On an amber October day in 1999 I walked round the garden at Barnsley House for the first time. Charles Verey was running the garden and as we walked round he asked if I knew this plant or the other; very often I admitted I wasn’t familiar with it. I did however recognise the autumn flowering Snowdrops running along the edge of the Broad Border…Galanthus reginae-olgae! Back in the house, over tea and biscuits, I made it clear to Charles that I wanted the job. I think he thought that I might make suitable Head Gardener material; but his mother had the casting vote, after all it had taken her and her husband David the best part of four decades to create. She was in Kentucky; I would have to come back to meet her.
A wood fire burned in the study, it wasn't a well lit room; but light pooled around the desk where writing took place and a typewriter sat centrally on it. I remember a life size metal sculpture of a Daffodil and one of Snowdrops. So on a sooty black November evening I was being interviewed by one of the greatest gardeners of the twentieth century…… Vita Sackville West, Laurence Johnstone, Marjorie Fish, Valerie Finnis, here I was in the company of Rosemary Verey. Mrs Verey softened when I confessed “I liked plants”, but what really impressed her later was my love of running dogs, Whippets especially; she was a fan too. My whole world was about to be turned on its head and made richer for it.
It’s now a blisteringly hot and hazily dusty July morning in 2012 and I’ve just made my way down the dappled tunnel that is the ‘Welsh Way’, a centuries old drovers’ road that runs through Barnsley North/South. This sinuous sylvan highway is just one part of the immediate landscape that Barnsley House and it’s garden sits, a landscape that is very much reflected in the garden. The mixed borders with their chaotic planting can be compared with the woolly hedgerows that traverse the local fields and the spangled floor of the wooded Welsh Way mirrored in the cobbles of the Laburnum walk.
This is Barnsley.