The topiary chess set at Haseley Court was one of many things I admired there.

Haseley Court and Making History Visible

My last blog post, about making history visible and listening to the land, struck a chord.  Many readers responded via the Site and Insight web page or commented on Facebook and on the blog itself, saying they were touched by the piece. Several described how experiences in their pasts affected their responses today, both to their own garden and to gardens they visited.

I know that is true for me. I grew up in Virginia, in a house with a big back yard where I could hide under bushes and pretend to be an explorer or anything more adventurous than the little girl I was.  At my grandparent’s farm I could enjoy the garden around the house, with its tall shade trees and enormous boxwood that lined the path to the front door, while always wondering when I would be big enough to go outside the fence.


A poplar tree that grew at my grandparents' farm in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia shaped my view of the world when I was a child.
As a child, I wanted to climb the hill at my grandparents’ farm to reach the lone poplar tree that family members discussed and painted. The tree was a magnet, pulling me into the world.


A few months ago Anne Wareham, who runs the English website ThinkinGardens, challenged readers to send a review of the best garden they visited in 2018.  This week, Anne ran the final review, the one I wrote about Haseley Court, a garden in Oxfordshire.


The topiary chess set at Haseley Court was one of many things I admired there.
The topiary chess set at Haseley Court was one of many things I admired there.


I hope you’ll take the time to read my review and to subscribe to ThinkinGardens, if you don’t subscribe already.  As a garden website, it lives up to its billing as

“a collection of challenging, entertaining and exciting garden writing, all contributed for free by some of our very best garden writers. Where else could you find garden writing as good (and honest) as this?”

You might consider subscribing as well to Anne Wareham’s website for her own garden, Veddw, a garden in Wales that showcases history in innovative ways. And visiting it, if your travels take you to Monmouthshire.

Why do I link my review of an English garden to my post about listening to the land and making history visible?

A hint: Haseley Court was created starting in the 1940s by Nancy Lancaster, a Virginian who became one of England’s grand interior designers. I grew up in Virginia. Could there be a connection?


Looking up at the sky through this gazebo took me back to my childhood.
Looking up at the sky through this gazebo took me back to my childhood in Richmond.


The strength of my response to Haseley Court leads me to wonder: how important a role do our personal histories play in evaluating a garden? Does your personal history, in gardens and beyond, affect how you respond to the gardens you visit? Should it play a role at all?

What do you think?

  • Well, very much so! From having collected bottles and bits on point by the brook from the Glen Villa. Walking up the brook to the source. Swimming in the pool where the cars were kept above the road. Playing on your front lawn and knowing the cast of characters that have inhabited it, the history of the property has deep a meaning of appreciation….sweet Virginia!

    • siteandinsight

      Good memories!

  • I’ll answer the last part of your question first. There is no “should” about it. We, as human beings, always bring our personal history to bear on our response to any kind of art. Anyone who thinks they can disassociate themselves from their evaluation and response to art is fooling themselves. In your review of Haseley Court you mentioned several allusions to Virginia that I would have missed, from the Confederate grey color of the furniture to the cupola on an outbuilding. But weren’t the settlers of Virginia primarily British? Virginia’s clipped boxwoods and much of its garden design, had its roots in Britain. Even the welcome, ” warm and unaffected but never effusive, and always with a little something held back” sounds to me a bit like the stereotypical “British reserve.” What I’m trying to suggest is that the associations you have with Viriginia are themselves an echo of the British settlers, reinterpreted by a Virginian settling back in Great Britain. A cultural echo chamber, or maybe reflections upon reflections, as when two mirrors face each other.

    • siteandinsight

      A really interesting observation, Kathy, with some good summarizing phrases — reflections upon reflections, cultural echo chambers. I know that certain elements at Haseley Court said one thing to me something else to others in our group, if they spoke to them at all. And yes, Virginia in its early years was settled primarily by the English (not even British), and their 18th century sensibilities affected the architecture, interior and garden design, the selection of plants and philosophical ideas.

  • Kiwi

    A great choice as gardenof the year. We spent four very spaecial years helping care for this garden. It is such a wonderful place. We are New Zealanders But so much resonated with us as well – things of great beauty transcend individual country or culture

    • siteandinsight

      How fortunate you were to have taken care of Haseley Court. A wonderful spot — I’d love to return one day.