Tuesday 12 August 2014

An old garden enjoying benign neglect

The Madhyamaka Kadampa Buddhist Retreat

Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher.
It is surprising what you find here in Yorkshire. As I write today in July, The Tour de France rides through York and rather less transient but more transcendental, The World Peace Café is just up the road. If we get into our car and drive for ten minutes up to Kilnwick Percy in the Yorkshire Wolds we find this beautiful placid place.
We live on the flat level plain which is the vale of York and a short trip to the the rolling Yorkshire Wolds gives us marvellous  panoramic views of extensive countryside (not to mention that if you choose your viewing point carefully, four former coal power stations which in their industrial ugliness now provide a grandiose beauty).
Our garden at home is on the very variable glacial geology of the flat valley is an alluvial sand/silt deposit of the river Derwent and we are locally privileged in that we can grow acid loving plants. A mile away a garden on the the same soil is alkaline because it receives spring-water drained from the cretacious chalk of the Wolds. The garden at the buddhist retreat is on a very different soil to my own.

The Peace Centre

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.
The Madhyamaka Kadampa Mediation Centre was opened in 1986 and is on the site of an old and formerly very grand stately home. Previous to this it was an old Elizabethan Manor. The fine Tudor buildings are two hundred years old. The 42 acre site has all the accoutrements of former wealth. The surrounding parkland contains a small church and a six acre lake. The immediate grounds are home to walled gardens, converted old stables, former servant quarters, mixed borders and the World Peace Café.

Norman style Kilnwick church is now a listed building. How grand for the local church to be in your own grounds.

A beautiful place to visit

The heart is like a garden. It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you sow here?

We only discovered this delightful and genuinely peaceful place last year. We were aware of its existence and had often driven past enjoying the wonderful Wolds scenery. With my usual lack of curiosity I had not investigated further and thought it to be a private place of buddhist meditation.
In fact, it is open for 365 days of the year. It is manned by enthusiastic welcoming volunteers. No one coerces you or approaches you, yet they have all the time in the world to tell you about buddhism if you ask them.

This resident just might break away from his revery to tell you about the lovely actinidia and evergreen magnolia

There is is no commercialisation what-so-ever. Entrance to the centre is free and guided tours, courses and even bed and breakfast are modestly priced. If you go there in the week you seem to have the place to yourself.

The World Peace Café is actually very modest but provides wonderful cakes and coffee. Brenda orders her Earl Grey tea. We have never known the café not to be open but the courses, events and tours are on more limited occasions.
Cathi’s friend Lindy found the place for us. We now take all our friends up there to enjoy a walk round the lake or just around the more immediate grounds. But always the café. 

The café is rather a magnet. This very old  Phlomis russeliana is a very fine plant

The plants in the grounds
There is something special about old gardens. Superficially this garden is just a pleasant space between buildings surrounded by open countryside. The shrubs, trees and plants seem somewhat neglected and although rather pleasant somewhat incidental.
To the more discerning eye, here is a history of old gardeners and their plants. 
There has been a garden on this site for hundreds of years. There will be times when it has been skilfully maintained and generously funded and loved by many generations of owners. In other times there might have been very little maintenance at all. I don't expect the War Ministry who occupied the buildings for administration in WWII bothered much with the grounds.
Old garden plants have charm of their own. It is amazing how well some plants do if they like the soil and climate. Many plants familiar to us only as shrubs, over the decades grow into very fine trees. There is a kind of natural selection of garden plants that will thrive on neglect and go on to  make wonderful mature specimens.

Tough old hardy perennials

This sturdy un-staked free-standing herbaceous border seems to look after itself

Although I have a small Portugal laurel in my garden, I failed to identify it here where it is a magnificent tree.

One day someone will produce a coffee table book composed of pictures of magnificent plants in neglected places. I just wish I had used a camera over the last forty years!  

The walled garden

Cathi had had been muttering about the beautiful walled garden. We thought it rather pleasant but although we did not actually say so, not very special. We had failed to find it! On our last visit we were more adventurous and walked in the woods and  there nestled this charming place. A secret garden!

Lost in the woods

We did nor know all this was here

Grand houses and stately homes used to have walled gardens, perhaps typically between  two to ten acres, where gardeners and servants provided fruit, vegetable produce and flowers for the house. Some are still examples of fine Victorian horticultural technology. In some cases the internal structure of the walls were heated by fires at night to enable frost tender fruit to be grown. In very rich households pineapples and bananas were grown in heated greenhouses. 
The Victorians were very fine gardeners. If you were the cleverest boy at the village school in those days you did not become a banker or lawyer or computer  entrepreneur, you became head gardener at the 'big house'.
Over the last century many grand old houses have gone into decline. After WWII some newly impoverished owners tried to maintain their garden by commercial production of fruit and vegetables. In most cases not matching the acumen, specialisation and efficiency of true commercial growers they eventually failed. There were hundreds of thousands of such walled gardens in the UK. Many still remain and much creativity and imagination has gone into a myriad of modern uses. 
The kitchen garden at the Peace Centre would seem to have been converted to an ornamental garden perhaps sixty years ago. It contains two houses, I imagine they were  old gardener's cottages. The garden was skilfully designed and planted. It has now graciously aged and  is maintained by volunteers, no doubt with love but very little time and perhaps little gardening know-how. It is very weedy. You feel you want to get in there to sort it out but I am not volunteering!
Perhaps I do the staff an injustice, the garden is so lovely there must be a skilled guiding hand.

I had to turn away from this digging

The contorted hazel is twisting no more! I cannot blame the gardener! Why does the gardening press fail to tell gardeners that if they do not prune out these suckers they will get massive straight rods. It is not too late to save this particular plant!

So many hidden gems

Flattering words are but honey-coated poison


  1. The bit about contorted hazel made me smile. We didn't like the one we planted, OK in winter and early spring but messy in summer. We cut it down and planted the straight suckers on the plot and they now provide us with pea sticks etc.

    I always find it hard to resist pulling up weeds - when staying in holiday cottages I always found myself planning jow I would change the garden and had to make a conscious effort to leave the weeds alone

    1. You lateral thinker you or are you just contrary?
      Actually I did read your post about growing hazel canes on your allotment. I agree the rod like shoots are excellent stakes!
      It's not well advised to weed in someone else's garden. I re
      member a lady plantsman told me about when she was called in to her phone and her friend weeded out her prize grasses!
      However if you come round my garden again pull out as many epilobiums as you want!

  2. Lovely post. However I hope it doesn't attract too many extra visitors to our favourite stop-off on the way to the coast!

    1. I will look out for you L!
      Will I recognise you in a T shirt emblazoned with a large red L?
      Lovely ride to Brid or Filey or perhaps you go to Reighton to buy some plants?

  3. It looks like a very peaceful, pleasant place. You are lucky to live near it.
    I was made aware of what you say about old garden this July when we visited a garden that is about 100 year old, not very old by European standard but it has been well maintained all this time (It belonged to a very rich family and is now public). You could see clumps of plants, like maiden hair ferns, that had grown enormous over the years and aged crab apples and rhododendrons that hinted at the age of the garden.

    1. I can think of a fair few examples Alain, where plants have hung on after the original garden management has long gone
      I remember some very healthy specimens of colchicums in now very neglected parkland and in the boggy grounds of a dilapidated old country house a huge skunk cabbage, lysichiton now overgrow with nettles and brambles, but holding it's own.
      One of the very first posts I wrote was on the theme of 'echoes of gardeners past'!

  4. Fascinating post Roger, sounds like just my kind of garden along with the peace and tranquillity. I have picked up on your comment about the gardening press, they don't seem to understand that lack of information leading to subsequent failure is not the way to encourage new gardeners.

    1. Actually I think the contorted hazel should come with a health warning from the grower!

  5. This has been up for ages Roger, where's your next post?
    :-) Is it holiday season?

    1. Glad someone is waiting for the next one. I am tending now to be doing slightly longer posts at perhaps about ten day intervals. The next one will probably be Friday.
      Have a look at some of the other 200! :-)


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