Ready for it’s close up (From the Daily Telegraph Magazine)

Ready for it’s close up – By Stephen Lacey. 

An article on the castle’s garden from the Daily Telegraph’s colour supplement published on July 31st 2004.

Broughton castle’s fairy-tale quality makes it a perfect film location. In recent years, though, it has also become a botanical wonderland. Stephen Lacey tours the gardens with the overseer of this transformation, Lord Saye & Sele. Photographs by Andrew Lawson.

The courtyards and medieval halls of Broughton Castle seem strangely familiar. ‘Shakespeare in Love’, suggests my guide, the sprightly octogenarian Nathaniel Fiennes, 21st Lord Saye & Sele, whose family seat this has been since 1377. ‘Quite a lot of that was filmed here.’ Ah yes. It was Gwyneth Paltrow’s home in the film. Ironically, Lord Saye explains, it was Joseph Fiennes, her co-star, who has a better claim to it, as he is actually a cousin. The castle has also featured in The Madness of King George, Walt Disney’s Three Men and a Little Lady, The Scarlet Pimpernel and the 1975 Christmas Special of The Morecambe and Wise Show. Requests for pornographic filming, however, Lord Saye says he politely declines.

A final flight of stairs and we pop out onto the roof for a bird’s-eye view of the park and garden. No wonder Simon Jenkins puts Broughton among England’s top 20 historic houses. Although only a few miles from Banbury, the modern world seems to have passed this moated ensemble of golden stone, sitting in its own private valley, completely by. The paying public seems to pass the castle by too, Lord Saye laments. ‘The Tesco car-park has 300 flaming cars in it every time I see it, but they don’t come here.’

How I have missed out on this Midsummer Night’s dream of a garden, I can’t explain either. I am forever beetling up the M40. And yet here is a rose garden as intoxicatingly planted and framed – by walls, water, lawn and topiary – as any I have seen. Fuelling a heady atmosphere like this takes skill, especially year on year – judging how blowsy to let things get, how big the drifts should be, what self-seeding to allow. Too casual an approach and the place would look a mess; too much meddling and the romance would be killed. Somebody here knows what he is doing.

‘Thirty five years ago, when Mariette and I moved in, I’m afraid we were in rather a desperate situation. The garden was run down, and the house pretty derelict, needing £1 million spent on repairs.’ Lord Saye tells me, as we walked outside. He was then working as a chartered surveyor, looking after the estates of some of the Oxford colleges. ‘Just because you own a castle, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out to work. We eventually got the money together, thanks to an English Heritage grant, and tax relief on our farming profits. And it was lucky we did the work when we did – you can’t get tax relief on historic house repairs any more.’

The stroke of luck for the garden was meeting Lanning Roper, the American designer who became the doyen of English country house gardening in the 1950’s and 1960’s. ‘A nice man, he didn’t actually do us a plan, but gave us advice and inspiration we needed. He realised our maintenance constraints, told us to remove one formal garden, and suggested plants and colour schemes for the remaining borders. So, we followed his ideas, and just bobbled along with one old gardener until Randal Anderson – another American funnily enough – took over: a very intelligent man, with great colour sense. Twelve years ago, he moved on, and now we have Chris Hopkins, who lived in the village and trained at Waterperry [a garden, nursery and horticultural school near Oxford]. And he does very well, too.’

The hub of the planting is the so-called Ladies’ Garden. ‘God knows why,’ says Lord Saye. ‘The fleur-de-lys pattern of box hedges was laid out in the 1880s, when the house was let out. Randal introduced the four mophead thorn trees, Crataegus Paul’s Scarlet, into the pattern.’

The roses are everywhere, scrambling over the walls, cascading over the beds. Below the castle are shades of pink from a massed planting of repeat-flowering, largely disease-free hybrid musk roses, the highly scented ‘Felicia’ and the smaller ‘Ballerina’, spiked with foxgloves, alliums and Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica. To spice up these pastels, ‘Cerise Bouquet’, underplanted with large-leafed rodgersia, gives a wonderful splurge of cerise-red. Around the central camomile lawn, topped with a basket planter, reads an inscription from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: ‘I sometimes think that never blows so red the rose as where some buried Caesar bled…’

‘Fantin-Latour is probably my favourite shrub rose’, Lord Saye comments, contemplating the old-world rosettes of bluish pink. ‘A fine shape and structure, but I can’t say anything about its scent. I haven’t got much of a sense of smell. I’m also fond of some of the modern roses, like Gertrude Jekyll, Bonica and Many Happy Returns – in spite of its vulgar name. And of course, the Rugosa roses; they are so healthy.’

‘Lanning told us that every border should ”spill”. Raubritter is a great spilling-over rose.’ It makes a mound of pink balls. The accompanying perennials spill, too – drifts of catmint, purple sage, thalictrum, Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium), aquilegia, and plenty of violet, pink and white hardy geraniums. Other plants seed into the gravel and sections of York paving – green alchemilla, white astrantia, sweet rocket (Hesperis), and the pale sulphur evening primrose, Oenothera odorata. Here and there erupts a white, gypsophila-like Crambe cordifolia, or a shimmering haze of silver foliage.

‘We try out new things all the time. I’ve rather taken to lysimachias. When we came, neither Mariette or I knew very much, but now we go and visit other gardens, and interfere a lot with Chris. And we write a list for him in the autumn – which he takes some notice of.’

Outside the walls of the Ladies’ Garden, the planting becomes even more exuberant, with long borders sandwiched between walls, lawn and moat. ‘The moat is excellent at keeping out the rabbits, though not the moles. Like foxes, they are good swimmers. And we have a single-strand electric fence on the edge: we are anti-Canada geese here.’

Borders do not come better orchestrated than this. The repeating curtains of climbing and shrub roses, clouds of white crambe, and low, billowing catmint set like the dreamlike, expansive mood, while contrasting forests of spires, from casually mingled foxgloves, delphiniums, monkshoods and white verbascums, add a sense of wildness.

The chosen palette takes in every nuance of colour, from green-flowered, green-leaved Heuchera ‘Greenfinch’ to damson-leaved, damson-flowered ‘Palace Purple’; occasionally, a tall plant, like a lavatera, breaks forward to intensify the undulations of height. And though, like all good borders, it has the air of serendipity, a moment’s close scrutiny reveals the artistry in plant association: apricot foxgloves emerging from violet-blue Viola cornuta; the nodding heads of carmine-pink Allium cernuum beside the pale pink saucers of Geranium sanguineum var. lancastrense; intense blue anchusa filtering into white Crambe cordifolia.

Chris Hopkins tells me he does most of the weeding by hand, and moves things around if they seed in the wrong place. The roses are sprayed against blackspot and mildew every fortnight from the moment their leaves appear.

‘I have jurisdiction over this borer,’ Lord Saye declares, as we approach the Battlement Border near the castellated gatehouse. Yellow anthemis, cream Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’ and the hybrid muck rose ‘Buff Beauty’ are blooming out of a thicket of white willowherb. ‘There are no pinks here. Mainly yellow, blue, white and grey. And a little bit of mauve. We are not too purist – life is too short. What is that yellow-leafed shrub, Chris? Physocarpus opulifolius Luteus? I’ll have learnt it by September. If you counted the buds on this Paul’s Himalayan Musk, you would be here all day,’ Lord Saye remarks on our return. The giant rambler rose is trained along a low retaining wall, giving a brief but glorious performance. ‘It is a pity a garden has to go off. Here it is around midsummer. I long to say to Nature, “Stand still a while.”’