Tucked away in the green and abundant countryside of Oxfordshire there lies a Jacobian manor house. Luscious gardens and old stones hugging each other allowing moments of magic to happen in a fairytale-like setting of the english countryside. However the sense of enchantment not only stems from the old history of the manor but also from the contemporary flair and lives added by Henrietta Courtauld and Bridget Elworthy.
Both met through a mutual friend that led to forging a bond that would result in a flourishing business founded in 2012 named “The Land Gardeners”.
Having trained individually as garden designers and horticulturists, working in gardens and nurseries to improve their knowledge and fuel their passion both women understood the sensibility and opportunity that the old manor house and its neglected land brought with it.
Bridget brought experience in growing cut flowers sustainably from her family farm in New Zealand whilst Henrietta honed her craft of landscape design working for several garden designers.
Even though it seemed a large undertaking the incredibly fertile soil and the intriguing tales about the original house and grounds led Bridget and Henrietta to restore it to its once vibrant productivity: “We had some old plans and a description of the garden from old sales particularly from the early twentieth century.”
Being built by two architects of the “Arts and Crafts” movement G.H Kitchen and Randall Wells in the 1920´s the house became an expression of their craftsmanship with features such as its iconic plasterwork and the wood-panelled library. A fire partially destroyed the manor in 2004 before being restored and put on the market by the previous owner Audrey Wardington. Bridget Elsworthy and her husband purchased the manor in 2008 slowly reviving it to its former glory with a unique and contemporary flair. Henrietta adds: “We also found wonderful black and white photos of the garden from the 1930´s which had been published in an article for Country Life”.
After more discoveries of the history of the space as well as the illuminating stories told by the previous owner of the manor Bridget and Henrietta tapped into the history of the space following a trail that was left by the mother-in-law of the previous owner. She herself used to cut roses fresh from the gardens and would deliver them to florists in the heart of London.
In line with their ideas to create a productive garden the flowers grown by them soon included the whole garden allowing them to cut from an abundance and variety of herbaceous plants and shrubs.
The two women, who created a sustainable business based on the ethos of nurturing the soil, are running the now well known working gardens at Wardington Manor besides offering practical and sustainable garden design from their studio in London specialising in walled gardens:
“The old walled garden had been divided into four quarters so we reinstated these and the cutting garden was a pony paddock when we arrived. There were two old pear trees which had lined a wide path so we reinstated the beds each side of the path – and then went on to create more beds as our need for space increased.”
With their clear emphasis on organic and sustainable gardening and growing they rely on minimal digging on their beds as well as using green manures to avoid bare ground.
They add: “From spring to autumn we make high quality aerobic microbial rich compost and use it to nourish our soils thoughout the year and we make compost teas to feed both plants and soil”.
“The best thing to do is to start gardening and growing. Gain as much experience as you can working in gardens – because it really is only by growing plants and handling them that you learn about them and the soil. And there is so much wisdom from gardeners that can be passed down from one generation to the next.”
Through their horticultural understanding and abundant knowledge they are able to create healthy British grown blooms that are delivered to London to florists like Scarlet &Violet amongst others.
However they always keep the aesthetic of the garden in mind when it is planned.
Planting in rows , particularly in the cutting garden allows them to grow a wide range of flowers efficiently. Particularly in the walled garden alternating rows of vegetables add to the romantic sensibility of the space besides their elaborate herbaceous and shrub borders: “People are often fearful of climbing into their borders to cut from them but we find it often actually encourages the plants to grow away strongly”.
Even though naming favourite plant combinations can be tough for plant enthusiasts like Bridget and Henrietta they love seeing their Paeonia “Gardenia” amidst a skirt of Centranthus lecoquii, Geranium “Walküre” and Euphorbia oblongata:“We are becoming galanthophiles expanding our collection snowdrop varieties which in winter tuck up beneath the lilacs and the apple trees in the orchard”.
Both women seek their inspiration from nature and sometimes other gardens such as Rousham for the ebullience of its walled garden surrounded by calm, green woodland gardens and the green glades underplanted with Laurel with classical William Kent urns and long vistas across the field.
Henrietta and Bridget remember their highlights of their journey and state: “The first year of our Dahlia and Tulip border was so easy to make. Turf cutting one spring, edging with yew and then planting with Dahlias in May. By the end of the summer it was head-height with a collection of colourful, generous blooms. After the first frosts we lift them and plant over 10.000 Tulips which go onto flower the following spring. They are the most wonderful, fun borders that allow us to indulge two of our weaknesses: Dahlias and Tulips”.
And even though it means swapping them over twice a year it seems like “The Land Gardeners” do it with a joy in their core.
The same core that led them to growing flowers and garden together ever since they met.
With the addition of designing productive spaces with emphasis on soil health Henrietta and Bridget enable their business to thrive and blossom like the old Wardington manor now thrives beneath their green fingertips.