Daffodils at Madresfield
PUBLISHED: 13:02 28 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:58 20 February 2013
Daffodils at Madresfield
Madresfield Court, home to the Lygon family for generations, hit the headlines earlier this year when it was revealed as the would-be home of the Royal family should there have been a German invasion during the Second World War. This month the gardens are open for visitors to view the spectacular grounds and the display of daffodils. Marigold Webb reports.
I first came across Madresfield, through the agricultural show, which used to be held on August bank holiday Mondays. It was a really good old-fashioned country day out, and included a fair and merry-go-round. Large entries of varying breeds of sheep and cattle were tethered in lines, and led around the ring. I was there with my brood mare Abigail with her foal at foot, in the hunter mare and foal class. To my immense surprise, the judge selected us as the winners, and awarded us a coveted red rosette. Most of that day was spent getting the contestants looking their best, getting them there, and returning them home. There was little time to look at the garden, which was open at the same time. However, on a very hot summers afternoon, our children, and whoever was looking after them on the day, did manage to get lost in the maze before emerging, red-faced and panting, and in need of ice-creams.
Sadly the Madresfield show is no longer, but the garden including its maze still thrives, and in 2011, it will again be open on 27th March when, weather permitting, the daffodils should be at their best.
A picture of Madresfield Court, appearing in Nashs History of Worcestershire of 1782 shows a house which is readily identifiable today. There have been Lygons at Madresfield for a thousand years. The family title of Earl Beauchamp, is now extinct, but it is still the home of the Lygon family, and Lady Morrison, the current custodian was born Rosalind Lygon. The name Madresfield derives from the old English for mowers field, but was and still is known affectionately to the Lygon family as Mad. The setting for this fascinating house at the foot of the Malvern Hills is spectacular. Both the surrounding parkland with its grazing cattle, sheep and venerable oaks and the extensive gardens add to a feeling of timelessness. Its hard to believe that the ever-expanding town of Malvern is so close and it is a tribute to Lady Morrison that both house and estate have entered the 21st century with their enduring charm intact. It bodes very well for the stewardship of future generations.
The gardens were greatly extended in the last half of the 19th century and now stretch over 67 acres. Allow sufficient time to appreciate it. The layout is shaped by the strong lines of a triangle of three broad avenues, one of Turkey and Red Oaks (Quercus cerris and Quercus rubra) one of poplar (Populus italica) and one of Atlantic Cedar (Cedrus atlantica) which link to the double moat surrounding the house. In spring, the gardens within this triangle are a mass of colour from flowering specimen trees and shrubs and a dazzling carpet of wildflowers. A fourth avenue of tulip trees leads from the south lodge.
There are over 10 acres of daffodils and narcissi in great swathes of the same variety (predominantly the wild Tenby daffodil) laid out in a naturalistic planting, in which the skill of the gardener is to conceal any impression that it is man-made. And this concept applies not only to daffodils. As you walk along the broad avenues, the eye is caught by a spring wildflower meadow of grassland where aconites, snowdrops, crocus, cowslips, primroses, anemones, and snakes head fritillaries make a patchwork carpet of early colour. If the picture in Nashs History of Worcestershire in 1782 had been in colour, the foreground might well have resembled a similar patchwork of wildflowers.
March is an excellent time to visit the garden at Madresfield. The tree canopy is not yet in full leaf and you can see through its tops to the Malvern Hills beyond. However, the Malverns as a point de vue are surprisingly ignored within the landscape, maybe due to their close and almost overpowering proximity. Instead, from the house, the eye is led eastwards to pleasant pastoral views of meadow and woodland.
Madresfields crowning glory are its specimen trees, some of which must be almost of champion status. The visitor gets a fine opening impression of them on either side of the drive, at the North Lodge entrance. Here is an impressive collection of mature evergreens including cedars, pines (Pinus ponderosa and Pinus jeffreyi) and redwoods which include Metasequoia glyptostroboides (the Dawn Redwood), Sequoiadendron giganticum (Giant Redwood or Wellingtonia) and Sequoia sempervirens (The Coastal Redwood). A light-hearted touch is the inclusion of two jolly topiary bears at least eight-foot high and happily in scale with their surroundings. Perhaps they could be provided with a giant pot of honey? In the Cedar Avenue itself almost all the trees are magnificent. They are nearly 150 years old; it requires generations of patience and confidence in the future to plant on that scale.
Half-way along the cedar avenue on the left-hand side walking away from the house, an arbour of pleached lime trees leads to the entrance to the herbaceous and shrub borders, gated and wired round to discourage the attentions of rabbits, so please remember to shut the gates. Here a central sundial reminds us: That day is wasted on which we have not laughed. Across the way a nude, acrobatic statue of Mercury by
C. Giddings appears to fly off his pedestal (bizarrely a womans head!)
Beyond the herbaceous and shrub borders is the celebrated Madresfield maze, which is over 100 years old. Here you can walk down narrow paths flanked by tall, clipped and impenetrable yews. Dead-end after dead-end will cause you to retrace your steps on many occasions. There is, I am told, a formula that will ensure you reach the centre, and return before dusk, but it is never revealed. The prudent family will leave one member to stand on the raised mound outside the maze, where a birds eye view will allow the viewer to instruct those who have entered, as to how to get out.
Just outside the triangle at the north end of the Cedar avenue where it meets the oak avenue is situated the amazing Pulhamite Garden of 1878-9. Constructed by James Pulham and widely considered to
be one of his masterpieces, the effect is awesome. Entirely man-made,
it was described in an issue of the
Gardeners Magazine of 1888
This is a noble construction, in agreement throughout with the characteristics of the new red sandstone or Triassic. The imitation is so perfect that we have to assure ourselves of its artificiality, the great blocks being so admirably modelled, and the dislocations adapted for the accommodation of plants, while having the complexion of perfect naturalness. The planting is sufficient to give richness and variety without overloading it, for a rockery should display its rocks, as well as its Ivies and Brambles and Junipers and Ferns, which are here delightfully represented, with many lovely alpines to make a botanists. Paradise of the scene.
Returning from the Pulhamite Garden, walk along the Oak Avenue, again admiring the trees, which are likely to be majestically bare in March. Reach the Doric temple at the apex of the Oak and Poplar Avenues. Walk down the Lombardy Poplar Avenue, where the first young leaves might just be appearing, and reflect that these poplars are much younger and faster growing than the oaks or cedars. This last avenue was only planted about 18 years ago.
To the east of the house and moat the planting is in Edwardian style enclosed by yew hedges. On the north-east side of this part of the garden a tall yew hedge houses busts of the Caesars in clipped alcoves, who gaze down upon the bowling green below. This area may have been designed by Edwardian garden designer Thomas Mawson, but the more likely explanation is that the seventh Earl of Beauchamp and his wife Lettice, an Arts and Crafts enthusiast, provided the greater contribution.
The great charm of Madresfield is its feeling of peace and timelessness. This has been achieved by generations who have lived there and loved it. Away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world, there is only the quacking of the many ducks on the moat, the occasional ripple of its waters as a slow and stately carp breaks the surface, and the inquisitive barking of Rosalind Morrisons small terriers.
The house and the Lygon family have already attracted a good deal of attention, notably due to recent publications, so I do not intend to dwell too long on their history. However, it is interesting to record that the earliest known building on this site was a medieval great hall built in the 12th century and surrounded by a moat. Characteristically, a new Tudor house was constructed round the hall and typically this included a long gallery.
Throughout the subsequent centuries, this was added to, altered and renovated according to the familys circumstances. The most significant changes were made in the latter part of the 19th century by the architect Philip Hardwick who designed a major reconstruction in Victorian Gothic style and swept away the 17th and 18th century alterations in order to restore the original Tudor appearance. The result is the evocative and rather perplexing exterior, which we see today.
Madresfields musical and literary association are also well represented. Lady Mary Lygon, sister of the 7th Earl Beauchamp was a friend of Edward Elgar and was the inspiration for the 13th of his Enigma Variations. However, it was Evelyn Waughs friendship with the children of the 7th Earl and his visits to Madresfield where the chapel and members of the Lygon family helped to influence the main characters in his celebrated book Brideshead Revisited.
Madresfield is not generally open to the public except by appointment and on a designated Sunday to view the daffodils (27th March 2011).
To book, or for any other enquiries about Madresfield Court and gardens, please contact:
The Estate Office, Madresfield
Malvern, Worcestershire, WR13 5AH.
Telephone: 01684 573614;