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When VisitEngland, our national tourist board, hand out their Gold Awards for Luxury Self-Catering in the UK, they place almost as much emphasis on the appearance of the gardens as they do the interiors. So naturally, we have gone overboard with Bruern’s gardens, which they have graded at 100%.
This is why our visitors sometimes tell us they can’t be bothered to get in the car and drive all the way to Hidcote, Barnsley House, Broughton Castle or Kiftsgate, to name just a few of the wonderful gardens within an hour’s drive from Bruern. Why should we, they ask, when we’ve got all this? Why indeed? After all, we are as passionate about the gardens here at Bruern as we are about the interiors, which is why we plant thousands of bulbs every winter so that each spring is more glorious than the last. In summer, on a hot afternoon, it is a paradise: when you stroll through the Stable Yard, the symmetry, mellow stone, gravel paths and striped green croquet lawn, softened by festoons of roses and clematis, and lilies and euphorbias spilling out of the borders, combine to give you the illusion that you yourself have been transplanted, into the quad of some Oxford college.
Carry on through the arch into the old walled garden and you find yourself in an atmosphere of space and grandeur: there’s a wide lawn on your right, with the Long Border, twelve feet deep by a hundred and twenty feet wide, punctuated by Irish yews parallel to it, on the other side of the lawn, is an arched colonnade of yews along the path to the swimming pool.
The Long Border, a misty, opalescent mix of mauves, crimsons, pinks and white, is breathtaking in its sweep and scale. Behind it is another tour de force, a tunnel of wisteria and apple trees, trained on arches, which runs the length of the garden. In spring apple blossom gives way to heavily scented wisteria, humming with bees; summer brings a froth of purple and crimson viticella clematis, and in autumn rosy apples cluster on the trees, ripe for picking. On the other side of the apple and wisteria tunnel, you find the cutting garden where we grow the flowers for the holiday cottages, a formal parterre centred on a wrought iron gazebo covered in rambler roses. Its neatly edged beds, immaculate grass paths and clipped box balls are a counterpoint to the explosion of colour they contain – magenta, purple, scarlet, orange, brilliant blue and lime green. Only the symmetry of the Irish yews, which mirror those at the back of the Long Border, links the two sides of the tunnel.
In total contrast again is the walk by the stream towards the Games Room, a lush, natural planting of shade lovers: hellebores, sweet rocket, foxgloves, Solomon’s seals, ferns, hostas, primulas and daylilies, with every now and then plants on a bigger scale like gunneras, bamboo, giant rhubarb and species roses.
Each holiday cottage has its own terrace, with garden furniture, a barbecue and a big white umbrella. They have wide borders on each side, thickly planted, and behind them trellis almost buried under climbers; you don’t feel overlooked at Bruern. The terrace of Aintree cottage, Newmarket cottage and Sandown cottage face the lawn and Long Border of the walled garden: at the end, between the lime trees and above the high wall the blue hills rise from fields and woods towards Stow-on-the-Wold.
Some holiday cottages have their own secluded gardens – Epsom Cottage, Saratoga Cottage, Goodwood Cottage, Bookers Cottage and Shipton Cottage – many with vine and rose covered pergolas and wide, flowery borders. Each has its own atmosphere: Shipton Cottage, for instance, is set in an orchard of ancient, gnarled and lichened apple trees on a velvet lawn, while Cope Cottage’s west terrace, a suntrap, is redolent of the aromatic scents of the Mediterranean maquis – lavender, cistus, santolina, salvia, helychrysum and thyme baking on the hot stone. The colour schemes vary too; there are mauves and pinks and silvers in some, while others have a lighter, cooler feel with yellows and whites and true blues.
Weir House has large gardens back and front with terraced seating and eating areas, a croquet lawn and even a tiny formal courtyard with box hedges.
Every year we plant between seven and twelve thousand bulbs. Spring is a Botticelli-like profusion of snowdrops, dwarf irises, species tulips, narcissi of every kind and size, tulips of every colour, anemone blanda, anemone de Caen, chionodoxas, scillas, camassias, and erythroniums, to be succeeded in summer by all sorts of alliums and lilies; later in the year come cyclamen neapolitanum, crinums and nerines. Pat the gardener despairs every time he sees my annual bulb order. He doesn’t think there’s any room left underground.
There is not a lot of room on the surface either. Roses (we grow over 130 different varieties), paeonies, irises and oriental poppies are packed together in a glorious profusion at midsummer, with phlox, Japanese anemones, Echinacea, persicaria, sedums, dahlias and asters waiting in the wings for the grande finale. It’s not easy for a weed to squeeze between them. You might well think that gardening on the scale we do and with our degree of intensity is a bit above and beyond the call of duty, but we feel that is what marks luxury holiday cottages apart from the common herd.