Why Bletchingley's The Old Rectory gardens are in vogue
PUBLISHED: 10:46 16 June 2015 | UPDATED: 11:24 16 June 2015
Enjoy the impressive formal gardens at The Old Rectory in Bletchingley, a location that may well feel familiar, as not only has it been the setting for a number of films but was also used for Victoria Beckham's photoshoot in Vogue magazine last year
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine June 2015
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Need to know...
The Old Rectory, Bletchingley RH1 4QW
Open: Sunday June 28 (11am-4pm)
Admission: £5, children free
More details: ngs.org.uk
Visitors also welcome by arrangement
Tel: 01883 743388 / 07515 394506
When Trudie and Tony Procter decided to move to Surrey in 1989, they were looking for a larger house after living in a Tudor woodcutter’s cottage in Berkshire. Searching in the area where Tony grew up, they immediately fell in love with The Old Rectory in Bletchingley. Sitting in five acres, with a further field across the road and in a lovely rural setting, they could see that it had great potential for a family home with a difference.
“The Old Rectory is a house within a house,” explains Trudie. “In the middle, there’s a butler’s pantry with chimney stack and inglenook fireplace dating from the 1500s. However, the original house was later knocked down, keeping just the core central area, and rebuilt in 1786.”
The elegant Georgian house you see today took the couple years of work to achieve, stripping off white pebble-dash and replacing with sandstone, as well as creating a garden around it appropriate to its setting.
For Trudie, who was in her early thirties when they moved in and more focused on renovating the house, developing a garden has been a process of learning as she went along.
“I was a bit daunted by the garden initially, with the size of it, and it was a trip to Sissinghurst in Kent that inspired me,” she says. “I bought the book in the shop and was fascinated by the work of Vita Sackville-West and her connection with the Bloomsbury Set.
“So I decided to design the garden in a similar way to Sissinghurst, with different areas but not so intensely, and to put in a formal topiary garden and woodland area. We even have an ancient L-shaped moat the same as at Sissinghurst.”
Starting from scratch
With a fairly blank canvas of lawns and a backdrop of mature trees, including reputedly the oldest Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree) in the country, Trudie and Tony have been able to put their stamp clearly on the landscape and created an atmospheric garden of parts.
A parterre by the house, with shaped holly trees, a topiary yew garden and beds of lavender bounded by buxus beds, took around three to four years to look fully formed, and a rose walk was planted with white ‘Iceberg’ roses. Statuary and striking urns with architectural plants such as hardy date palms were added as the garden evolved.
A productive walled kitchen garden was also developed, abundant and a touch charmingly wild, from self-seeding statuesque Onopordum acanthium and adorned with archways draped in ‘Rambling Rector’ and ‘Dorothy Perkins’ roses. It has been modified a few times, enlarging the beds, and includes sinkholes with great crested newts and a new cutting garden inspired by gardening guru Sarah Raven.
Throughout the garden, there are also stone structures built by the couple’s son, Alexander, and builder Roger Shaw Western, who also restored the glasshouses in the kitchen garden, including an archway at the bottom of the garden and a new rill, inspired by the double rill at Hestercombe in Somerset, replacing a mound created from the Tudor house rubble. “The nice thing about Roger and Alex is that I can do a drawing and they can follow it through,” Trudie adds.
An elegant metal pergola with gold balls on top, placed over the parterre on the terrace and made by locally-based Jay Smith of Sanctuary Metalworks, is one of the latest additions to adorn the garden.
Despite having no formal training, the couple not only created but also maintain the garden themselves, with Tony in charge of the lawns, the major hedges and some weeding, while Trudie is out there every day gardening, including doing all the topiary and parterre with hand shears.
The south-facing garden spreads mostly out from the back of the house and with rich sandy, free-draining soil there have been few challenges to its progress.
“All Tony and I have done is go from garden to garden gaining knowledge, as I have no horticultural training,” says Trudie. “The process has been pretty straight-forward – I see something I like and think how it can work in my garden.
“We travel all over Italy and France, taking inspiration from gardens such as Villa d’Este in Tivoli, Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore, Villa Lante in Bracciano, where HRH Prince Charles has a summer school, and Villandry in the Loire Valley, as well as from Iford Manor in Wiltshire designed by Harold Peto (1854-1933). I also like books sourced from the archives of Country Life and found Great Gardens of Italy by Monty Don a lovely resource.”
As well as providing ideas, their travels are also a great source for the decorative items they love so much, such as the urns. This love of classical architecture and form is clearly evident in the garden, with pillars of yew, allées and avenues.
“I would say my design is Italianate and my style is quite masculine,” continues Trudie. “I like straight lines; I like hard lines. I don’t really go for pretty plantings. I like it all to be bold, with large pots and architectural plants.”
The foil of year-round evergreens is augmented with a palette of pinks, mauve and white from the roses, lavender, peonies and philadelphus in summer.
In the spotlight
Lovely in all seasons, it is no wonder that the house and garden have been used in a range of filming, fashion shoots and music videos, such as The Politician’s Wife with Juliet Stevenson and Trevor Eve, Manchild with Nigel Havers, the BBC’s Emma, Esquire magazine with Matt Smith, American Vogue with Paloma Faith and English Vogue with Victoria Beckham.
“It’s nice talking to the actors; they’re all different characters,” says Trudie. “But the amount of people needed and the time it takes is absolutely unbelievable. For example, I saw Juliet Stevenson doing a scene where she came down our main stairway into the hall and had to pick up an envelope with photographs in it and then put it down again. I went out shopping and when I came back she was still doing it! All that waiting around!”
Since 2010, Trudie and Tony have been opening their garden to visitors for one day each June through the National Gardens Scheme. “I like the pressure of the deadline of opening, love talking about gardens, and you learn from other people too,” says Trudie. “And all while raising money for charity.” Return visitors enjoy watching the progress of the garden and discovering what the latest project may be, such as the new rill, and soon the plans being formulated for an exotic garden around the moat.
Get the look...
• For a classical Italianate style, use strong geometric lines and shapes with clipped yew, box topiary and parterres
• Make one central piece of statuary or container a focal point
• Visit historical gardens to pick up inspiration for your own
• Add height with standard roses and climbers on obelisks
• Create a walk with avenues of repeated planting, such as standard roses, underplanted with ribbons of lavender
• Source interesting pieces from auctions and antique garden shops – Trudie recommends The Old Dairy in Oxted