The gardens, orchards and water features at Great Chalfield were designed on Arts and Crafts principles by Alfred Parsons RA and his business partner Captain Partridge to complement the restoration of the Manor for Robert Fuller (donor to the National Trust) by the architect Sir Harold Brakspear FSA. The design was done over a four year period from 1907 to 1911. Recently the gardens have been gradually replanted using palettes of colours sympathetic to Parsons’ designs; successor trees are planted as seems necessary. There is a garden plan at the bottom of the page.
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When visiting the gardens by car, please park on the grass verges at the side of the approach road rather than directly in front of the moat.
Cool green hostas and euphorbias shelter under the glorious oriel window.
Aconites are followed by the blue of Ceanothus, Caryopteris and Delphinium with feathery yellow Thalictrum – all at their best in June. Lupins , Crambe Cordifolia and Nepeta x Fasssenii lead into Salvias interspersed with annuals such as Nicandra (the “Shoo Fly” plant).
An ancient Medlar died in 1996 and its successor is in the family garden. Alfred Parsons’ design of limestone roll top coping for the Edwardian boundary walls of the garden follows the patterns of the churchyard walls.
This can accommodate both tennis and croquet. A large lawn or Pleasaunce was recorded here by the Bucklers in 1823 and Walker in 1837 and was typical of manor gardens. Recently it was the site of a tented feast for King Henry VIII during filming of “The Other Boleyn Girl” with Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman. The cedar Atlantica glauca specified by Parsons is now a century old and shelters the Edwardian Gazebo. This summerhouse is on two stories, the upper is used as an apple store and the lower was used for storing cheese from the dairy. The swept tile roof resembles one designed by Parsons at Gravetye Manor in Sussex.
These were designed by Alfred Parsons and planted about 1910, they form garden rooms for shade on hot days and shelter from downpours, the quatrefoil shape Lily pond between them was designed by Parsons and the details by Brakspear. Robert Fuller rejected designs for an Italianate fountain preferring “British” simplicity.
This is carefully designed to give private views over the surrounding countryside: such walks were a common feature of late medieval gardens. The walls were rebuilt and repaired by Manpower Service Commission crews in late 1980s.
It has been enlarged twice to make it deeper, following grassing down rose beds around the lily pond. These were over exposed to prevailing winds after the Dutch Elm disease killed all the huge trees to the south west of the orchards and Lower Moat. Spring tulips flourish in front of Philadelphus and Staphylea Colchica.
The border is at its best in summer with Italian white sunflowers, geraniums, Artemisia and Cosmos.
The situation with free draining soil favours Osteospermums, rock roses, and yellow Verbascum recorded by Buckler in 1823. Parsons designed the terrace, a favourite feature of his to replace a sloping bank on this lower side of the lawn. The terrace offers views of informality in the orchards and glimpses of surrounding countryside.
Aster or Autumn Border
Below the terrace is the Autumn Border with numerous cultivars of Aster ericoides. Maidenhair spleenwort ferns and ivy leaved toadflax have established themselves in the dry stone walls. To the east is the Gazebo corner where Magnolia Grandiflora Exmouth grows in the spot suggested by Parsons.
The Orchards in spring are a mass of wild flowers, old varieties of Narcissi, and ‘Queen of the Night’ Tulips. These are followed in early summer by roses; Sanders White, Rambling Rector and Wedding Day scrambling through the branches of older apple trees.
Parsons painted attractive watercolours of ancient apples blossoming above a froth of Queen Anne’s lace*: an effect recreated here. (* the less romantic call it ‘Cow Parsley’)
Below the Gazebo runs a rill ‘Niagara’ fed by a pipe from the top moat under the lawn, this is planted with primula and Scyllas e.g. Star of Bethlehem set in blue.Peonies brighten the path down the east side of the fishpond or Lower Moat leading to the Holt gate repaired in 2005 with home grown oak. Continue west around the south side of the fishpond and enjoy reflections of the Gazebo as you come to the Bog garden replanted in 2004/5.
The path through snowdrops in spring leads on to the Spring at the south west corner of the fish pond. This spring supplied drinking water to both villages of Holt and Broughton Gifford, but now is depleted in summertime by public water abstraction. The Saxon mill leat is used to top up the moats and fishpond with water from a stream compensated in dry times by a borehole made by Wessex Water at Little Chalfield.
Grass carp reduce weed and algae to allow fine reflections of the manor in the fishpond.
In medieval times this was used to filter drains and for materials e.g. for floor covering. Return to the west orchard with quinces apples and an oak in memory of Lionel who ploughed a team of Suffolk Punches despite losing his right arm in the 1914-18 war.
The Landing Stage
The paths and flights of steps leading up from the Landing stage are accompanied by ‘The Fairy’ roses. The pair of large benches and the simple thrones on the camomile lawns were made locally in Broughton Gifford. At the top of the steps above the roses choice awaits: return left (west) along the flagged path with old Dovecote foundations on your left, now planted with blue Perovskia or Russian Sage, a native of Afghanistan which tolerates wind. The low walls with Cotoneaster follow foundations of a demolished building. On the right is the Paved Court border with summer plants and roses. Blue wisteria climbs the South Wing, it was pruned back in 2000 after it had bent the Edwardian gutter downpipe.
In the Paved Court is a central Well among four flourishing beds of the polyantha roses. Nathalie Nypels, Campanula and alpine strawberries have self seeded among the flagstones, and a pineapple broom Cytisus Battandieri brought from Morocco in 1968 is in a warm corner. (Its successor is by the stables). Over the garden door of the Great Hall is a fine yellow Banksia rose named after Sir Joseph Banks who accompanied Thomas Cook to New Zealand on HMS Beagle.Old roses climb the half timbered wall above the Loggia: in autumn beautiful pink Nerene Lilies show at the foot of the house.
The Orchard Border offers blue geranium, pale Iris, Sedum, Artichoke, Acanthus, Lavateria and roses later in the summer. Up the grass ramp or Bastion steps beyond is an old black mulberry, its successor was planted east of the church in 1991.
Before leaving, enjoy the ancient Parish Church of All Saints and churchyard with Norman bastion projecting into the top moat. In Andrew Taylor’s stained glass window of the Parable of the Sower are local plants and creatures that may add joy to your visit.
Set close to Chalfield Brook, an attributory of the river Avon, in placid open countryside, the house is once again at the centre of a agricultural estate with home farm, woodland and its own parish church.
The tiny Parish Church of All Saints, beside the north east corner of the house, dates from the fourteenth century and has a charming bellcote with crocketted spire that Thomas Tropnell added when he came to live at Great Chalfield.