Barnsley House is just in the village of Barnsley, between Cirencester and Bibury. It stands back on a slight eminence, on the right as one comes from Cirencester. There are late eighteenth-century stone gate-posts under overhanging yews, at the drive entrance. A sweep of lawn rises diagonally across the front of the house to an eighteenth-century Gothick summer-house; but the front itself is terraced and is built on the site of a Roman road. This is almost the last small valley on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds, a valley without a river but where all the houses are built of honey-coloured stone. On the garden side of the house the land is flat as far as the eye can see, as it stretches into the Oxford plain.
Mr and Mrs David Verey moved to Barnsley in 1951, when the house was given to them by Mr Verey’s parents who had bought it in 1939. Before that it had been the rectory. There was a wonderful surrounding stone wall, built in 1771 by the Rev. Charles Coxwell, and the charming north-facing Gothick summer-house he had made for his wife, known as Mrs Coxwell’s ‘alcove’; and also a ha-ha and perimeter trees planted about 1840 by another contributing rector. There were broad herbaceous borders, rather far from the house, backed by yew hedges newly planted in 1939. The hedges grew up during the war and now define the area of a small arboretum and the swimming pool and aviaries. The ha-ha had to be blocked out by a beech hedge, as a visual protection against proposed but now unlikely road developments. Happily this hedge gives the garden a satisfactory feeling of enclosure, as well as being a great deterrent to the prevailing west wind.
Gradually as Mrs Verey’s interest in gardening increased, the vegetables were banished to a situation outside the wall and a new vista or allee, the length of the wall, was created parallel to the house but invisible from it. In 1962 a late eighteenth-century Tuscan temple was added to the garden as an ‘eye-catcher’ at one end of the new allee. For the other end, a fountain by Simon Verity was specially commissioned. On one side of the allee are broad mixed borders, on the other a lime walk which develops into a laburnum tunnel. In front of the temple there is a goldfishand a paved garden enclosed by an early nineteenth-century wrought-iron screen. The axis of the allee is crossed by a path which is bordered with Irish yews and leads directly from the garden door in the south-east front of the house, dated 1697, to a wrought-iron gate in the wall, which takes one to the kitchen garden and tennis court. This path is the central feature of a parterre with lawns and four shaped borders.
Beyond the southern corner of the house there is a newly planted small knot garden in front of an early nineteenth-century Gothick veranda. This and the castellations on the front porch and bay window were all part of an attempt to make the house look more Tudor in 1830, a fashionable trend of the time.
The Vereys have tried to give each part of the garden its own character so that there is a change of mood as you go round. Even if it is too uninviting to walk in the garden on winter days, one does use the drive, so it is there that they have concentrated on the winter and early spring. There is a mass of aconites; clumps of stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus), whose apple-green flowers give weeks of pleasure; snowdrops; scillas; pale blue pushkinias; dark blue grape ; and yellow and white large-flowered crocus. Small clumps of autumn- and spring-flowering cyclamen grow there too, and are increasing. All these make carpets under the one-hundred-year-old trees -planes, limes and chestnuts – which flank one side of the drive. But to keep the entrance inviting all the year, the terraces have been given a formal look with a row of dark upright Chamaecyparis Elwoodii alternating with grey mounds of santolina. Clipped box softens the contours of the house itself.
This mixture of formal with informal has been repeated through the whole garden. In the straight path between the Irish yews is a mass of pink rock roses in May and June. Tucked between the laburnum tunnel and the wall, a shady walk has a patterned red brick path and two narrow box-edged borders full of bulbs and polyanthus, followed by ferns, foxgloves and mulleins. The laburnums, in full flower in the first two weeks ofjune, are undcrplanted with hostas, alliums and hellebores, and make one of the most attractive garden pictures imaginable.
In mixed borders plants are used which give a longsuch as hebes, potentillas and penstemons, ‘greys’ and euphorbias, while for bold effects there are acanthus, seakale (Crambe cordifolia), eremurus, yuccas and New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax). Everywhere the aim is to keep the ground well covered to minimize weeding, but even more important, to create a tecling of completion.
The deciduous shrubs are underplanted with bulbs and spring-flowering pulmonarias, Symphytum and lots of forget-me-nots. Variegated honeysuckle and ivies are used as ground-covering clumps at the front of the borders. A June feature are theof Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium caeruleum) with 3-foot spikes of rich blue flowers; these were grown from brought back from Palestine.
Visitors to Barnsley often say how peaceful the pond and temple garden are, the allies are to walk in, but this garden is to sit quietly in, beneath the shade of a quince, a silver birch, a Eucalyptus gunnii and a mop-headed standardalternifolia, always a mass of scented pale mauve flowers in June. Other good scents are provided by tree paeonies, rosemary growing up the wall (in the Tudor fashion), Buddleia fallowiana and tubs of lilies, lemon verbenas and scented- geraniums.
There areand tubs at the garden doors and on the veranda – always generously planted. For spring they have several layers of bulbs; crocuses on top, hyacinths a bit lower, then early narcissus like Peeping Tom and February Gold, and below them usually a few special tulips. The summer tubs on the terrace have old standard lemon verbenas as their central features surrounded by dark pink ivy-leafed geraniums, cherry pie and grey and gold-leafed Helichrysum petiolatum. The secret would seem to be to fill them full; the plants then support and protect each other, and look luxuriant.
The Italian pots on the veranda are filled with the lavender ivy-leafed geranium mixed with ‘greys’ and more scented geraniums. Echeverias, a Victorian bedding favourite, are allowed to multiply in their pots, spilling down the sides and forming metallic grey rosettes nearly a foot across. From the veranda you can look down on the knot garden which was planted in May 1975 and is now showing a well defined pattern. The designs come, one from a French book of 1583, and the other from a 1664 English book. The interlacing threads are made with dark green and variegated box and lavender. They are enclosed by a rosemary hedge, and there are clipped holly, lavender cotton and phillyrea, all Elizabethan plants.
Much time and thought is spent on the walls. The longest, facing northwest, gets the afternoon sun, and there is always space for another clematis, favourites such as the spring alpina and macropetala and the later texensis, Gravetye Beauty. There are several honeysuckles and evergreen shrubs to keep the Cotswold stone well clothed in winter. Piptanthus, Itea ilicifolia, Jasminum revolutum and the variegated form of Pittosporum tenuifolium are not climbers but do appreciate the extra winter protection.
A small arboretum rewards a visit. The first planting of trees in 1962 were chosen for spring blossom and autumn colour and fruits, and some like the ginkgo, wellingtonia and cedar are for future generations. Sorbus do so well on the Cotswold limestone and provide berries ranging from white and yellow to pink, red and mahogany brown.
Plants are readily propagated in the mistat Barnsley, and as at Bampton Manor there is a good selection of grown shrubs, and grey plants for sale. ‘And’, says Mrs Verey, ‘for gardeners who are just starting it is a great help to see things growing in the garden before they buy them. Another pleasure is meeting many of the visitors who come here. Our conversations will often stimulate interesting suggestions and exchange of plants and . I have made many good friends that way.’
OPEN Every Wednesday: 12 a.m. – 6 p.m. First Sunday in May, June, July: 2 p.m. – 7 p.m.
LOCATION 4 miles north-east of Cirencester on A433 Burford road.