Compton Verney – A Majestic Landscape
Whilst the exhibitions and the main gallery do not open until Saturday March 17, I take delight in writing this blog post on the very first of the grounds-only open days of the 2018 season at Compton Verney. After a particularly tough winter period where snow and storm force winds have left their mark, I’m glad to say that the paths are swept, the benches have been cleaned, the welcome centre is warm, and the first flowers of the new year stand proudly awaiting their admirers.
As an historic property, Compton Verney works in some ways like estates of this size always have, at this moment in time for example, staff are once again busily working indoors to prepare for the season ahead. Staff duties today of course are more about facilities improvement or exhibition preparation, as opposed to beating exotic rugs or buffing up a fireplace grate or twelve!
In a less dramatic way the grounds team of today, whilst flexing to take care of elements such as The Clearing, the Woodland Play Area or Bird Hide; have much the same tasks in hand as gardeners would have for the last three hundred years or so.
My team continues to evolve the landscape gardens at Compton Verney with a view to embracing all that it is and can be. The landscape character is strong, being completely overhauled in the second half of the eighteenth century by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. It is a vast, designed and manipulated landform, and some elements are worthy of a little more explanation:
Central to the landscape is the serpentine waterway known as Compton Pools, which have a life force all of their own. They’re completely artificial of course but have, as happens with water features of any size, become the central feature around which everything else hinges. They are full of mystery and intrigue, and place light, life and reflection at the very centre of the landscape.
My attention now turns to plants, which effectively dress the landscape, adding depth and detail. Brown may not have been the only gardener skilled enough to plant on a landscape scale, but his work at Compton Verney was masterful, where he created a number of character areas that work effortlessly to draw people through the landscape to specific and numerous viewpoints.
This element, having been established in the landscape long before any gardening at all happened on site, has been a constant. As custodians of Compton Verney we understand that to enjoy a landscape of this kind is to enjoy the wildlife that will have grown to depend on it for survival. We embrace this of course, and go a good deal further as well – you’ll see bird and bat boxes aplenty, and hidden from main views are many decaying hardwood stacks for those all-important insects too. Our established wild flower meadows, shrubberies, ornamental plantations and wilder undergrowth sections (purposely retained) bring much to the wildlife table.
There is however one vital element that is missing from my description of the landscape at Compton Verney – People! This landscape might have been designed by one person, for a family, but it was crafted by and for people. It was meant to be explored, explained, developed, refined and much more. I can certainly vouch, as so many have before me, for its refreshing and restorative properties.
“The grounds set the tone beautifully. Calm, serene and majestic. A visit here is always good for the soul.”
Commented an independent visitor in 2017.
As I type on this overcast February day the daylight is beginning to fade, yet the landscape still offers so much:
To crunch along the curving path of the West Lawn; to be lifted by cawing crows fleeing veteran cedar tree branches; to pull your hat down tightly in response to a gust of wind across the sphinx bridge; to peer into the darkness of the ice house pit; to sit in silence in the bird hide, looking and watching; to plunge the pond-dipping net into the silt and see the out-turned creatures wriggle in the tray; to reach down and lift the vivid green Hellebore flower, and view the brilliant snowdrops massed on the lawn; to hear the wind whistling through the tops of the towering Wellingtonia trees; and to pause for a while and reflect on our place in the world, whilst sitting beside the rusting triangular sheets of The Clearing.
All of this and so much more is Compton Verney, do come and enjoy!
Head of Landscape & Gardens at Compton Verney.