Thursday, 25 October 2012
A HEAP OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Hugh Cavendish’s new book about Holker Hall and its gardens, tells of his modern approach to planting and how his eccentric aunts helped him along the way
By Carolyn HartLike Bertie Wooster, Hugh Cavendish has learned to treat his aunts with respect – not least because these three redoubtable women, his father’s sisters, grew up at his family home, Holker Hall, and came back to live there in old age when Hugh took over the house. Collectively Mary, Diana and Sybil were known as the ‘Aunt Heap’ and Hugh, who runs the Hall and its gardens, remembers them for ‘their crisp commentaries and charming gestures of encouragement to me and Grania [his wife]… they had a profound influence on Holker in general and the garden in particular,’ he adds.
And it’s this garden that chiefly concerns Lord Cavendish in his book, A Time To Plant. But as is so often the case, what looks like a blessing, is something of a burden to those involved. His father pretty much sacrificed his life to keep Holker going, and no wonder he paid attention to those aunts. ‘The power lay in the three of them combined,’ Hugh notes with awe. Mary (born in 1903) was convinced that a marsh-dwelling community had lived in Holker Park and spent time digging out ‘ordinary old stone drains’, seeking her ancestors. Infuriating, if you happened to be trying to lay lawns or create herbaceous borders.
Diana (born in 1909: ‘no one made a pound go further’) lived in a house on the estate called Hole of Ellel and ‘put in long hours of weeding and digging; she also built up a collection of plants.’ Sybil, born in 1915, was once discovered by the postman stretched out with her husband, asleep on the dining room table.
‘Through the prism of the “Aunt Heap”, we learned that new circumstances need a new approach…’ Hugh writes: ‘The aunts gave us confidence to do as we wished.’ The garden is evidence that a blend of 19th-century eccentricity and modern horticulture can make a good jumping-off point for a 21st-century gardener.
A Time To Plant by Hugh Cavendish, with photography by Grania Cavendish, is published by Frances Lincoln, priced £25.
Daily tip from the lady archive
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