The Trowels and Tribulations of taking on a Historic Garden, by Maggie Tran

We had the pleasure of welcoming Maggie Tran to our monthly meeting on February 8th to give us this fascinating talk.

Maggie turned from a fine arts background to a career in horticulture. She trained at Wisley for two years and obtained scholarships to places both in this country and abroad. A very impressive list – Great Dixter, Cambo gardens in Scotland, Sissinghurst, Kerdalo in Brittany, Tresco Abbey Gardens – Scilly’s subtropical gem and lastly Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania where, much to her delight she found 80 acres of original wild meadow land to wander through!

Finally, in 2018 she took on the formidable task of restoring the gardens at Bramdean House to its original splendour.

Bramdean House Garden is a “plant lover’s garden” in Hampshire covering 5 acres. The house itself dates back to the 1740s but the garden has been established since the 1940s by then owner, Victoria Wakefield, and her mother. Victoria was a Kew trustee and part of the RHS judging panels.

Victoria was an avid plantswoman and packed the borders with as many different and diverse plants as she could find.

Unfortunately, for some years the garden was left to do its own thing until it was passed down to the next generation – Victoria’s son Teddy and his family who, along with Maggie are working hard to bring it forward to contemporary times and practices. A difficult task by any standards but with a workforce of only 5 (Maggie being the only full-time gardener) sustainability became the order of the day. In 1944 there were 40 gardeners employed!

So it started, but instead of doing a massive, much needed clear-out, Maggie restrained herself for a year to just watch and see what developed. Time was not wasted however as she began to cut back the obvious climbers which were not only entering the roof space but also covering the windows. She said it had been like carefully removing layers to expose the gems beneath.

The Mirror Beds, for which the garden is famous, were completely restored and are now quite magnificent throughout the year. Each one mirroring the other – that is along as the plants behave and don’t start wandering.

The walled kitchen garden which extends to over an acre, the greenhouse and the shed were all also desperately in need of a makeover.

Maggie told us that there were enough leeks growing to feed the whole of Hampshire – well nearly! She and her team have now divided the plot into smaller beds and using a non-dig method are growing a larger variety of vegetables and cut flowers.

All this as well as maintaining the massive sweet pea collection, the orchard with a beautiful meadow and the grand old Grandfather oak – what a task!

All in all a most entertaining and inspiring evening – well worth the effort of stepping out on a very cold and frosty evening.

Bramdean House garden is open  under the NGS on Sundays 19 February and 25 June (13:00 – 15:30)  Visits also by arrangement March to September

Maggie very kindly donated her lecture fee to the charity Perennial.