One of the gardens that so impressed us on our 2014 visit that we wanted to go back and have another look was Bury Court Barn near Farnham in Surrey. On this recent visit, we were honoured to be taken around by the garden owner himself, John Coke. I say honoured because while this garden is attributed to two big name designers – Piet Oudolf and Christopher Bradley-Hole – this does not accurately reflect the skills and hands-on involvement of the garden owner himself. It is very much his place.
The front garden was the first to be done and is a walled area. We have seen a number of large scale Oudolf plantings now. Bury Court is early Oudolf but, more interestingly, it is domestic and private in scale and design which makes it very different. The perennial plantings are still big, bold and bouffy but on a scale suited to this environment. I look at the photos and I see how much thought has gone into the combinations and juxtaposition of plants but when you are surrounded by them in person, it is more an experience of being enveloped by the vibrancy.
The meadow is signature Oudolf, I realised when I spotted the Trentham grass rivers. And tactile, evocative, full of gentle movement and startlingly pretty. Again, deceptive simplicity. John Coke wryly noted that to keep it looking as it does makes it the most labour intensive area of the garden. We saw the same hands-on intensive maintenance going into Les Carrés Américains at Le Jardin Plume in Normandy. There are lower maintenance styles of meadow but they won’t look like this one.
Bury Court has embraced the wedding and events market, as have many gardens. We have done the opposite and shunned weddings at least, but that is another story. I couldn’t help but notice the brilliant placement of all the event paraphernalia. They do the full shooting box – wedding ceremony, function, corporate events and all but it has been organised so that it does not dominate or dictate the nature of the entire property and the privacy of the home has been preserved by clever design, not barriers. Despite a sophisticated functions set-up, it still feels a personal and private garden.
Considering they started with quite a lot of buildings (oast houses, even!) and the area is not huge, the design skills that underpin this discreet separation are considerable but hidden. As I commented on the perfect Cotswolds garden, the thing about really-o, truly-o good design is that you don’t notice it but it underpins the entire garden environment and experience. As we sat having coffee in the front grass garden, there was a wedding taking place but it was entirely removed from us. I would have asked John Coke about this subtle separation had I thought about it at the time. It was only afterwards that it occurred to me that this was what had been achieved and that it was done by skill, not chance. My guess is that this is the result of a collaborative effort between the designer of the front garden, Piet Oudolf, and the garden owner himself.
I wanted to go back to Bury Court to have another look at the grass garden, a more recent major garden designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole. Despite my initial cynicism (how could a garden comprised almost entirely of grasses be remotely interesting?), I found it nothing short of inspirational when we first saw it in 2014. In the intervening three years, it appears that the flowering perennial count has dropped We worked it out to be about one perennial to eight grasses on that earlier visit but that seems unlikely now that the grasses have matured.
This grass garden is signature Bradley-Hole, I am told – sharp-edged, geometric design filled with gentle movement and informal plantings. On a second visit, I noticed the level of unobtrusive detail that underpins this garden – how the slight change of ground levels is handled, the definition and the materials used to strengthen the sharp lines of the design, the proportions of the summer house, the pond and the total space. Again, highly skilled design can be so subtle that you are barely aware of it yet it provides the foundation for everything else.
Now I want to see this garden in the autumn when the grasses are all shades of tawny gold and brown.
Again, I have too many photos of this particularly good garden to use in this post so have added an additional album to our Facebook garden page.