In 1970 Rosemary Verey (1918-2001) opened her garden at Barnsley House to the public through the National Gardens Scheme. The scheme began in 1927 to support district nurses. For a small fee (and a cake and a cup of tea), visitors are given access to private gardens, usually a few days in the summer, and the money raised goes to nursing charities. These days it’s the most significant funder of nursing charities including Marie Curie and Macmillan. Up and down the country, it has proved a unique way of taking a look at what lies behind the walls and gates of private homes, and for Rosemary it resulted in her opening her garden for six days a week to accommodate the 30,000 visitors.
Rosemary was self-taught garden designer and adapted the ideas of grand gardens into her smaller space. She chose not to use a professional designer and allowed the garden to evolve from its origins in the 1950s. She went on to write gardening books (and collected many, too), and work with British and American clients, including Prince Charles and Elton John. She popularised the ornamental kitchen garden, and made the vegetable patch something to be proud of, instead of having it hidden at the back of the garden – a potager garden – the planting of edible and non-edible plants together. The potager, which originated in Baroque France, can provide not only food, but cut flowers and herbs and is kept on view amongst the features of the beautified garden, whether its the knot or cottage garden.
She loved the vista, the long view, and in her garden at Barnsley she incorporated a knot garden, laburnum walk (modelled on one in Bodnant, Wales) and lime walk. Her technique was to go for ‘abundance’, flooding the borders with layers of colour. Aspiring gardeners came from all over to learn from her. Today Barnsley House is a hotel, and the gardens can be visited for a fee, which includes tea and cake.
Rosemary did all this in the latter years of her life, which goes to show, it’s never to late to start gardening.