Pusey House Garden Oxfordshire

The garden at Pusey House, near Farringdon, with its long view over the lake towards the White Horse Hill of Uffington, has been largely created in the last forty-five years by the present owners, Mr and Mrs Michael Hornby.

On arrival at Pusey the visitor enters through a side gate which gives on to a path, planted on either side with richly coloured borders. The border on the left conceals the tennis court; the one on the right, the kitchen garden. These twin borders are thickly planted with all the most colourful of flowers, interspersed with Iceberg roses, and backed by the giant Scottish thistles (Onopordon arabicum) and towering cardoon artichokes. These touches of silver serve effectively to set off the more vivid flowers, and the borders make a heartwarming welcome to the garden. At the end of the path is a gate of airy ironwork, painted, the better to set it off, a subtle shade of grey, and bearing a shield with the Hornby arms. Through this gate the full panorama of the garden at Pusey is revealed: the lake, the spreading lawns, and to right and left the main herbaceous border, over 150 yards long and one of the most impressive in England.

It is a border planted with an overall idea, an overall colour scheme, and its plan comprises all the flowers which one would expect to find in a well planted border of the 1970s. Blue seems to be the predominant colour – the different blues of delphiniums, of Salvia superba, of galega, and of nepeta. But, in the popular taste of the day, the main colour is sparked with the occasional splash of silver leaves, and softened with soft pinks, and light and darker mauves.

At this point the visitors to Pusey are offered a choice of routes: to the right or left? Their curiosity to see the house itself will probably suggest a turn to the left, down a broad gravel path, with the border, a bright galaxy of flowers, on one side, and a green lawn, sloping down to the lake, on the other. Soon the eighteenth-century house comes into view, and its south facade, said to be the work of the architect, John Wood of Bath, can be admired.

Pusey House Garden Oxfordshire

Above: A terrace was added to the garden forty years ago by the distinguished architect Geoffrey Jellicoe. Beyond and below are flowering cherries.

When Mr and Mrs Hornby first came to Pusey, the lawn swept up to the walls of the house in the classical style approved by ‘Capability’ Brown. One of their first changes was to add the wide terrace of grey stone, designed by the well known architect Mr Geoffrey Jellicoe. This broad expanse of stonework, facing south and warmed by any sun that is going, might have seemed somewhat daunting had it not soon been softened by plantings of creeping plants, and cushioned by twin clumps of that grey, velvet-leaved shrub Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa). On either side of its steps are stone boxes usually planted every summer with scented-leaved geraniums.

Leaving the terrace on the left, the path continues towards a corner of the garden planted primarily with the ‘old-fashioned’ roses which are so popular today. Here are roses such as the vigorous, pale pink Fantin Latour, the heavily scented Louise Odier, Madame Calvat with its coral flowers and red-tinged leaves, and one of the best of all roses, with flowers as furbelowed as peonies, Paul Neyron. A step or two further on and a spreading group of the hybrid musk rose, Penelope, scents the whole area around it.

Now, another almost unique feature of the garden at Pusey comes into view -the bridge, which has elegantly spanned the lake for more than two centuries since 1755. It is Oriental in inspiration, with its Chinoiserie railings and decorative fmials; its low horizontal lines and crisp white paintwork make it particularly pleasing to the eye.

Over the bridge on the further bank the way lies to the left, past a waterside planting of primulas, gold-flowered clumps of the loosestrife Lysimachia punctata, and bold groups of hostas. These, like euphorbias, enjoy greater popularity today than ever before. There seems to be something about their blue-green glaucous leaves which modern garden-makers find especially satisfying: their foliage is striking from early spring till late summer, whether it is H. glauca which is planted, or H. marginata, with its white edged leaves, or the gold-splashed variety, H. variegata. Though the flowers of hostas, or plantain lilies, are comparatively uninteresting, their splendid leaves rightly win them a place in every connoisseur’s garden. Nearby, at Pusey, grows another popular plant of today, a plant which is a great favourite of flower arrangers, Alchemilla mollis. The flowers of ladies’ mantle are a pale but vivid green and its leaves are dressed with silky hairs which take raindrops and hold them like jewels long after the shower is past.

Leaving the lakeside behind, the visitor comes to an area planted with flowering shrubs and rare trees. Fine specimens are on every hand, and to mention just a few, there is a giant Hydrangea villosa, a fine broom (Cytisus battandieri), a North American flowering dogwood (Cornus nuttali), and a stranvaesia. Another most effective planting is of Rhus cotinus, the purple-leaved variety of sumach, against a backing of the silver-leaved willow pear (Pyrus salicifolia), one of the best of all grey-leaved trees, with groups of Deutzia rosea at the sides. It is juxtapositions such as these, which only thought and knowledge could have brought about, which make the garden at Pusey and Mr and Mrs Hornby’s achievement there so remarkable. In this part, too, there are several interesting trees: good specimens of liquidambar, the autumn-colouring Cercidiphyllum japonicum, paperbark maple (Acer griseum), and the lovely and too seldom planted yellow-flowered cherry, Prunus Ukon.

Before long, the visitor to Pusey emerges on to a wide swathe of lawn, with a good view to his right over the lake towards the house. In a bed on one side, Mr and Mrs Hornby have lately planted many attractive shrubs which have quickly settled down in their new quarters, making a wide tapestry of leaf and flower. Here grow so many shrubs, roses and trees that to enumerate more than just a few would make tedious reading. Outstanding are some philadelphus (P. aureus) of the golden leaves, the purple-eyed Belle Etoile, the pure white Virginal and the aptly-named Manteau d’Hermine. Nearby are several unusual and rather tender shrubs which deserve mention: Indigofera geraldiana, the pink indigo plant, Rubus Tridel and the little-grown Lespedeza Thunbergii. Some of the trees are of great distinction. There are good maples, such as Acer drummondii, laxiflorum and capillipes, and some impressive members of the sorbus family, notably S. Mitchellii with its large grey leaves. To return to the house, the visitor must make his way under some venerable trees, where in spring the ground is thick with daffodils, snowdrops and periwinkles. Another bridge, of plainer design, crosses the narrow end of the lake, and on the other side the visitor comes on a temple of grey stone with an oddly Oriental dome.

Not far from here lies Lady Emily’s Garden, named after Lady Emily Herbert who married Philip Bouverie Pusey, then owner of Pusey, in 1822. It is a small secluded garden, planted in the main with roses, silver Artemisia palmeri and here and there the white, woolly-leaved Verbascum bombyciferum. The walls around are wreathed in more roses, Albertine, Alberic Barbier, Lady Waterlow and New Dawn, with here and there white clematis and the huge velvety leaves of Hydrangea sargentiana. As the visitor leaves this garden, reluctantly, for it casts a kind of spell, he admires a bold group of Achillea Golden Plate lifting their flat yellow faces to the sun. The way lies to the left, by the side of the great herbaceous border, and before long the visitor finds himself once more at the wrought iron gate, through which the main garden at Pusey was originally entered, and the visit is over. But whoever comes to Pusey might do well to pause at this point, and look back across the lake and towards the Chinese bridge: the scene is an idyllic one, with a pictorial serenity all its own.

OPEN April 3rd -July 3rd (approx): Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday, 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. July 5th – October 16th (approx): daily (except Monday and Friday), 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Bank Holiday weekends and Mondays: 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. LOCATION On B4508 between Faringdon and Oxford.

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