A garden of autumn hues

Culzean Garden Westbury Autumn 2016

A garden of autumn hues

MAY 2016 | Lorraine Clarke

CULZEAN GARDEN is one of Westbury’s treasures. Captain Edward Martin of the British Army in Madras, India, built the Indian Colonial design house in the 1840’s.

Subsequent owners developed the garden, with the original plantings done in 1878 by a Mrs Joy.

Her legacy is the soaring conifers and spreading deciduous trees which give character and shelter to the garden. Dinah FitzGerald and her husband Philip Leith purchased the property in 2012.

They began conservatively, removing blackberry and other weeds from naturalised bulbs beneath spreading oaks. Yellowing foliage of Solomon’s Seal promises drifts of nodding white flowers to come, alongside bluebells, daffodils and arums.

“We have all the deciduous conifers,” said Dinah. “The Weeping European Larch, two Dawn Redwoods and the Swamp Cypress. They’re just babies.”

At almost 140 years, the girths and lofty heights of the oldest trees already inspire awe, but as some can live for well over 1,000 years, none of us will ever see them reach their maximum potential of more than 100 metres tall.

Culzean’s 4 hectares is ideal for these specimens of the world’s largest trees, which love to have their feet in water and heads in the clouds. Towering above alder, cedar, cypress, maple, oak, ash, beech, liquidambar, ginkgo biloba and many other exotic trees, they rim the one-hectare lake created by veterinarian and passionate gardener Dr Harry Laker, who owned the property from 1965 – 2000.

A line of ducks scuttled single file around the water’s edge, fossicking amongst the iris and beneath great spiky gunnera leaves.

“They’re not supposed to be there,” said Dinah. “They’re frogging. They should be on the lake.”

Garden seats beside the paths invite lingering contemplation of vistas framed by pendent boughs of richly coloured foliage filtering the warm sunlight.

Deep golds, coppery browns and vivid magenta of deciduous trees are mirrored in the lake.

The papery flutter of yellow leaves floating from a tracery of silver branches against the blue sky, is almost the only sound to be heard.

Some trees are already bare, others various shades of green.

Graceful weeping willows stand above the water.  Expanses of water-lily pads recede towards the banks as winter approaches, to reappear crowned in pink, white and yellow lilies next season.

Throughout the garden, crab-apple trees display glossy green, gold or red baubles as their leaves turn colour and fall.

Deep green rhododendrons and camellias sport fat flower buds.

A Bhutan cypress sheds enormous decorative cones, and the trail beside the oaks is thickly pebbled with acorns. Beneath a vast old linden is a carpet of violets, hellebores and cyclamen. Lines of Lombardy poplars and fastigiate liriodendrons give definition and autumn colour to the garden.

Emerald lawns surrounding the house are framed by trees and bordered with perennials. Purple spires of delphiniums and campanulas rise above clumps of goose-neck loosestrife against a backdrop of viburnums and magnolias. Behind the house is the Old Rose Garden, redolent with scent of late blooms. Dahlias still blaze, and apple trees bear heavy crops of crisp juicy fruit. “I’ve just put all the quince jelly away. The quinces were huge this year.”

An avenue of Chanticleer ornamental pears edges the drive, giving dazzling foliage in autumn and a froth of blossom each spring. “My sister Jo lives in the front cottage,” said Dinah. “She’s doing a bee-keeping course, so we will soon have our own bees here.”

Culzean will welcome the public again under the Open Gardens Scheme to raise funds for the Westbury Community Health Centre. “We want people to enjoy the Garden at its best in both, spring and autumn,” said Dinah.

Mike Moores