This romantic garden surrounds Yelford Manor, a late 15th-century, timber-framed manor house in Oxfordshire. The garden is seven and a half acres and has retentive clay, which floods in the lower-lying parts of the garden. It is a temperate climate in the hardiness zone USDA 9.
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I was excited to meet the unassuming garden designer Katie Guillebaud at the site of one of her most prestigious projects to date. Described as ‘the best and certainly the most picturesque, large timber-framed house in the country’, the spectacular late 15th-century manor house sitting in the lowlands of rural Oxfordshire has a diminutive parish church at the end of the garden, is partially surrounded by the remnants of a moat, and has a stream curving prettily around and through it.
Katie served an apprenticeship at Christopher Bradley-Hole’s design office and has run her own practice for the past 15 years. Her vision for the garden was to bring a greater informality and romance to the space. One of her first concerns was to alter the access: cars had hitherto arrived unceremoniously via an awkward turn from a farm track that brought them right on top of the house. Now there is a much more generous approach, in keeping with the grandeur of the property, and the sight of parked vehicles is no longer allowed to interrupt its 15th-century façades. As you drive up, the manor heaves into view circuitously and a pretty willow-leaf shaped flowerbed, inhabited by some fine multi-stemmed specimens of Amelanchier x lamarckii, intervenes between the house and the parking area. Read more about the garden and its planting below.
The still burgeoning forms of bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) soften the view of the manor house’s spectacular west façade. A formal parterre was laid out here in the 1980s, but designer Katie Guillebaud swept it away in favour of a relaxed and ebullient use of perennials.
In this large bed, the planting has more of a New Perennial feel with grasses such as Stipa lessingiana and Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, mixed with broad clumps Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and Persicaria amplexicaulis Taurus (= ‘Blotau’).
Key perennial plants from the garden
Beneath an umbrella-pruned Amelanchier x lamarckii, is a mix of Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’, Gillenia trifoliata, Digitalis x mertonensis and astrantias ‘Roma’ and ‘Buckland’. Yew balls by the house add structure and mirror the box in pots by the door, which sit on cobbles recycled from one of the old barns.
Katie chose to leave some of the original yew hedging in place but created openings to allow views through to the orchard. Here, close to the house, their solid geometry is tempered by clumps of Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’, Lavandula x intermedia Dutch Group and the grass Achnatherum calamagrostis.
In this intimate courtyard on the house’s south side the walls are smothered in the highly fragrant Rosa The Generous Gardener (= ‘Ausdrawn’), which sets the tone for a romantic mix of soft planting that also includes the tall white flowers of Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’, the rich pink Rosa Gertrude Jekyll (= ‘Ausbord’) and the scented pale-blue orris root, Iris pallida. The soft grass Stipa tenuissima, alongside the pretty blue Geranium ‘Brookside’, Digitalis lutea and Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’ all add to the charm.
Around two secluded benches Katie has used more of a meadow style, dotting individual plants, including Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’, Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’, Verbascum phoeniceum ‘Violetta’, Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata ‘Greenapples’ and Cenolophium denudatum, in a repeated pattern.
The drive to the house takes you past a willow leaf-shaped bed, where a lichen-encrusted, old stone trough sits partially hidden among a froth of Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’, Sanguisorba menziesii and Gillenia trifoliata, while a group of multi-stemmed Amelanchier x lamarckii, keep the house partly hidden from view.
Fragrant roses Rosa ‘Madame Boll’ (formerly ‘Comte de Chambord’) and Rosa Gertrude Jekyll (= ‘Ausbord’), along with colourful perennials, such as Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’ and Digitalis lutea, and tactile grasses Stipa gigantea and Stipa tenuissima make these steps leading down to the kitchen terrace a delight for the senses.