Ham Court in Oxfordshire

A country garden around a moated, former gate house

The abundant, vividly coloured gardens that surround the 14th-century Oxfordshire house of potter Emma Bridgewater and illustrator Matthew Rice have been created in just a handful of years. Words Non Morris, photographs Eva Nemeth

Ham Court is a country garden with two kitchen gardens around a moated, former gate house of a 14th-century castle in Oxfordshire. It is around four acres of ornamental garden with constantly improved, shallow, free-draining, gravelly soil. The climate features cold winters, warm summers and low rainfall and the garden is in a hardiness zone USDA 8a.

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Wardington Manor's Top Lawn is a former tennis court. The grass has been left to grow long around the outlines
© Claire Takacs

It is hard to believe that work on this garden only started seven years ago. Ham Court was developed by artist-designer Matthew Rice and potter Emma Bridgewater as a place to live and work. The starting point was a bleak and gardenless farm that ignored the romantic potential of its stone barns and 14th-century castle gate house. The scale of the project was daunting: “For the first two years there were constant diggers and dumper trucks clearing farm buildings,” says Matthew. One of the first tasks was to plant over 11,000 trees as whips to blur the boundaries of the plot and create a sense, as the house was glimpsed through the trees, that “there might be more actual castle”.

It is already a wonderfully relaxed and layered garden, full of surprises and delights, a celebration of scent and colour and of the power of plants to create a sense of shelter and welcome. Discover more of the garden below.

Ham Court in Oxfordshire
© Eva Nemeth

Plants spill on to paths of fine limestone chippings in the Kitchen Garden. The greenhouse, built by Toti Gifford, runs along one side of the garden.

In winter, the greenhouse hums with propagation; in summer, the air is a heady mix of herbs and pelagoniums
Ham Court in Oxfordshire
© Eva Nemeth

In the productive Kitchen Garden a mix of herbs and veg, including rosemary, fennel, red orache and spinach combine with lavender, sweet peas and two Calendula officinalis cultivars: ‘Art Shades’ and ‘Indian Prince’.

Ham Court in Oxfordshire
© Eva Nemeth

The Kitchen Garden with its storybook tunnel of chestnut palings. In the growing season, it is host to borlotti and ‘Blue Lake’ green beans and ‘Tromboncino’ squash, which hang down from the tunnel at an incredible 1.2m.

Every element has been carefully sourced or cleverly handmade and contributes to the settled sense of place
Ham Court in Oxfordshire
© Eva Nemeth

An inviting pair of chairs in the headily scented conservatory. A simple trellis of hazel poles against the black-painted wall is smothered in plumbago in summer and is an effective backdrop to the towering mounds of the African marigold, Tagetes ‘Cinnabar’, as well as the poisonous caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris).

Ham Court in Oxfordshire
© Eva Nemeth

This image Lavender thrives in the free-draining soil at Ham Court, ensuring that here in the Kitchen Garden the air is filled with its scent. The Kitchen Garden is framed on one side by a handsome hedge of dog rose, Rosa canina, not in flower.

Ham Court in Oxfordshire
© Eva Nemeth

The Office Garden is a delightful, walled, gravel garden dancing with self-seeding poppies and cornflowers, anchored with low, stone troughs, wall-trained roses and free-standing fig trees.

More key elements of Ham Court

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Useful information: Address Ham Court, Bampton, Oxfordshire OX18 2HG. Website ngs.org.uk. Open The garden normally opens annually for the National Garden Scheme, but it is not planning to open in 2020. Look out on the NGS website for future dates.