Summer in the Greys Court garden with Adam Ford
Our gardens at Greys Court were laid out by Lady Brunner, designed around the idea of sitting peacefully inside beautiful rooms. This summer, wonderful surprises await you behind each doorway through the ancient walls. Discover some of the best spots to pause for thought and learn how our team maintain the experience, courtesy of Head Gardener, Adam Ford.
Greys Court is very much a spring and early summer garden. In June it’s verdant and fresh, everything is growing and romping away; it’s full of light, scent and colour. The drowsy summer days, the skyscapes above you, the peaks of medieval buildings, bees working and floating birdsong combine to surround you with beauty.
An idyllic setting
This place is about the landscape as a whole. As you leave your car a wild Edric rose hedge sets the tone. Big wine-coloured flowers begin to inspire that otherworldly feeling – Edric was a Saxon lord who, legend has it, married a fairy queen.
Walking down the driveway you’re already within the designed landscape. You pass the Dower House with its medieval tower and, across the valley, the ancient road slopes away towards Henley. It’s an impossibly dreamy setting relaxing into summer.
The Walled Garden
Tucked away in its own secret world, the Walled Garden presents you with choices and decisions to make. Fundamental to the design are the pre-existing medieval walls. Each garden room is separated from the next by a gate, so you’re able to explore with the promise of a surprise beyond. Opening an unassuming green door gifts you a first glimpse of the spectacular rose garden, a great beauty despite the current restoration work being done on the wall.
The roses are set around a striped lawn, flanked on one side by the pink and purple border and on the other by the yellow and orange border; a riot of bright summer scents and colours offset by cool, mint-green grass. They’re laid out in chronological order demonstrating the evolution of roses from early damask varieties through to modern hybrids.
Lady Brunner liked big and blousy blooms. As president of the Women’s Institute she was very practical, all about production and jam making, but her grandfather was Sir Henry Irving, the first actor to receive a knighthood, so she also inherited a love of show and drama. Look out for the rosa Ferdinand Pichard, a candy-striped flower in creamy pink with a bright red stripe and the rosa Queen of Denmark, a very fragrant flower that's big and old-fashioned in the best way.
A garden of journeys
There are many more doors to open. Anniversary Walk pulls you down an iron walkway full of white Isis roses, covered in vines and honeysuckle. The peony border is overflowing with pink and purple peonies, delphiniums and sour grape penstemons. Water plays gently in the fountains of the Italianate Garden with its soaring columnar juniper trees. Our orchard is home to gnarled espalier-trained fruit trees above a meadow dotted with oxeye daisies.
The glasshouses are full of tomatoes, peppers and basil for the café, the cut flower borders supply fresh flowers for the house. Our Kitchen Garden was the last garden created by Lady Brunner in 2001. Modern and 100% organic, it contains everything you could want: beans, brassicas, roots and salad crops with companion planting everywhere bringing in beneficial insects.
At any given time of year I’ve got a different favourite spot, but I love the wisteria room when it’s out of season without flowers or leaves. I love the structure; it feels like an enchanted forest is wrapping you up in twisting 120 year old trees.
This garden has always been beautiful but had lost some of Lady Brunner’s influence. We’ve gone back to basics, aiming to present Greys Court in the way she intended. It’s important that our visitors understand her story, feel her love for this place and realise how much she wanted others to enjoy it too. I want you to be able to grasp her sense of fun and theatre.
That’s perhaps what makes the role of a National Trust gardener different. It’s about historical context, the original owner, and about storytelling. My personal taste doesn’t matter; I’m filtering someone else’s intent. I’d like Greys Court to be a beautiful space but also a historic landmark that tells the story of its creator and marks her moment in time.
Teamwork and tranquillity
My day-to-day work is really that of a park and garden manager. A lot of my time goes towards planning and talking with my colleagues in the house, kitchen and shop and with other stakeholders such as our brilliant tenant farmer, to ensure that symbiotic relationship between departments continues to develop. We’re constantly trying to improve our standards and move towards making Greys Court the best garden it can be.
I still like to get outdoors as much as possible and garden walk-arounds with my team are a regular feature of my days. I like to work collaboratively. I’m responsible for the framework, the philosophy and the principles but I want to enable my team of fantastic gardeners, Carmel and our volunteers.
We’re a likeminded, close-knit group who’ve really bought in to what we’re trying to achieve. The result is a place where I feel peaceful; it’s had a hugely beneficial effect on me both personally and professionally.
Translating our techniques
I’m often asked for gardening advice and my philosophy is simple: think carefully about what you want from your garden. It’s yours, so it should reflect your personality. Pick what’s beautiful to you and fill it with that, forget about following fashion and trends.
Everything should be worth its place, it doesn’t have to be an amazing variety or a spectacular visual, but it should supply you with something, be that food, scent, colour or your favourite wildlife. Oh, and probably cut the grass more often than you think you should…