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Wychwood
On the edge of what one thinks of as the High Cotswolds, between the towns of Burford and Charlbury, Wychwood Manor sits slightly north of the remains of the Wych wood, which John Piper describes in his 1953 Shell Guide ‘... now a fragment of a forest, deep and curious, that was once as large and important as the New Forest’ in ‘some of the best of the Oxfordshire landscape; open upland country under grass and corn ... with ochre stone walls ... and isolated clumps of sombre trees.’ It is ‘open’ and ‘upland’, hugely arable with good hedgerow trees but the general feel is not lush like the Windrush and shelter is important. Alex and Fiona Wilmot-Sitwell took some persuading therefore that the house needed to be set free from its hugger-mugger poorly planted suburban bonds and required us all to be as bold about the garden as they were already being about the house, a faux-Jacobean gabled confection built in the 1920s by a blind cement magnate who seems to have insisted that it be pointed with thick black mortar like a child’s drawing. The Wilmot-Sitwells had spent a long time looking for a suitable house in the perfect location and the first thing they did was chip away at the pointing. They were neck deep in portakabins and scaffolding when they called us in, having seen our work at Houghton Hall in Norfolk and been prompted by our compatriot from Waddesdon Manor days, Milly Soames. They felt that we could provide the bold structure and full, generous planting that they had admired at Houghton, and hoped we could help them in connecting the garden to the surrounding countryside through the dark, enclosing woods and shrubs that grew around the house. When we met them, we all agreed instantly that beautiful views were, sadly, excluded. The landscape, the trees, the spires, and the broad sweeps of farmland that lay all around, were frustratingly hidden, the house closely hedged in by mixed plantations. But, while the garden had been very well tended by the previous owners and, especially, by their gardener, Shirley Emery, whom the Wilmot-Sitwells were lucky enough to inherit, the feel of the place was closed in to the point of claustrophobia. It wasn’t hard for us to persuade them that the mission was to see beyond the creepers and the shelterbelts, but they were nervous about the blasting they might be exposed to by opening up the broader landscape and the pastoral vistas. Alex particularly was alarmed at the prospect of removing trees but was eventually persuaded by the opportunity to embark on a massive programme of sapling planting, and by the idea of hiring a tree spade, with which we moved the best of the twenty-year-old trees from the mixed plantations into the outer fields to create a parkland.

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