Victoria and I visited Markenfield Hall a few weeks ago to take a tour of the garden. It was one of the hottest, sunniest days of the summer. Giles the gardener met us at the gatehouse accompanied by his little terrier “Plum”. He explained he would be guiding us around the perimeter of the moat which encircles the Hall. The west side involved walking through a field of cows. I had my walking sandals on – not the greatest choice in view of the numerous cow pats and thistles, but at least I hadn’t worn heels, like one of our party …
The moat was still and we could hear the buzzing of bees entering the hives at the side of the house. We learned about honey fungus which had attacked many of the trees. It spreads underground, attacking and killing the roots of plants and trees and then decaying the dead wood. It is the most destructive fungal disease in UK gardens. There is no cure – affected plants need to be removed, destroyed and replaced.
We were then directed through a little gate onto the north side of the garden. The moat and Hall were to our right and to our left bulrushes, an orchard full of trees heavy with apples, pears and plums and swathes of meadow flowers which Plum weaved in and out of, disappearing momentarily in the tall growth. I was disappointed not to see the black swans I had seen on my previous visit. Giles explained that otters have been regular visitors to the moat and have killed two pairs of black swans. The decision has been taken to welcome the otters and that it is cruel to keep replacing the swans in view of their almost certain fate! We admired various roses on the north facing wall of the Hall including one called Malvern Hills. Giles reassured us that they no longer use pesticides at Markenfield, preferring to let nature find its own balance, which is good to hear.
Through another small gate we reached the east side of the Hall from where we could get a real feel for the size of the 600 acre estate, with views across open fields as far as the eye could see. We then needed to negotiate a small stile to take us back round to the south side. This took a little time, what with the need to social distance, a couple of walking sticks, the heels and Plum trying to join in, but everyone eventually got over unscathed. The borders on the south side of the Hall are a delight – there are even apricots growing there. Plum was obviously too hot so she dunked herself in the moat before using the grass as a towel to dry her belly on.
Giles led us through the archway of the gatehouse and into the courtyard. There we admired a fig tree, an amazing purple and white hydrangea, a magnolia with the biggest flowers I have ever seen and a carpet of Erigeron karvinskianus – apparently better known as Mexican fleabane or by me as very pretty pink and white daisies. I was slightly distracted during this talk because Plum had met up with a sheepdog – they were indulging in rough play on the lawn – Plum sounded quite fierce at times, but then began humping the sheepdog – must have been the excitement!
By this stage my tummy was rumbling, not helped by the knowledge that we had added to our ticket price a slice of what was described as “Yorkshire cake”. So when Giles asked if there were any further questions, I enquired where we should go to pick up our cake – I don’t think that was quite what he had in mind, but he politely pointed to the doorway that led into the undercroft of the Hall. Others indicated that they too had ordered cake, so I decided to take the lead and be first to venture in. It was all very efficient with paper carrier bags laid out on a table – two with my name on. I whisked them away and Victoria and I sped to the car park where we set up our picnic chairs and unwrapped our cakes. They turned out to be wedges of gargantuan proportion – mine a chocolate orange cake, complete with a segment of the famous orange on top. Victoria’s was a lemon curd cake. We hadn’t come equipped for anything of this size, so I ended up sporting much of mine on my face and hands – the heat of the day didn’t help the situation. The sheepdog joined us but I reminded him dogs aren’t allowed chocolate. Victoria saved some of hers to share with Albert – I think hers might have been a bit bigger than mine.