Thursday 5 May 2011

A morning in May

Wisteria floribunda

How to grow Wisteria floribunda: E.A. Bowles's plant, grown from seed in 1903 and originally trained over the bridge: it soon escaped up the Yew and over the wall, and is one of the great features of the garden at Myddelton House

'If a fairy godmother or a talking fish offered me three wishes I think one would be to have the clock stopped for six months on a fine morning towards the end of May. Then, perhaps, I might have time to enjoy the supreme moment of the garden.' Thus wrote E.A. Bowles in My Garden in Spring, adding that he liked to get his gardening friends to visit him in May, when the garden was at its best. It is therefore fitting that a gathering to celebrate the restoration of the kitchen garden and general upgrading of the Myddelton House garden and its facilities was held today.

Myddelton House - a view little-changed from the frontispiece
of My Garden in Spring, taken in 1913
 E.A. Bowles lived at Myddelton House (1865-1954) all his life, cultivating the wonderful garden there that was immortalised in the My Garden trilogy and numerous other writings. After he died the property was bought by the London University School of Pharmacy, which used the kitchen garden to grow medicinal plants. In 1967 the main part of the property (the house and four acres of garden) was acquired by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, which still uses the house as its headquarters, from where it runs the 10,000 acres of open spaces, heritage sites, nature reserves and sporting venues that make up the Lee Valley Regional Park. The Authority acquired the Kitchen Garden (a two acre site) in 2002, but has not been able to open it to the public until now, as the buildings were unsafe and the area unsuitable for access.

Andrew Parker-Bowles, Wesley Kerr and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall
with their presentation 'Bowles forks'
Today's event was to celebrate the rehabilitation of this area, with the reclamation of the kitchen garden and restoration of the greenhouses (not all yet complete), coldframes, potting shed, etc. I managed to fail to photograph this - probably because there aren't many plants there yet - which was rather careless! It was made possible by a very generous grant of £487,500 from the Heritage Lottery, with a strong support group including EAB's great-nephew, Andrew Parker-Bowles, the E.A. Bowles of Myddelton House Society, many local well-wishers and of course the Lee Valley Regional Park. Today's guest of honour was HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, who toured the garden and then met guests assembled on the lawn. Together with Andrew Parker-Bowles and Wesley Kerr (Chair of the London Committee, Heritage Lottery Fund) she was presented with a 'Bowles fork.'
Andrew Turvey with an original Bowles' fork
The two-tined border fork was Bowles's own invention, made by filing off the outer two prongs of an ordinary fork, furnishing a particularly convenient weapon for lifting bulbs or extracting dandelions. He tried to get a tool-manufacturer interested in producing it commercially, but until now this had never come to fruition. The presentation forks, however, were forerunners of a limited edition that has been commissioned for sale at Myddelton House, and which will be available in the near future. I have already reserved one. 

The garden was looking lovely today, a tribute to the hard work of the gardening staff and volunteers, led by the inspirational head gardener, Andrew Turvey. In the two years he has been there, taking-over a badly run garden, he has achieved great things in parallel to the lottery-funded developments, and is turning the place around in a most remarkable way. To go round the garden this afternoon with him and our mutual friend Tom Upton was a great treat, identifying sites and plants described so vividly in the books,  including the hardy rubber-producing tree Eucommia ulmoides, planted conveniently near the gate so a persistent visitor could be lured that way...

Strands of latex holding together a split leaf of Eucommia ulmoides,
 a trick described by Bowles in My Garden in Summer
The gardens at Myddelton House are open daily, and are now free to enter (details are on the Lee Valley Regional Park website); they are only going to get better.


  1. Thanks for the update, John, on Myddleton House.
    It always seemed a shame that Bowles' and Jekyll's gardens were lost in whole or part for so so long.
    Was the Duchess of Cornwall previously married into the Bowles family?

  2. You caught Andy in a good light.


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