23rd August 201821st August 2018Design, Landscape, Lifestyle, Sustainability, TravelLeave a commentAlone in The Easton Walled Gardens A garden that tells a story of history, heritage and its future.Creeping in through the tall heavy gate that guards the entrance, I’ll admit to feeling a little like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s heroine Mary discovering her Secret Garden for the first time. It isn’t revealed immediately; the garden comes to you in the shape of deep textural borders facing tall formal hedges which open to expansive views; a life size aerial map of the acres that the walls encase. Here, your feet are easily diverted by covert openings which reveal themselves surreptitiously from the corner of your eye. Like Alice and her rabbit hole, stepping curiously through one such opening, you are never quite certain where you will arrive, but it promises to be a fortuitous adventure.It is difficult to describe the Easton Walled Gardens, they are, in parts, both flourishing and still developing but beyond the plant life or design, this place has a feeling. It is a feeling certainly amplified by the privilege of wandering these 12 acres in complete solitude and though no secret is made of the garden’s proximity to the A1, even that cannot diminish it. Perhaps Ursula Chomeley the garden’s owner, designer and curator describes it best;“Despite the presence of modern life – the A1 rumbles along behind a belt of trees – this garden feels ancient, settled and full of atmosphere”What this garden lacks and perhaps this is the route of its charm, is pretence. It is the product of its chequered history, both proud and humble. A once grand hall, Sir Henry Cholmeley bought the manor of Easton in 1592 and it was both a prominent and fashionable home but during the second world war, “it became home to units of the Royal Artillery and of the 2nd Battalion. During their stay, it suffered considerable damage and in 1951 the Hall (home to the Cholmeley family for 400 years) was demolished, never having been lived in as a family home again”.The garden echoes this polar heritage with an unusual blend of formal lawns and topiary flanked by swathes of wildflower meadow and naturalistic planting. The borders and natural areas are a haven of wildlife; full with fat bumble bees and small white (Pieris rapae) butterflies. The River Witham too flows through the gardens, spring fed at this stage and not over managed so wildlife again is at home in its banks; native crayfish and trout have brought with them kingfishers and more recently, overwintering egrets.There are doors and gateways half opened which sneak up on you, dividing your desire to keep to your chosen path or divert lest you may uncover some other secret. Though the gardens are full of wonders, a yew avenue, immature orchards and mature trees, the greatest charm of all for me was the kitchen garden. One of the simplest reminders of the link between our lives and the natural world, I am always drawn to a kitchen garden. More than this though, where else would you find such a treasure that affords pleasure to all five senses? The impressive allotment at Easton does this in abundance. From amidst the vegetables, I found a narrow staircase adjacent to the potting shed (whose handmade decoupage sign darn near had me chopping up magazines to recreate it). The staircase led nowhere in particular but instead allowed you to rise over the shed roofline. It seemed intended to help guests admire the intricate lawn maze behind the building, but my gaze was drawn only across the kitchen garden. Lines of cabbages (astoundingly not devoured by caterpillars), lettuce, corn and leeks. Row on row of local produce which just like the rest of the garden here spans the ages; from cooks’ larder to war effort to natural supermarket for the Easton tearoom.Sometimes we walk in nature, tread paths through hills, fens or woodlands, usually open spaces that connect us with a wider wilderness. Rarely though, do we explore gardens in the same way, with the same spirit of adventure or childlike curiosity. Easton walled gardens not only allows you to do this, it asks you to do it. Too often, we walk around a space silent and critical of its design virtues or deficits, but this garden asks for more of an individual. It is ancient and contemporary, juvenile and established, The Easton Walled Gardens are a storybook, charting the history of this place, this landscape and this family; go without expectation and read what they have to say.