Design, In the Garden, Travel Notes

Rosemary Verey’s Barnsley House and Garden

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As both a garden aficionado as well as a “woman of a certain age,” I had more than a few personal reasons to visit Rosemary Verey’s English Cotswold home last May…but the compelling reason was that she came to gardening late in life, writing her first book at 62; quickly followed by 17 more in a mere 20 years (that’s where our similarities stop). All the way back to the 1980’s, Barnsley was a must-stop for American gardeners traveling to England. The featured image (above) is of her multi-photographed Laburnum tunnel, which quikly became the rage and inspired many spinoffs. Hers is additionally bordered by spring allium on both sides.

Though she passed away in 2001, I still wanted to make that pilgrimage, and pay my respects, having met her a few times in America. While she was the acknowledged apostle of the “English style,”(competing at times with her contemporary, Penelope Hobhouse) what I find more significant is that she enthusiastically helped American gardeners embrace the fact that they were fully capable of creating beautiful gardens. And this went hand in hand with encouraging and guiding them in rightfully pursuing a quest for a “native vernacular.” Which to me must include a bit of whimsy. How much more intriguing to slip through a little opening in a big hedge than march through a gate? Or sit on a stone bench with an unexpected high green back?

Rosemary Verey also had a fine sense of “finishing” details, like these simple but polished square borders of boxwood drawing attention to the angled line-up of specimen trees.

She began redesigning Barnsley House’s gardens in the 1950’s to international interest. The house’s Cotswold stone front is at the end of a longish, slightly curved driveway that gives you a peek of its full facade only after you’ve negotaiated a subtle turn. A low stacked-stone wall conceals a generous curved parking area that is a must with so many visitors.

Drawing from garden history and its literature, she developed her own language of classical formal design. Clipped and pruned evergreens are a perfect example. Yes, they have been seen in English gardens over the centuries, but here they are given a touch of modernity with their generous form that prefectly scales with the stone house, accenting the corners of a large knot garden. Further interest is provided with her selection of variegated rather than solid green euonymus; as is euonymus itself a design note, given its many multi-green cultivar options (favorites at Parterre, also).

While others, a bit wobbly and showing their age, are content to be simple, but large globes on trunks.

At the back of the house, deliberately squatty, flattened rows of yew provide a counterpart to a large house that is cozied up with this effort. And the ever-present wisteria softens the old Cotswold facade.

By this point you must be aware that there is an affection here for yellow, in its many guises…not the common English choice for a basic color scheme. We started with a long, yellow Laburnum tunnel, swept past yellow-green variegated topiaries, and here are generous clusters of deep butter-yellow lupines. Made all the more dramatic when the houses outer properties are planted with all dark evergreens.

With now and then spots of blue and purples (as in the alliums).

It’s so encouraging to gardeners to know that “design” is a moving, but also very achievable, target. For example, while Vita-Sackville West in the early 1900’s gave us her version of garden rooms and herbaceous borders at Sissinghurst, Rosemary Verey at Barnsley House later introduced a seemingly very similar and noteworthy-for-consideration “English style” in the garden. Which, of course, would not have been complete without recalling some classic architectural conceits from the past…a Palladian temple…

and Gothic summerhouse.

Finally, Rosemary Verey’s charming take on the potager/kitchen garden, very bountiful as was another hallmark of her style…

Fortunately, for us, Barnsley House has become an exclusive boutique hotel with spa and restaurant, geographically located for exploring all that the (northern) Cotswolds have to offer. While my friend and I loved our tea in the afternoon I would have been just as happy to have a glas of wine in this warm, comfy “bar area.”

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

16 thoughts on “Rosemary Verey’s Barnsley House and Garden

  1. It is no wonder the first picture draws so many in – beyond words! Again, thank you for sharing such beauty with all of us!

    1. It is my greatest pleasure, Tyna, to share the beauty in my coming and goings with my followers!!

      1. Well if your you can enjoy life it must be nice to have everthing while are struggling just to buy food pay rent or not have a place of there own

  2. Magnificent…just…mind boggling…I love it so. An artist of living plants…thank you for th3se awe inspiring photos. I’ll have a cuppa to that. franki

  3. Bettie! What a beautiful post and tribute to a beautiful place and extraordinary creative spirit! I am so excited to lead a watercolor workshop in the Cotswolds this spring (May 14-19) Wish you would join us! Xo Frances

    1. LOve this concidence, Frances, and can’t wait to see you in NYC or England.
      Lucky travelers who get to be with you and partake of your many talents. Someday soon I hope I can make the trip!! xxBettie

  4. Dear Bettie; I have lived in Palm Beach in the winter with my family, and Newport as a Navy wife with reunions. Also once Traveled to the U.K. on the Queen Mary II and so pleased to see your renewed visits to England with your editorial and photographic contributions. I do hope someday you will cover the historical Annapolis, Maryland Wm.Paca House where our wedding reception was held when the PACA House was part of the USNA Carvel Hall.

    1. Oh Bonny, you just mentioned one of my favorite spots in our country…the Wm. Paca House. When I was giving a talk down on the Eastern Shore a few years bcka, I made it a priority to visit that exceptional property, and building!! And of course I included it in a blog post…xB

  5. Meeting the charming Rosemary Verey years ago was the highlight of a trip through the Cotswolds many years ago. It is wonderful to know that her home is now a hotel and that her gorgeous gardens are still being maintained to her visionary standards.

    1. A lovely second life for a storied house…I’ve long-awaited my visit!! Maybe the next time I shall stay there. xxB

  6. Your posts are exquisite! I live in Texas and one of the saddest times of my life was when we had to move from Washington, D.C. back to Houston where I could no longer grow peonies (without having to put crushed ice over them multiple times in the winter). Today is sunny and cold and I’m so glad to see the beautiful gardens you post– it takes me away to my days of cutting mounds of peonies and see all the beautiful tulips and crocus springing forth near the Capital…..thank you so much! You are a blessing to all gardeners!!!

  7. What an incredible surprise to stumble on this article on Google news feed. Love Rosemary Very books. Struggle to grow anything close on the plains of Kansas
    but, we have the Flint Hills!!!!!

  8. Bettie, I am a relatively new subscriber and can’t tell you how much I appreciate your fine writing, your knowledge of landscape history and practice — and your great photography! You do it all with such generosity and enthusiasm! Thank you!

  9. I, too, have been a Rosemary Verey fan for many years and have poured over her books! I was fortunate enough to meet her in her garden during a visit in the mid- nineties. Truly a star struck moment for me but she was so kind and spent some time with me.
    Thank you for your article… it brought back a treasured memory!

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