Hanham Court Gardens
For eighteen years Hanham Court was the heart of our life. Bertie Bannerman was born five days after we moved in at the end of August 1993. Rex can remember nothing else, though Ismay has a vague feeling for Chippenham and the The Ivy. The rituals of childhood were all rooted in the garden: the dogs, the pet burials, the shin-scraping and den-making, although their father was rather competitive and territorial on that front, and the biggest ritual of all, the Christmas tree, decoration thereof in late December and burning thereof in early January. Heavily pregnant and having sold our house suddenly and much to our surprise while doing our first Chelsea, I was not at all sure about Hanham Court. Nor was my mother, who came to it for the first time right through the eastern backside of Bristol, which is where it was, and declared the curious purple grey local sandstone ‘the most depressing thing’ she had ever seen. It was unwieldy, rambling, leaking, nothing worked and the garden was dismally full of large dog turds and leylandii. Julian saw it quite differently as medieval, with its own church, every era of architecture from Norman up to Arts and Crafts (a great 1900 kitchen wing screaming to be put right). But it was so hemmed in with ghastly planting that he really seemed to have had x-ray vision. Through the claustrophobic conifers and, his bête noir, huge copper beeches, he saw undulating combes and rising limestone grassland, potential orchards, a ‘hortus conclusus’ behind the tithe barn, water running through the dell, a fortified formal garden around the house, a myriad of different moods to be teased out and so much room for experiment. He was particularly enchanted that, like the Bishop’s Palace in Wells, the whole ensemble – and this was something I did get because it goes back again to Alice in Wonderland – is entered through a low wicket gate within huge Tudor wooden gates. Stepping through this you always felt enticed, energised, that you were entering into your own fortified kingdom, a place of magic. Very slowly, painfully, but together, we dragged and cajoled Hanham forcing it to be the place it had been and would be, a place most ‘lived in’ – the most ‘lived in house’ that she had ever been in, declared designer Ilse Crawford – and the most loved.