When Roy and his wife, the designer, Dr Julia Trevelyan Oman, arrived at The Laskett in the village of Much Birch, near Hereford, in 1973, they had no intention of making an important garden and he recalled : "Indeed, I remember saying to my wife, shortly after we acquired the house: 'Don't talk to me about that garden'."
There were lawns, shrubbery, a rose bed and a small kitchen garden, but most of the four-acre site was a field. However, this was the year in which he became director of the V&A, and staged the landmark exhibition : 'The Destruction of the Country House' and said : "This lament for the loss of some thousand houses and the threat to those that remained made a forceful impression on me and, I came to realise, on others."
In the same year of the Exhibition, he visited the National Trust garden, Hidcote : http://ow.ly/CDwC4 It inspired him and together, with Julia over the years, they transformed their site into 'Laskett Gardens', a series of stunning garden rooms, vistas, ascents and descents including :
a rose garden
a pleached lime avenue
an orchard, kitchen garden
a knot garden
statuary and parterres
herbaceous and prairie style borders
Then suddenly, in the summer of 2003, it was discovered that Julia had pancreatic cancer and within four weeks she was dead. It was not until the following October that Roy could take delivery of her ashes and wrote : 'By then I had commissioned a marble urn in which they would be interred and where I would in time join her. It was sited beneath the Oman quince tree in a quiet corner of her orchard.'
He then set about instituting some radical changes in the garden. 'I always encourage those who have lost a partner not to be haunted by guilt if impulses and aspects of themselves that have been muted through the coming together as a couple should resurface. The Laskett gardens were a joint creation with a degree of ‘his and hers’. Now everything came under my control. How was I to exercise that control with integrity and also with respect to her memory as the joint maker.'
His 'great cull' began : conifers were removed, laurels were lowered, box-hedges, parterres and a colonnade installed.
Roy said: “I’m so upset now that I have decided to change my will, stating that the garden will stay open to the public for one year after my death, and then be destroyed. Not bulldozed as such, but I will ensure that all the personal aspects which really make the garden so extraordinary are taken away. It would be insulting to the memory of myself and Julia to continue to leave so many things which were dear to us if they are not going to be looked after by the Trust. The house will now be sold after my death. There will be a garden attached with it, but not as it is now.”
A spokesman for the National Trust said: “We were approached by Roy Strong to leave us Laskett Gardens in his will. This was a very generous offer but when offered such a gift, our Board of Trustees considers it against strict acquisition criteria. This includes making an assessment of the place’s national and historical significance. We believe the establishment of an independent charitable trust would be the best way to protect this much-loved place.”
Britain in 2014 :
A country where one national institution : Roy Strong, created a country garden in homage to the lost country houses of 'national and historical significance', only to have it rejected by another national institution : the National Trust on the grounds that it lacked 'national and historical significance'.
An earlier post, celebrating Roy's Birthday :