Archive for the ‘Nymans’ Category

Nymans in June

August 2, 2012

The topiary crowns and the Verona marble fountain in the Wall Garden at Nymans. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

These images are from a recent photoshoot by Clive Nichols at Nymans, in West Sussex. Nymans is a grand and yet intimate Edwardian garden which has continued to evolve up to the present day.

A Japanese stone lantern appearing beyond a bank of santolina. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

The garden was started by Ludwig Messel, a succesful stockbroker who had come to Britain from Germany and who bought Nymans in 1890. With the help of his expert head gardener, James Comber, and encouraged by other notable gardeners in the area such as Sir Edmund Loder  and William Robinson, he began to create an extensive garden full of rare trees and shrubs.

One of the views outwards into the countryside from Nymans. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Features from Ludwig Messel’s day include the pinetum, the rock garden, the heather garden, a Japanese-style pergola and stone lanterns, a lime avenue, a prospect platform and an enclosed Wall Garden. Exotic species such as magnolias and rhododendrons were introduced, many coming from plant-hunting expeditions in east Asia.

Yew hedge near the house, nicknamed ‘the Toblerone hedge’ by the current gardeners. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Ludwig’s son Leonard Messel and his wife Maud had the house at Nymans rebuilt in the 1920s in medieval manor house style. Maud created the rose garden and Leonard continued to add botanical rarities to the garden, many of which subsequently won prizes at Royal Horticultural Society shows.

The Forecourt. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Disaster struck in February 1947 when the house burned down, destroying the important botanical library. Some parts of the house remained inhabited, but others were left ruinous as a romantic garden feature.

View across the lawn to the picturesque ruins. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Nymans came to the National Trust following Leonard Messel’s death in 1953. His daughter Anne, Countess of Rosse, continued the family’s involvement, working with head gardener Cecil Nice. More Chinese plants came to Nymans through an exchange programme with the Ross family seat Birr Castle, in Co. Offaly, Ireland.

The dovecote. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

The great storm of 15-16 October 1987 wreaked havoc at Nymans on its hilltop site, destroying many trees. But this disaster did also allow the new head gardener David Masters to rejuvenate the garden by opening up views and bringing in more light.

Hedge regularly clipped by Alistair Buchanan, which has almost come to resemble a Henry Moore sculpture. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Following Lady Rosse’s death in 1992 Ludwig Messel’s great-grandson Alistair Buchanan has been the family representative at Nymans. The current head gardener, Ed Ikin, has continued the tradition of innovation by introducing new species and successfully experimenting with a reduced watering regime in summer which encourages root growth. He recently published a book entitled Thoughtful Gardening on how to garden in harmony with nature.

Plants as works of art

August 9, 2010

The Wall Garden at Nymans. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

Another place I recently visited on the Ashridge Garden History Summer School is Nymans, in West Sussex. Nymans is an amazing garden created by several generations of the Messel family from the 1890s onwards.

A corner of the Croquet Lawn, with conifers and a Japanese lantern. ©Emile de Bruijn

Ludwig Messel, who had been born into a German Jewish family of traders and bankers, moved to England in 1868. His stockbroking business flourished and after a while he began to look round for a suitable country house. The railways had opened up Sussex and Kent, making this something of a ‘stockbroker belt’.

A fruit on one of the exotic trees - I was told what it was, but I have a terrible memory for plant names... ©Emile de Bruijn

Ludwig Messel bought Nymans in 1890 and began creating a garden, spurred on by the development of other nearby gardens such as Leonardslee, Gravetye Manor, Wakehurst Place and Sheffield Park. Nymans soon became a treasure trove of East Asian trees and shrubs. 

The neo-Medieval manor house as rebuilt for Leonard and Maud Messel. ©Emile de Bruijn

Ludwig’s son Leonard Messel and his wife Maud continued to enrich the garden, adding plants from Tasmania and the Andes and creating numerous prize-winning hybrid rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias.

The dovecote and the 'Toblerone' hedge next to the house. ©NTPL/John Miller

Leonard Messel bequeathed the garden to the National Trust in 1953. His daughter Anne, Lady Rosse, continued to be involved in the management of the garden. Nymans was one of the first properties to be acquired by the National Trust purely for the importance of its garden.

Baroque-style monogram seat. ©Emile de Bruijn

Alastair Buchanan, the current family representative, gave us a fascinating and entertaining talk about the history of the Messel family, including uncanny vocal imitations of past Nymans head gardeners and of Lady Rosse. The latter was apparently never concerned about the inequality between men and women, because it never occurred to her that any man could be her equal.

One of the sculptural topiary hedges. ©Emile de Bruijn

One of Alastair Buchanan’s contributions is clipping some of the sculptural yew hedges. Originally they were cloud-shaped, but they have now evolved into almost Henry-Moore-like compositions.

A fellow summer school student mentioned that she found the layout of the garden a bit confusing. The reason for that is probably that the garden grew piecemeal, as the collection of plants increased –  Nymans is a bit like the Wallace Collection in that respect, a collector’s paradise, crammed full of treasures. 

The Wall Garden. ©Emile de Bruijn

Ed Ikin, the current head gardener, who kindly took the time to show us round, has been trialling a tougher watering regime for the ornamental borders. Summer watering is now only done once a month. The plants have  adapted their root systems and leaf sizes accordingly, and the borders seem to look as lush as ever, even in this extremely dry summer.

Ed Ikin, head gardener at Nymans. ©NTPL/John Millar

Ed has just published a book called Thoughtful Gardening, with practical advice on how to garden in harmony with nature.


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