Thursday, 8 November 2018

Ham House Gardens


The last time I visited Ham House was four years ago. I didn't realise it has been that long ago until I looked back. When a property is several hundred years old then not much changes in that space of time or does it? When we arrived I saw a sign for a garden tour starting in 30 minutes. I ended up being the only person on it so I got treated to a private tour of the gardens.
The house was built in 1610 by William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart. When he died his title and property passed to his eldest daughter Elizabeth. The new Countess of Dysart was by this time married to Sir Lionel Tollemache. She had used her husband's money plus an allowance from King Charles II to turn Ham House into something fabulous. After Sir Lionel died in 1669 she married the Duke of Lauderdale. Between them became known for their influence and extravagance.

Walking round the corner brings you to the back of the house and the South Terrace. The borders are filled with bright cannas and the rich purple colours of amaranthus. The positioning of these plants is deliberately done to show each plant off. The fashion for all things from faraway places showed off your wealth and status. Exotic species such as these plants were especially prized for their architectural and striking looks.

The plainness of the lawn area was also designed with wealth in mind. Only the richest had large lawns at the back of their houses. This section is called the Plats. The gravel areas were also important as gravel was expensive. The Duchess had connections with the Charles II through her loyalty to the crown during Oliver Cromwell's tenure. He owned the gravel pits in Richmond Park and was able to secure large quantities of it for her.

When the National Trust took over the property the land at the back of the Plats was overgrown. With the original 1670's design in their possession they decided to reinstate the Wilderness as it had been intended. The path from the Plats continues on and in the middle further paths branch off to form four rectangular plots which are then divided again into a another four areas. The chairs and plants pots have been made to the same design that was featured in a painting of the Wilderness.

The summer houses in the garden would have originally been thatched. They were seated on rails so that they could be moved depending on the positioning of the sun.

In the kitchen garden much of the plot has been harvested now and the beds are being left until next year. There's still plenty of rainbow chard waiting to be picked. Around the edges the plots are bordered by stepover apple trees.

This section of the kitchen garden is filled with edible plants and flowers. Everything planted in here can be eaten from nasturtiums to marigolds. The kitchen garden is now just a quarter of the size it once was in the days when it needed to feed a whole house. Now it is needed for the many visitors.

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