Nicola here. The recent hot weather in the UK (3 hot days and a thunder storm, as the old adage suggests) has given us lots of lovely opportunities for being outside, whether sitting reading a book, eating, or doing some much needed gardening. Two hundred years ago if I had been sitting in this spot it would probably have been a vegetable garden and pen for the pig. The cottage would have been newly built, two rooms up, two down. It looked out across a rough track rather than a paved road, and there was a stream that ran down the side of the road and into a pond at the bottom of the garden. The villagers dumped their waste there; lots of pottery has been found in the dried out pond bed.
In those days people living in this sort of worker’s cottage had precious little time for leisure or for growing flowers for pleasure. They grew food and kept animals to live on, and their existence in the village was a communal one with one well (now in the garden of Spring Cottage.) You would need to go further up the social scale to find a cottage or “villa” where there was a garden designed for relaxing in. The doctor and the vicar would have that sort of house in this sort of village; their wives and daughters did not need to work and the garden was a social space. Those houses look pretty big to us today and cost a fortune to buy but in the Georgian era they were the homes of the lesser gentry and though there might be time to sit around drawing or growing flowers, the lady of the house would still learn all about seed planting and making herbal medicines alongside her other house hold duties.
The gentry “proper” lived in the sort of house that today looks almost like a stately home. This is Kingston Bagpuize House in Oxfordshire, throughout its history a “gentleman’s residence.” Downstairs there are “only” four well-appointed main rooms: the drawing room, dining room, library and sitting room. “A house of modest size” as one visitor wrote fairly dismissively in the 18th century.
Outside, though, the gardens at Kingston Bagpuize are lavish. The old terrace walk and walled gardens date from the Georgian period and lead to a pavilion where the ladies would take tea. It’s a long way for the servants to carry all the necessary crockery! Downstairs, beneath the pavilion, is a grotto, adding a deliciously gothic touch to the experience!
Even Kingston Bagpuize pales into insignificance beside the houses of the nobility. At Bowood in Wiltshire it feels as though the whole landscape is part of the garden, which of course it is, as far as the eye can see.The estate was landscaped by Capability Brown to include woodlands, coppices and views, to take the visitor from the formal gardens near the house out into the winder countryside and of course there are countless examples of families moving an inconveniently placed village to improve their view.At Bowood garden activities would include walking to the Doric temple by the lake where you could partake of a pic nic or driving there if walking was not to your taste. Bowood too had a grotto and they go one better than Kingston Bagpuize with a waterfall and dramatic stone gorge so that the you could imagine yourself in the lake district or somewhere picturesque.
For something more energetic, though, Lydiard Park takes the prize. There, eager Georgian bathers could rush down to the lake first thing in the morning for their healthful dip in the waters or to leap into the plunge pool. As good as having your own modern day swimming pool!
The other thing I often think about when I sit in my garden is the sounds of the country as well as the scent of the flowers. First thing in the morning it's the light that wakes me, followed by the birdsong. Even these days, when there are fewer birds than 200 years ago, it's a loud and tuneful chorus. There is very little traffic so the sound of dogs barking and sheep bleating carries on the air, along with the noise of the church bells. It could indeed be the Georgian era. Then a plane flies over and I think perhaps not. At night the deer and foxes bark out in the fields and the pheasants call. There are geese on the local millpond. It's very different from being in Georgian town or city in terms of noises you would hear, and isn't that different from life two centuries ago. In fact it's almost like time travel…
What are your favourite sounds and scents of the garden? Do you share space with neighbours, or grow flowers or vegetables? Would you enjoy a stroll to your own Doric temple, or a dip in the plunge pool?