Saturday, 1 March 2014

Beneath the Flight Path

Open Garden Squares Weekend’s partner, the National Trust, includes some beautiful and well-known places in London, such as Ham House; but a less frequented gem lies under London’s main flight path – Osterley House Gardens. Standing by the entrance, I looked up and was fascinated by the sight of aeroplanes dutifully stacked and waiting their turn for the descent to Heathrow. This is a plane spotter’s paradise, as well as a gardener’s delight.

Thankfully the noise of the turbines is indistinct and distant and soon you forget them entirely and become absorbed in the delights of the new gardens which await you. These gardens were only started eight years ago when the Head Gardener, Andy Eddy, took up his role. At the time not a snowdrop was to be found in the old park, but now they nodded cheerfully in abundance under the trees. Andy Eddy came to Osterley with impressive gardening credentials, having trained and honed his gardening talents at Kew and Sissinghurst - and it shows. 

Starting at the house, there is a typical Georgian garden, created by the 18th-century banker family, Robert and Sarah Child, consisting of a long walk around a large meadow. Otherwise known as the 'smug walk', it has stunning views back to the house, hidden every now and then by copses to enhance the effect of the sight of the house from across a countrified and bucolic meadow. In late spring the long walk, which extends for a mile, is carpeted with bluebells. Bankers then, and now, needed something on which to spend their wealth and they chose a garden house, designed by Robert Adam, as the focal point of Mrs Child’s Flower Garden, and an American garden. A Temple of Pan with stunning views of the great meadow was added, a meadow which has never been ploughed or fertilised and is a permanent haven for wild flowers. 

As well as faithfully recreating the past in the Long Walk, Flower Garden and Garden House, Andy has added some splendid modern touches. The Tudor walled garden is now a potager with a difference. There are four, huge, monumental vegetable plots. The garden obelisks are lime yellow instead of the traditional dark green and the vegetables have escaped from ordered rows and cascade into one another, showing off their red foliage and orange pumpkins. Rainbow chard, Italian heirloom beans and dahlias compete with one another in a riot of colour, usually associated with a traditional cottage garden. Is there a gardening award for such a show? There ought to be if there isn’t.


Andy and his team of two gardeners and dedicated volunteers are kept busy at Osterley. A winter garden has been planted as well as the Diamond Jubilee wood. In the past year they have lost 40 trees to the winds: logs lie sadly next to the flower beds. 70 arrangements of cut flowers grace the tables and sideboards of the house every week. The cut flowers will be on sale to the public this year, alongside the many heritage varieties of plants. Last year one modest polytunnel helped them to raise £6000 in plant sales – and the polytunnel itself is a work of art and joy to behold. Trained by two German assistants, who were originally employed by Vita Sackville West at Sissinghurst, Andy learned from them the art of using every inch of space in the polytunnel.

The climbing roses had just been clipped and pruned for next summer when I visited and their winter outline against the brick wall is worth keeping as an example of how to bend and shape a rose for maximum blooms in June. Visit in June as part of the Open Garden Squares Weekend and you will be able to smell and admire them as well as visiting the lake, working farm, and, of course, the tea shop in the stables.

Information on visiting Osterley on Open Garden Squares Weekend »