CHARLESTON MANOR

Former home of Sir Oswald Birley and Lady Rhoda Birley

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A Tour Of The Grounds

Part One

Readers Note: Please remember plants die and are replaced, the following details reflect the grounds as they were in 1995 very much the same as they were during the ownership of Sir Oswald and Lady Birley.

Old Roses IThe visitor has entered the grounds down a long avenue of Irish Yew and traversed behind the Great Barn to the Public Car Park. The visitor crosses the ‘South Downs Way’ public footpath to re-enter the garden.

Before you start your tour from in front of the Clock House visitors can view through the wrought iron gates two private areas known as The Rondel and the Courtyard in front of and to the west of the Manor House.

The Rondel is centred with a large stone urn filled with tender plants encompassed by a circular lawn and gravel drive, the surrounding borders are formed behind clipped Box hedges (Buxus Sempervirens) to the left the large border is being developed to contain blue, silver and white plants backed with white roses along the lines of Gertrude Jekyll.

Opposite the gates behind a row of hardy fuschias is a large specimen of the rose ‘Gruss en Aache’. The front of the Manor itself is highlighted with trimmed Box and Lavender whilst on the North wall of the Manor there are a number of hardy climbers including a Wisteria.

The other private area is The Courtyard to the west of the Manor and although it is largely a gravel car park has a number of interesting shrubs planted and trained along the walls.

Facing the visitor are two fan trained Morello Cherry Trees which were introduced in 1993 to replace a vigorous covering of ivy, whilst on the west wall is a large climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea Petiolaris). A new border has been dug on the right inside the gate formed mostly of the less hardy shrubs such as Daphne and Ceanothus which are under-planted with numerous lilies. It is intended to form another border on the left hand side to mirror this border.

At this gate if the visitor looks towards the Manor House, they will see above the door one of the original Norman windows of the 12th Century building.

Old Roses IIThe Gardens

Starting the tour of the grounds and walking back along the front of the Manor towards the Car Park, the visitor passes a row of Lilac and Philadelphus to turn left through the wooden gates onto the Great Barn Lawn and into the Terrace Garden.

The terraces were laid out as part of the garden alterations by Godfry and the low flint walls are now almost hidden by clipped yew hedges of the original planting. On the widest terrace two large beds are edged with clipped box and are filled, in season with colourful annuals centered with two specimen Phorium Tenax. Behind the terraces are number of climbing and rambler roses trained around metal towers and include Rosa ‘American Pillar’, ’Vielchenblau’, ‘Albberic Barbier’, ‘Albertine’ and ‘Guinee’, the later two being replaced early 1994 in accordance with the original 1930’s planting plan.

There are numerous other roses planted on the barn and surrounding walls under-planted with mainly silver and grey shrubs; Lavender, Santolina and Senicio, to highlight the roses but interspersed with more colourful herbaceous plants to give variety later in the year.

On fine days the barn doors may be open and the visitor may enter and view the magnificent interior of this old building, now used as venue for many public and private functions. The Great Barn is a licensed 400 seat theatre and used to be available for hire, at certain times, as a venue for large Wedding Receptions.

The visitor should now pass through the wrought iron gates at the extreme east end of the Great Barn Lawn into the East Orchard. This area although thought to have been laid out by the Birley’s themselves actually was planted by Sir Harold Hillier as were most of the specimen trees and shrubs throughout the gardens. The plants coming from the world famous Hillier Nurseries near Winchester.

Old Roses IIIThe East Orchard has in it’s centre an arrangement of clipped yew hedges surrounded by various small trees (they were small!!!) draped with some very large and very old rambling roses the names of which like ‘Rambling Rector’ have almost disappeared from the catalogues.

Since this area was planted, nature has had it’s way and what was a relatively open area in the 1930’s has become heavily shaded and almost overgrown at tree canopy level. A program of propagation of the old ramblers and gradual reinstatement of this area has commenced.

Before you leave the East Orchard if you are not taking the ‘Long Walk’ just go a little way up the hill on the south side to the Secret Rockery. When the present owners of the Manor took over the property this area was almost buried in the trees brought down in the Great Storm, the great majority of which have now been cleared.

Under the rubble the site of the 1930’s rockery was discovered and above it the Upper Grotto (not shown on the map – we’ve only just found it !) and as you can see efforts to return this to it’s original condition are already well underway.

The Upper Grotto is a good vantage point to look down on the rambling roses in the orchard when they are in full bloom, and was used by Sir Oswald as a ‘Summer’ studio for his painting and for times of quiet reflection. A seat will be installed here in due course.

Returning to the Barn Lawn the visitor may now climb the Terrace Steps to gain access to the Yew Walk, from which you have a panoramic view of the terrace garden, ahead of you is the Dovecote and the transition to the other side of the Manor House.

Text Copyright John Vincent © 1994,1999

 

The color plates on this page are from paintings by  Margaret Stones and Paul Jones, are of the same era as the gardens at Charleston. They were included in the "Guide to Roses" by Betram Park, OBE. published in 1956 by Collins of St. James's Place. London.

 

 

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