In 1999 a couple visited a country manor house with the view to buying the property. They arrived in the dark and never saw the garden. They failed to appreciate the importance of the garden or have any knowledge of its creator Margery Fish. Having purchased the house, they stepped up, took a horticultural course, employed 28 staff, and opened a tea room and art gallery. Today, East Lambrook is open to the public as an exhibition of English cottage gardening.
Margery Fish’s first career was in journalism. Educated at a Quaker school, Friends School in Saffron Walden, she left secretarial college in 1911 to work for the editor of the Daily Mail. Lord Northcliffe was something of a dictator, friendly one minute, feared the next. But Margery remained loyal, proving that women could succeed as long as they delivered to his high standards. During WWI Northcliffe headed the British Mission in the USA and he requested Margery to join him. She crossed the Atlantic under threat of torpedoes and spent 3 years at the mission, eventually earning an MBE.
Life continued post-war. She married another news editor in 1933. When WWII loomed, Margery and her husband moved to Somerset with the intention of developing the cottage garden style begun at larger houses, such as Sissinghurst, but what she lacked was the help of paid gardeners. Labour was scarce and expensive, she needed to turn the art of grand gardening into something suitable for a humbler domestic household. Her accomplishment was to make a pastime of the wealthy accessible for the general population. She wrote books and articles, publicising her goal. The book We Made a Garden describes the early years of her garden creation.
She started out as a beginner in search of an informal garden with pretty flowers and self-seeding native plants. She specialised in hellebores and shade loving plants. In 1950 she opened the garden to the public to raise money for charity. Without the support of professional gardeners, she worked 18 hour days, plus the writing side, doing everything herself including dry stone walling. Margery was an avid fan of snowdrops – a galanthophile. In 2008 there were 60 different species of snowdrop growing in the garden.
Her writing projects included contributing to the Oxford Book of Garden Flowers (1963) and the Shell Garden Book (1964). She encouraged her readers to ‘cherish the simple flowers that brighten our cottage gardens.’ She became one of the most admired gardeners of her time. Sadly, the garden fell into neglect after her death in 1969 until its restoration in 1985. Fortunately, her ideas remain relevant to all generations of gardeners.
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