Stewardship and Renewal in the Gardens at Parham

Lady Emma and James Barnard in the greenhouse at Parham

This week I am returning to Parham to meet Lady Emma and her husband James Barnard as they embark on a major restoration of their celebrated walled gardens at Parham.

The history of the garden has only been recorded since the 1920s when Lady Emma’s great-grandparents came to Parham.

James is keen to show me a series of old framed sketches and plans for the clematis in the gardens drawn by Lady Emma’s great aunt, Mrs Tritton, during her time at Parham. He remarks “Amongst my most striking memories of my first encounter with the gardens at Parham were the clematis.” He continues enthusiastically “Gardens have to change and evolve to have life. We are so glad that Andrew Humphris has joined us as Head Gardener with his wife Jo. Collaborating with them and the garden team on this restoration is very exciting.”

We find Andrew working in the borders and I ask him how it is going. He replies “Well, we’ve had the rain, it will all take off as soon as the sun comes.”
Lady Emma says “The gardens here have been worked for hundreds of years. Our only ‘rule’ has been to work with and not against this ancient place sensitively accepting and preserving its spirit.” Andrew agrees “We’re enhancing what is a fantastic place already.”

I remark that we are a processional people – that we have an ability to confidently embrace change and the new but always with one eye fixed on the past. Lady Emma responds “It’s so nice that long process with a generosity of spirit, like the changing seasons. I love the changing seasons in the garden, there is always something to look forward to whether it’s the spring tulips or the seed heads in winter.”

Parham’s Head Gardener, Andrew Humphris, and his team working on the restoration of the gardens

To me this bodes well. Parham has always given voice to our nation’s quintessential celebration and passion for gardening. All gardens, like nature and the seasons, have a cycle to them and evolve. There is a real sense of renewal, a gardening renaissance at Parham as the restoration gets underway.
At the heart of the generous and outward facing spirit which pervades all that Parham does are Lady Emma and her husband James who, together with their sons, bring such life and vitality to this timeless place. The family’s long-term, generous stewardship blesses us all.

The 18th century garden walls, the paths and borders still enfold you against the backdrop of the house and Sussex Downs. We are all in need of a fresh horizon and a generous place to gather us as we begin to meet and walk in conversation with friends and loved ones. Parham, with its new, delicious Naked Food Company café, is the perfect place for a day’s holiday! Visit to book your visit to the gardens.

Restoration and Renewal at Parham

Parham’s Head Gardener, Andrew Humphris in the greenhouse

In the first of two articles I am returning to Parham visiting Lady Emma and her husband James Barnard as they embark on a major restoration of their celebrated walled gardens at Parham.

It is some 28 years since Lady Emma and James came to Parham with their young family. Their time here has been marked by renewal and long-term stewardship in this ancient, processional place.

Emma explains “My great-grandparents, Clive and Alicia Pearson, fell in love with Parham as soon as they saw it. The house was in a poor state when they bought it in 1922.”

Lady Emma and James have a similar sense of long-term stewardship and the importance of ongoing renewal so I am excited to hear about the plans for the restoration of the walled gardens as we set off to find their recently appointed Head Gardener, Andrew Humphris.

I ask Andrew how he is settling in to his new role at Parham and the ongoing restoration of the gardens, he replies “This place is just fantastic there is so much potential. Restoring and maintaining a garden has to be a collaborative thing otherwise it never works. It needs a long-term relationship with the garden and the family.” He turns to Lady Emma and James and says “I want to make it special for you – and the team.”

Parham’s gardens in the crisp spring weather

There is a generosity, humility and rootedness apparent in the way Andrew speaks about a lifetime in horticulture, accompanying and following in his father’s footsteps with his wife, Jo.

I ask Andrew how he would describe himself, a horticulturalist or a garden designer perhaps. He pauses, smiles and replies “I’m a gardener.”
Andrew begins to speak about his work “In the garden I’m thinking about what I’m doing [and] in the moment inspiration comes at unexpected times. There has to be a whole to it but the detail matters, lifting a plant to weed – a love for a plant.” He continues “It’s important to pass things on too. You have to keep momentum, constantly being critical to keep it going forward and fresh.”

I comment on how Parham is famous for its borders and Andrew says “I love border colours” reflecting wryly he continues “striving for perfection in a border though with the weather and variables – still it’s the aim.”

The garden is full of activity and a sense of renewal as the garden team is clearing borders to deal with the bind weed. Other newly planted areas like the white border provide hopeful windows onto the future of this beautiful place. It is exciting to see the restoration in process.

Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning to an old friend, as I often do, Parham never fails to delight with its gardens and sense of history. Check out Parham’s new website and book your visit to the gardens.

Perfection in the Imperfection, the New Minimalism

A good Queen Anne walnut bureau with overall feather banding and double-reeded mouldings © Toovey’s 2021

By the time of Queen Anne’s (1685-1714) accession to the British throne in 1702 the Dutch influence on furniture design had been fully assimilated and English furniture set off on its own course of development. The Queen Anne style would influence tastes in Europe and America. Queen Anne was the last of the Stuarts. The second daughter of James II by his first wife Anne Hyde. She was brought up as a protestant and has been described as shy, conscientious, homely and small.

The needlework panel of the period is filled with metaphors. Anne is depicted standing in a garden wearing a crown whilst holding a sceptre and an orb as symbols of her office. In the Bible gardens are places of divine encounter, sustenance, beauty and shelter, qualities which are being attributed to the Queen. The cherubim symbolise the glory, majesty, power, and divine protection of the Queen. The cherubim are also present to inspire fear, reverence, respect and awe towards her as they remind the viewer that God himself is the King of kings.

A Queen Anne needlework panel, depicting the Queen and an attendant standing in a garden © Toovey’s 2021
A Queen Anne needlework panel, depicting the Queen and an attendant standing in a garden © Toovey’s 2021

Provincial Queen Anne furniture is designed and adapted to fit the needs and comfort of the human form. For example chairs became lower with serpentine splats to mirror the backs of the sitter. Case furniture too became more graceful and delicate. Hand cut walnut veneers and solid mahogany became popular.
There is a delight to be found in the hand cut veneers of the Queen Anne bureau illustrated. As you open it the fall flap hinges downwards to form a writing surface. It reveals pigeonholes, drawers, a cupboard and secret compartments. The sloping sides gather you as you sit at it whether reading, working or just taking time to imagine.

Light seems to dance on its surface, reflected softly with an extraordinary depth and richness. The marks of life and age add to the sense of joy. It is part of our human purpose to make beauty in the world and it is surely right that we should celebrate it.

It is the subtle, imperceptible undulations of the hand cut veneer which causes this exquisite, generous effect. And it contrasts with later machine made pieces where the surface is perfect but hard to the eye lacking life. Here then is the perfect example of an often forgotten truth – that there is perfection in the imperfection of our lives.

These two exceptional Queen Anne pieces sold at Toovey’s for £3000 and £2200 respectively. However, apart from the finest pieces good quality 18th century English furniture has never been such wonderful value. You can buy Georgian dining tables, chairs, chests of drawers and bureaus for a few hundred pounds. These pieces allow you to have rich, comfortable, eclectic interiors in the English Country House taste whilst making no demands on our world’s finite and precious resources. Young people in their 20s and 30s are actively buying these pieces calling it the New Minimalism. They intuitively understand that there is perfection in the imperfection of a handmade object which perhaps is a hopeful metaphor for us as people too.

Inspired by Nature

A pair of Victorian novelty silver owl salt and pepper, London 1879, by Thomas Johnson II, height 6.5cm © Toovey’s 2021

As lockdown eases and the busyness of life begins to return I am making conscious punctuation marks in my life to continue to walk and be. To shut out the white noise of the demands of life, to inhabit the landscape and my garden and be truly present giving thanks to God for these blessings. Nature seems to have taken on an abundance and grown in our imaginations in these times. The delight in nesting Goldfinches, a Thrush busy tidying our garden of snails, the pickly Blackbirds flicking the soil from the borders onto the paths and terrace as they search for food, and the proud Robins at play in the bird bath as the Woodpecker taps out his tune against the old Weeping Pear.

The Victorians shared this fascination and delight in birds, wildlife and nature, made popular by Queen Victoria. Nature inspired their decorative arts and artists as it does today.

I love the expressions on the faces of the late Victorian novelty silver salt and pepper modelled as a pair of owls. Their glass eyes gift them with such life and character, they remind me a bit of E H Shepard’s wonderful depictions of Owl in Winnie the Pooh. As they stand looking at you their finely engraved plumage shimmers in the light. These fine objects were made by Thomas Johnson II who was well known for his novelty silver birds and animals. Hallmarked in London in 1879 they bear the mark of the Bond Street retailers, W. Thornhill & Co. If you fancy a pair of novelty silver owl condiments they and will be offered for sale in Toovey’s specialist silver auction on 12th May with an estimate of £800-£1200.

A pair of Elizabeth II novelty silver duck sauce boats, London 1973, By Asprey & Co Ltd, length 21.5cm © Toovey’s 2021

The pair of Asprey & Co Elizabeth II silver novelty sauceboats and stands are modelled as a pair of ducks and sold for £2200 earlier in the year highlighting the continued appeal of silver inspired by nature. They seem to glide as if on water, their finely cast and chased plumage giving them light and life. The oval stands are engraved with simulated water adding to the effect. And the matched silver ladles, engraved with feathers, are by Roberts & Belk.

There is a danger that as we return to our cars in our increasingly urbanised lives that we will once again be separated from the joys and importance of nature. I hope that our MPs and newly elected local politicians will use their positions and power to honour and maintain the rural, agricultural nature and needs of Sussex and her farmers with the undoubted need for more homes, and that the new developments will be designed to allow us to live and flourish with nature.