The Old Rectory, Quinton is undoubtedly one of Northamptonshire’s most impressive and beautiful gardens. Its current owners, Emma Wise and Alan Kennedy, have spent years lovingly developing the gardens into a space that is both inspiring and serene. Taking inspiration from its ecclesiastical past, Emma and Alan have successfully interwoven the historical perspective of a Georgian garden, with a modern aesthetic. The gardens have featured in numerous national publications and were shortlisted in last year’s Nation’s Favourite Garden competition.
Since taking ownership of the Old Rectory, the couple has also developed “Garden4Good”, a guiding principle for the garden, centring around environment, community and the arts.
In this week’s guest blog, Emma describes the vision and ethos behind the garden’s stunning design.
When I first saw Old Rectory in Quinton, it was a hot June day in 2014. The kind of day for wearing the lightest of dresses, driving with the windows of the car open and drinking lemonade.
How easy it was, that day, to fall in love with Old Rectory’s handsome, honey coloured Georgian façade. But it was the scope of the three acres of garden that hugged the house to the north and stretched away to the south that sold it to my husband, Alan. He was set on creating a one-off, truly special garden – “one of the finest gardens in Northamptonshire” and here in Quinton, he felt, he’d discovered just the place to bring his vision to life.
The garden we explored that first day wasn’t quite a blank canvas. It had at one stage been a much loved and well-maintained plot, but in the years preceding our arrival in Quinton, it’s fair to say the garden had been “let go”. There were overgrown wooded areas, a vast lawn that would have yielded bales of hay and shrubs and herbaceous planting fighting with brambles for survival. There were a couple of ponds, too, although it wasn’t until a few weeks after moving in that we discovered the second of these, shielded from view as it was by some particularly vigorous overgrowth.
Neither Alan nor I have any garden design skills to speak of, so it was always our intention to engage a garden designer to help us to bring our garden into being, but how to choose from the myriad of talented folk in this space? Serendipity stepped in with an answer. A chance conversation with a friend led to an introduction to her sister, the garden designer Anoushka Feiler, who arrived in Quinton for an initial meeting bearing “Best in Show” credentials from Chelsea.
Since I now tend to front the garden to the outside world, it often surprises people to learn that the vision for our garden was all Alan’s. He’s been inspired by the softness and fluidity of French gardens, he loves roses, he wanted a bridge, a garden that was authentic to its setting and its history as a former Rectory and had an atmosphere of serenity and calm. It was these visions that he set out to Anoushka, then giving her free rein to interpret the different aspects into her design.
The day Anoushka came to present her design to us, she rolled out a vast to scale plan and we pored over it as she explained her design to us. Anoushka had discovered as part of her research that the ideal Georgian garden would include six different elements. These would include, amongst other things, a menagerie, a pleasure garden and some parkland. Taking this historical perspective into account, Anoushka had set about reimagining each aspect of the Georgian garden into a twenty-first century version, and one that was uniquely tailored to our family too; so our menagerie became a place to attract not just wildlife but also encourage wild play for the children, and the pleasure garden incorporated a sizable natural swimming pond and an area for Alan to enjoy his passion for golf.
The design also cleverly referenced the ecclesiastical past of our home, with the main structure of the formal garden built on the axis of a cross and some of the planting continuing this theme too. Alan’s bridge was there – a Monet inspired design over the swimming pond, and there was a rose garden in a grove of ornamental olive trees. We loved it, and safe to say there is very little variance between the plan Anoushka first revealed to us and the garden as it exists today.
And so, the creation of the garden began in earnest. Though creation feels a somewhat misleading term, because as anyone who’s undergone this sort of project can tell you, it’s initially depressingly destructive; in our case the removal of trees and shrubs, piles of rubble and subsoil, a vast roadway through what had been the main lawned area. After that, the arrival of miles of cabling and irrigation, the digging of a giant bore hole and all the while the countless comings and goings of tradespeople (at one stage, a neighbour set up a temporary B&B to house them all!). But slowly, slowly, the garden started to take shape. Work had started in June 2014 and by the following summer, it was recognisable as the garden that visitors see now, although it took a few more months to finesse and complete.
At the end of August 2015, on the coldest, wettest August bank holiday Monday in memory (my memory, anyway), we opened the garden to the village. A sort of apology for subjecting our neighbours to more than a year of our landscaping works with the associated deliveries, noise and disruption. Despite the weather, much of the village came to see what we’d been up to, and so the next stage of our garden journey began.
It was always our intention to share our garden; having gone to so much effort to create something beautiful there was a sense that to keep it all to ourselves would have been a miserly act. From that very first open day for Quinton village, it became apparent to us the powerful effect that visiting a garden can have. Visitors reported a sense of calmness descending as they entered the garden or told us how inspired they’d been by something they’d seen. What a gift to be able to offer that experience by simply sharing our space! And also, we wondered; what more could be achieved through the interaction between the garden and visitors?
It was this question that led to the creation (not a misleading term this time) of our mission to make our garden a Garden for Good. Those who have visited our garden may be aware that this is the name of our website – Garden4Good.co.uk, and also some of our social media channels.
Garden for Good informs every garden decision we make. I’ve no doubt at times we fall short of our objective to do “good”, but the aspiration is there, and that’s important.
It starts with the sourcing (organic, ethical, local where possible) and filters through from there; guiding for example the way we deal with our garden waste (giant compost bays and potash production), the choices we make about garden art, our interaction with suppliers, the use we make of garden produce (jams, chutneys, oils, vinegars, herbal medicines), our open days and group visits and perhaps most especially the events we put on to connect people to the garden.
Our garden-based events seek to raise money for charity and to combine the uplifting, inspirational or educative activities with the sense of serenity and joy that being in a garden can bring in order to create experiences that become more than just the sum of these two elements. We’d like for guests to depart feeling moved somehow on a deeper level, more connected and whole. It’s a lofty aim, I know. So far we’ve put on all sorts of yoga and wellbeing based events (often concluding with a cold swim in the natural pool!), hosted choir concerts, run a biodynamic gardening course, held a book swap and plant sales and more.
This summer promises to be extra special after the hiatus the past two years has brought us. We have a photography workshop, herbal cookery demonstration, a luxurious outdoor rose-themed retreat day and – this one particularly exciting for me on a personal level – in June, we host a three-day celebration of poetry culminating in a reading from former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. We’re hoping that these events will help to connect the garden with more and more people so we can spread our Garden for Good mission.
It gives us a great deal of satisfaction to watch the garden work its wonders on visitors. And, once the gates are closed, there’s no place I’d rather be, with Alan, enjoying a chilled glass of rose.
The Old Rectory, Quinton website has full details about its upcoming season of events, garden openings and workshops.
View details about the upcoming Poetry Festival at the Old Rectory, Quinton.
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