Stearthill Gardens Buckinghamshire

The garden at Stearthill is open to the public all summer through and well repays a visit. It was planned and first planted by Colonel and Mrs Close-Smith, but since becoming a widow Mrs Close-Smith has done much to develop and add to the garden and generally imbue it with her own taste.

Stearthill Garden is of special interest to the average garden visitor. Far from large, it is big enough to have a dozen unexpected corners to fascinate and please the visitor. When Mrs Close-Smith first decided to open it to the public she was afraid it might be too small, or too simple.

Far from being too small, I discovered that most people, particularly coach parties on an afternoon’s outing, thought it just right; not too far to walk, with plenty of seats – and the coach could back right up to the tea-room. Others inspected the lawns and edges and complimented me on their tidiness. The first summer I opened was a fine one; everyone was enthusiastic and anxious to tell me they had enjoyed themselves … to such an extent I was almost ashamed to take their money. It pleased me to think that the garden itself had heard the compliments flying about. There was also great satisfaction in knowing that with only a minimum amount of help to do the heavy work, every tree, shrub and plant had been planted with one’s own hands.

If, for some overwhelming economic reason, the garden had to be bulldozed back to rough grass, I know a part of me would die with it; but I hope this will not happen and that the garden will continue to give pleasure to a lot of people besides myself.

Stearthil Gardens Buckinghamshire

Judging by the crowds that find their way to Stearthill every summer, it seems that such fears are groundless. It is a garden well worth visiting, and, for rose lovers, worth visiting year after year because, like all good gardeners, Mrs Close-Smith can be hard-hearted as well as sentimental, and if a rose fails or disappoints, out it comes to be replaced by a different rose.

Roses have been a passion of Mrs Close-Smith’s ever since, twenty-two years ago, she read a book on old shrub roses and was completely carried away: so much so that she at once determined to possess a collection of old roses second only to the one created by the Empress Josephine at Malmaison – quite an ambition. But that was not the only reason she decided to concentrate on roses. Contributing factors were the prevailing wind, and the unyielding clay soil. It was, and is, totally unsiftable; a bog in wet weather; like concrete in dry: in short, the most back-aching and uncompromising stuff to deal with. But she knew that roses would put up with it better than most plants. So roses it was.

However, a rose garden is hard work. It must always be immaculate. Every week it must be mown and edged up and dead-headed, and hoed when necessary. At least once a month, from April until the end of the flowering season, it must be sprayed against greenfly, caterpillar, mildew and black spot, in that order. In the winter pruning is a long, exacting and painful job; and someone has to climb to the top of the wall to tie in the roses against it.

These are some of the many hundreds of roses which the visitor to Stearthill will find, and the purposes they fulfil. For colour and effect early in the season: cantabrigiensis and ecae, both with yellow flowers and growing into erect feathery bushes. All the Friihlings group, though they need plenty of space. Friihlingsanfang (cream), Fruhlingsduft (double buff) and Friihlmgsgold (yellow) are all splendid in bloom.

The single cream Nevada and the hybrid pink Marguerite Hilling are also good flowerers, and flower simultaneously. A much lower growing group, the spinosissimas, of which Altaica (white), William in (dark red) and Falkland (double pale pink) are very useful. All the foregoing are sweetly scented, but they only flower once.

Next in the garden at Stearthill come the rugosas, China and musk roses. The rugosas are mostly self-supporting, about 5 to 6 feet high and wide, sweet-smelling and twice-flowering. The single varieties produce huge scarlet tomato-shaped hips and their foliage turns brilliant yellow in the autumn. They are resistant to all forms of disease, mildew and blackspot. What more could one ask?

The musks are equally sturdy, but more delicate in flower and scent, though not so resistant to disease. Most are about 4 to 5 feet high and wide, and when out they make a solid mass of colour. Penelope (cream with apricot shadings), Felicia (clear pink), Buff Beauty and Cornelia (pink), are the best. The lesser known Daybreak, Autumn Delight (both cream), Thisbe (yellow), and the cool white Moonlight with its handsome bronze foliage, are four other good varieties.

Of the summer flowering species roses for mixing amongst shrubs, rubrifolia is a beauty with its purple-red leaves. The Moyesii and multibracteata varieties are thorny but very effective and multibracteata Cerise Bouquet has an amazingly long flowering period. There are also some large hybrid-modern shrub roses such as Scarlet Fire, Poulsen’s Pink Park, Zitronenfalter and Sparrieshoop.

As to hybrid teas, Fragrant Cloud and its stablemate, Prima Ballerina, rank very high. Piccadilly is a superb and strong orange-yellow bicolor with rich bronze young foliage. Stella, equally good, is pink and cream. Helen Traubel (apricot with blue-grey foliage), is an old favourite, and Spek’s Yellow still takes a lot of beating as a bedding rose.

For floribundas, Arthur Bell (double yellow), and two new-comers, Southampton (apricot), and Escapade (single mauve), do well at Stearthill, while Elizabeth of Glamis has been found to be the best salmon pink, ‘and I could not do without Iceberg’.

Trees and shrubs, other than roses, which create a good contrast in the borders at Stearthill are sea buckthorn, tamarisk, purple nut, all the deutzias, spring and summer flowering hebes, mahonias and hydrangeas. For the front of the border there are potentillas, hostas and species geraniums the best of which are armenum, Renardii, ibericum and Endressii; all indispensable for weed suppression. The dogwood Cornus elegantissima with variegated green and white leaves, and Eleagnus aurea with green and yellow variegation are splendid mixers. The spring flowering herbaceous paeomes Mlokosewitschii (sulphur yellow) and obovata alba (white) are also great favourites, under-planted with Viola labradorica.

The visitor to Stearthill should not miss the really old and romantic varieties of roses, such as the historic Red Rose of Lancaster, the White Rose of York, Rosa mundi – so often called the York and Lancaster, but reputedly named after Henry II’S ‘Fair Rosamond’ – Rosa frank of urtana, previously called ‘Empress Josephine’, and the crested Chapeau de Napoleon. Bloomfield Abundance and mutabilis are two very good old China Roses and Perle d’Or is a little beauty with buttonhole apricot blooms. If planted with tree lupins and musk rose Buff Beauty, they provide flowers for months on end.

Before the visitor leaves this interesting garden, the indoor swimming pool must be inspected. Around it grow a dozen rarities such as canna lilies, abutilons and tender begonias, and a banana palm which would not survive an instant in the keen Buckinghamshire breezes.

But it is not for such exotics that the garden is noted, it is for its roses, and from May until October the garden at Stearthill is a place of scented enchantment, with roses, roses all the way.

OPEN May 2nd – September 12th (approx): Sunday only.

LOCATION A421 Bletchley to Buckingham road. Turn off to wards. Mursley on

Whaddon-Mursley road. 400 yards on right. .

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