Herefordshire is a secretive county of Marcher castles, small manor houses, eighteenth-century farms, lush orchards, scattered villages and meandering rivers. It is the epitome of rural England as it was before the onset of industrialisation. Produce from fishponds, venison from their deer parks, rabbits from the warrens and pigeon pies from their dovecotes supported the county’s medieval castles. Surviving evidence of the designed landscapes around them is best preserved in the fifteenth-century walks, moat and park that surround atmospheric fragments of Bronsil Castle at Eastnor. By the seventeenth-century a national renaissance in cider production had brought the clergyman turned landscape fancier, John Beale, to the countryside around Backbury Hill. The view from the top inspired him to look upon Nature as a new model for garden design, a radical idea, way ahead of its time. It would take another seventy years, and the artfully informal approach of William Kent, before England achieved the Arcadian pastoral landscapes captured in Beale’s time by Claude and Poussin.

In the eighteenth century Herefordshire set itself against the national trend, edging backwards into a gardening anonymity, occasionally enlivened by splashes of colour at Richard Bateman’s flower garden at Shobdon Court, and the austere simplicity of Lancelot Brown’s sylvan landscape around Berrington Hall. But then, in 1794, the county rose to the cutting edge of landscape aesthetics when two Herefordshire squires, Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price, published theories of Picturesque taste and initiated a style wars campaign, ridiculing their neighbours’ favourite improver, Humphry Repton. Their notion of the Savage in landscape undermined Repton’s fussily pretty suburban proposals.

In the Victorian and Edwardian periods Herefordshire was judged to be too remote for rich industrialists seeking a rural escape, consequently its Arts and Crafts legacy is small, though Charles Annesley Voysey’s Perrycroft, aligned on the hill fort of the British Camp on the Malverns, and the deliciously decaying Italian Garden at How Caple Court are nationally important. Like many of the county’s gardens, they are virtually unknown outside Herefordshire. Today the national motorway network stops abruptly at Ross-on-Wye, maintaining the county’s sense of isolation. But the construction of the M50 gave two nearby garden owners the opportunity to take advantage of road building techniques to create two of Herefordshire’s most successful modern gardens – the contoured landscape below Brockhampton Cottage where a pastel palette of inspired planting blends effortlessly with the surrounding fields, and the Japanese-inspired pools and revetments of Lawless Hill overlooking the Wye at Sellack – a cross between Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water and the imperial gardens at Jehol.  

Redcliffe Press, Bristol (Published May 2012)

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