Katherine Ross has worked as a gardener at The Dartington Hall Trust for four years. She is currently researching the history of the gardens as part of her work, and hopes to bring some of the stories and history to life in her blogs.
I’ve recently been doing something other than pruning quince trees or tending Dartington’s giant compost heap.
I’ve completed a 50-page research project mapping the history of Dartington’s formal gardens. It aims to inform current management of the gardens because (to borrow a phrase from TV gardener Monty Don) ‘in order to move forward we need to understand what went before’.
The history covers the period of owners from 900AD to the present, and details the work of garden designers and sculptors who make the garden what it is today.
One such was garden designer Percy Cane, appointed by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst in the 1950s, who installed a number of vistas that aimed to connect the garden with the landscape beyond, as well as strengthen links between areas in the garden.
As Dorothy Elmhirst said in 1963: “The whole place was shut in. We had to discover a thread of relationship that could tie the immediate intimacy to the distant aspect in a natural harmonious manner.”
The main vista is from the Temple (building with white stone seat) down a glade to the rolling Devon hills.
Another is from the west of our Great Lawn down past the wooden Summer House to Totnes Church spire. And a third currently lost among trees but one we’d like to reopen when funds allow, is from the ‘Whispering Circle’ which Reginald Snell said in 1989 “gives a wonderful view over miles of Devon countryside to the south east”.
I also documented our ancient yew, profoundly worthy of that name at 1,500 to 2,000 years old, which is situated in the graveyard of St Mary’s church tower. I’ve uncovered theories as to its origin and survival and I’d love it if any historians are able to confirm them.
My research found that Yew trees were planted as winter meeting places in the UK at a time when yew, box and juniper were the only native evergreens. A church was built around it. The rest of the yew tree population was obliterated to produce longbows, but this specimen was protected as it was on religious ground.
If you’ve any thoughts or information on this, please do get in touch with me via firstname.lastname@example.org.