Photographs: Charles Francis
October 2012: A conversation with head gardener Val Anderson and assistant head gardener Mark Maunder
It is more than 200 years since the great landscape gardener Humphry Repton set out his ideas for Antony. Was his advice followed?
Val: Before Repton came here in the 1790s, there was an enclosed garden going down to a wilderness. As part of his design, this was cleared away so that the view down to the River Lynher could be seen from the house, across parkland with small groups of trees. We have a facsimile of Repton’s Red Book — which visitors can see — with ‘before and after’ drawings. Not all of his advice was taken. He would have swept the drive up through the parkland to the house. He also created a design for a summerhouse, with an arch at the centre of it, which was never built. In 2001, the architect Ptolemy Dean designed an arched structure for us, which was intended to be a four-sided building, like the one Repton designed, but it was decided that we only needed one side, to act as a focal point.
What makes Antony special?
Val: It has a fantastic setting. There is colour and formality on the terraces in front of the house, with herbaceous plants and shrubs, then as you look down to the river, it’s all shades of green — but when you’re down there, there’s a surprise, because the Woodland Garden is full of rhododendrons, magnolias and hydrangeas. We have National Collections of hemerocallis — 610 cultivars, nearly all collected by Lady Cynthia Carew Pole between 1960 and 1977 — and Camellia japonica.
Hemerocalis ‘Flaming Sunset’
You’ve been here nearly 40 years. Has the garden changed much in that time?
Val: When I first came here, it was mostly a matter of keeping on top of the weeds. But we’ve been able to do much more since 1983 when Sir Richard and Lady Mary Carew Pole moved in. Sir Richard is a former president of the RHS, and both he and Lady Mary take a great interest in the garden. We now have 30 volunteers helping us, and we couldn’t manage without them: they did a total of 6,500 hours last year. Among the areas we’ve developed are the summer garden — designed to be gushing and chaotic and flowing — and the knot garden, which was designed by Lady Mary.
The garden field is the boundary between the National Trust garden and the Woodland Garden, which is owned by the Carew Pole Garden Trust: ornamental trees and shrubs were planted here in 1988. Sir Richard is a great supporter of the arts, so you see sculpture all around. The water sculpture, by William Pye, was inspired by rainwater flowing down a tarmac road. The cone shape echoes the shape of the yew tree behind it.
The garden achieved international prominence when it was chosen as a setting for the 2010 Disney film of Alice in Wonderland. How did this affect Antony?
Val: The filming was great fun. We had to put down turf and put up false yew hedges, and the middle of the terrace became a rose garden. For the Alice Experience, which ran for a year, we had a chess board in the middle of the main lawn, and a clock — with a White Rabbit coming out on the hour — a croquet lawn, and giant wooden mushrooms and butterflies. When the film came out, we went from 20,000 visitors a year to 94,000.
Mark: Before Alice, we never really had families in. Now we do, and we want to keep them here. They have picnics on the main lawn, which is lovely to see, and the children play football. We’re now trying to get people to come at other times of the year, as well as summer, and see the spring and autumn colour.
What can visitors see in October?
Val: The acers and Cornus capitata will be looking fantastic. There will also be rosehips, penstemons and salvias …
Mark: … and alstroemerias, and there might still be campanula and phlox. You never know what weather you’re going to get in October. Last October, it was quite sunny, and if it’s like that again, there will still be a lot to see in the summer garden. You also get trees with autumn colour coming in, like Cercidiphyllum japonicum, which has a lovely smell, like candy floss.