back in situ.
Other original features include the old fernery: two concentric circles of stones set within a low lying dell. There are no ferns here now, just Mare’s Tail, Equisetum arvense, ash saplings and a modern hose that has been added to create a fountain. However, I know it is the fernery as it is marked as such on the plan of the garden in 1902. Victorians loved ferns, collecting some native species to the point of extinction and growing them in glazed Wardian cases in the house and conservatory, in addition to creating areas devoted to them in the garden, so it is no surprise to find this feature here. It is lovely to see the structure of the fernery still tucked away, the slightly lower-lying land leading me to
think of the planting opportunities to come, and conjuring the lovely dell at Hinton Ampner Gardens. My dell at the moment is densely planted around with the brightest pink, most vulgar Camillias imaginable, so some judicious shrub removal might be required.
Shown below are the stables before development, the Olivers garden in the time of Mary Baldwin and thirdly, the bungalow as it is now, taken from the Harbour Wall, with the Castle in the distance.