22 June 2001


Restoring a listed garden

created by Margery Fish is

not for the faint-hearted, as

Tom Montgomery reports

ALL cottage gardens owe something to Margery Fish, who championed this horticultural style until her death in 1969. Her garden at East Lambrook Manor in Somerset, one of only 120 in the country to have a Grade 1 listing, is nationally famous and was where she carried on her dedicated work.

She wrote eight books and many varieties of English cottage garden plants were saved from extinction because of her diligence.

Periodically, gardens of this stature have to undergo a restoration. This daunting task has recently fallen to the houses new owners, Robert and Marianne Williams. Before they bought the 15th century property two years ago, their green-fingered knowledge was confined to a back yard in Clapham for which they purchased the odd plant at B&Q!

Other potential buyers had been put off the house because of its famous connection. "Margery who?" said the Williamses. "Never heard of her!" They plunged straight in.

Their gardening ignorance has proved a blessing in disguise, according to Marianne. Where the more knowledgeable feared to tread they were not intimidated and had no pre-conceived ideas. "We comfort ourselves with the thought that Margery Fish wasnt a gardener, either, when she came here in 1939," said Marianne. Fortunately, in tackling the one-and-a-half acres of tightly planted garden section by section, the couple could call on experts. Pam Gossage and Maureen Whitty had worked in the garden with its famous creator and Mark Stainer had been there since 1975. Two thousand original slides were used as reference.

Marianne, a dietician, has become the organiser and Robert, an oesteopath, part-time handyman. Where plants put in originally had grown out of proportion they had to be removed. The object was not to restore an historic monument, more to go for "an educated and informed interpretation of how Margery Fish would have created the garden were she alive today".

The £100,000 alterations have included turning the 17th century malthouse into a tea room, gallery and garden courses centre and moving the nursery, which sells plants propagated from cuttings from the garden, back to its original site behind it.

Margery Fish was not only a famous gardener of her day, she was also a very generous woman who would dig up plants to give to admiring visitors. The result is that many have disappeared from the garden but may be surviving elsewhere. The Williamses would love to hear of them or obtain cuttings.

The Margery Fish Garden, South Pelherton, Somerset, which houses the national collection of geraniums, is open every day until October 31.

Inquiries: 01460-240328.

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