County of a hundred moats, Worcestershire has mediaeval water gardens at Birtsmorton, Hartlebury and Huddington so impossibly romantic that they look like opera sets for The Sleeping Beauty. Lordly Croome - Capability Brown's first design experiment - and Hagley of the Sham Castle, were two of eighteenth-century Britain's most influential landscape parks. But what most distinguishes this essentially yeoman county is its tradition of brilliant eccentrics working on limited acreages packed with incident. William Shenstone, camp Georgian poet and inspired sentimentalist, started it all at The Leasowes, an enchanted hollow of Picturesque tinkerings in Halesowen. His spirit lives on at Astley Towne House, where Hercules totters on a 30ft Gothick pillar, Prince Charles' Highgrove has been mischevously plagiarised and a stained-glass door opens magically, Narnia-wise, between the jambs of two yew trees.

In Witley Court's riposte to Versailles, perseus rescues Andromeda from a forest of fountain jets, while the great and unfortunate seventh Earl Beauchamp, Evelyn Waugh's Lord Marchmain, lavished Madresfield Court with a Lawn of the Twelve Caesars to counter his father's mini-Avebury of Pulhamite boulders. Latest in this great tradition are the Arbuthnotts' eight folly towers of Stone House Cottage Nursery and Garden- Camelot rebuilt in a walled enclosure of rampageous planting.

 

This 192pp book is copiously illustrated with 85 black-and-white photographs and 24 colour plates

Tempus Publishing, 2006  Paperback £17.99

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