14 DECEMBER 1991, Page 54


A pleasure and a privilege

Ursula Buchan

Iam so lucky to have The Manor. My late husband, Freddie, bought it during the last war. It was such a sadness to him that, because of his wretched hay fever, he could not "join up" but it did mean that he was able to throw himself into the war effort here at home and pick up the house for a song. Dear Bobo, such a close friend, so old, so gaga, and so grateful to have it taken off her hands, at what was such a dif- ficult time for us all.

`Mercifully, my husband's hay fever never affected his gardening. His war work went so well that he was able to retire in 1945 and devote every hour, when he wasn't at Newmarket, to supervising the care of his beloved lawns. He used to say, many a time, that he had given his life to the Turf and the turf. Too funny.

'We have always been helped, you know, by Luigi, who used to be an Italian POW and is now our devoted head gardener. Not a word of English but a wonderful way with Armillaria. He is such a dear — but sadly temperamental. We never have been able to bring ourselves to tell him that the war is over and that he can go home now, for fear it might quite unhinge him.

'Then there is Pam, of course — my dear, down-to-earth sister. She looks after the brassicas and the compost heaps, while I "do" the flower garden. You could not wish for a happier or more fruitful partner- ship. Such a dear, Pam, so much sadness in her life, yet such a wizard with the aldicarb.

'Though not, at the moment, quite at its best, we are frightfully proud of our Rose Garden, where we grow the "old" shrub roses. I wouldn't dream of letting in any of those awful "Typhoo tea" roses. I told Freddie that I was not having our garden looking like the daily's. So that was that.

'People come here from all over the place to see this garden, which, though I say so myself, is rather unique. As well as the Rose Garden, we also have a double herbaceous border, a Water Garden and even a Herb Garden! I had this wonderful idea for a White Garden but now everyone's got hold of it. I should never have men- tioned it to Vita, although she was such a dear, one couldn't refuse her anything. Even "Johnny" Johnston from Hidcote used to drop in for advice. I so remember him asking me how he should trim his hornbeam "stilts". I said, "Johnny, in one word: pruning knives. Our chap, thingum- myjig, swears by them and has only hurt himself really badly once, I believe." Such a dear, Johnny.

'I rather pride myself on my planting schemes, too. Here is a grouping I particu- larly like. A wonderful plant, Alchemilla thingy. It reminds me of a sort of lady's mantle. I only wish it were not so difficult to keep alive. I like to be daring and com- bine it with catmint and lamb's ears. I told Rosemary and Penny about my idea, so now these plants are growing at Barnsley and Tintinhull too! Rather flattering really. My family say that I am too avant-garde but, as I always say, you have to be true to your creative instincts in this life.

`You will mention we are opening the garden to the public on Bank Holiday Monday, won't you? It's for a good cause: the GRBS. No, not the Gardener's Royal Benevolent Society, the Guinevere Rake- handle Benefit Syndicate. When is your photographer coming ,down? Tell him, Mondays are best when Pam's away run- ning the WI market stall in Stow-in-the- Wold. She's so shy, poor darling; I wouldn't want to put her through it. Tell your man that the best place to take snaps is from behind the delphiniums looking towards the house. On second thoughts, I'll tell him, because that's where I "deadhead" on Mondays, wearing my famous old garden- ing boots. They always come out well in colour.

'I am glad you have enjoyed looking round, but I expect you are in a frightful hurry to get home, so won't have time to stay for a cup of coffee or come into the house or anything. You couldn't possibly send six copies of the magazine when the article comes out, could you? Better still, ten. Too kind. You must come again. . . . '

(Guinevere, Lady Rakehandle was in conver- sation with Ursula Buchan. This article is reproduced by kind permission of the pub- lishers of Lush Locations.) "Roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, sprouts, carrots, I'm really looking forward to it!'