There’s a school of thought that when a great gardener has made a garden it should be preserved forever, whatever the merits of the garden. Lord Cavendish at Holker Hall inherited a garden, which had been commissioned by his grandmother from Thomas Mawson, one of the undoubted greats. Unfortunately Lord Cavendish thought it was “perfectly horrible”. He wasn’t alone. The moment of truth came when he and his wife were working in the garden one summer’s day and a member of the public asked politely; “Can you please direct us to the gardens?” He tore it out, to howls of protest from garden historians, but to the great relief of the visiting public.
Brockhole, on the shores of Lake Windermere, is another Mawson garden. I think the words “perfectly horrible” describe it perfectly. It’s difficult to see how much of the original is left, and I don’t think it would be fair to ascribe any of its present defects to faults in Mawson’s original design. Apparently, 100 years ago it was one of the finest gardens in the Lakes. But it’s sadly neglected now, as the photo below shows. However, if you stand on the terrace, which runs the full length of the house and look towards the lake, there is one outstanding feature, which is greatly admired by the public, a magnificent Monkey Puzzle tree. It probably pre-dates Mawson. Bizarrely, the Lake District National Park Authority, who have owned this site for the last 40 years, have announced their intention to chop it down. It’s as if they were offended by the only remaining thing of beauty in the garden and wanted to get rid of it, so that the whole place would look uniformly drab. The Cumbria Gardens Trust are outraged and have written to Richard Leafe, the LDNPA’s chief executive, giving him a piece of their mind. I agree with Lord Cavendish that we shouldn’t preserve old things simply because they are old, but the thing about Monkey Puzzle trees is that they start off looking rather horrid and grow into things of beauty. This is one of the best, it’s beautiful in its own right, and it would be shameful to kill it.