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John Evelyn’s Garden at Albury Park

December 21, 2013
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Semi-circular pool on the upper terrace with retaining wall behind. In the centre of the wall is the entrance to a tunnel extending into the hillside.

Recently I was lucky enough to have a tour of an almost unknown 17th century formal garden designed by diarist and author John Evelyn. The gardens, at Albury Park in the picturesque Surrey Hills near Guildford, looked particularly fine on a frosty and misty winter’s morning.

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Upper terrace

Evelyn’s design includes two exceptionally long parallel grassed terraces, a bath house, a line of Yew trees  – described by William Cobbett in his Rural Rides in 1822 – and a semi-circular pool with retaining wall behind. In this wall is the entrance to a tunnel (or Crypta) which goes into the hillside under Silver Wood. The tunnel imitates the grotto of Sejanus at Posilippo near Naples, visited by Evelyn on his Grand Tour of Europe.

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Specimen conifer in the wilderness

Evelyn’s garden also had a canal beyond the lower terrace and a long-gone vineyard. Formed by widening the fast-flowing River Tillingbourne, the canal was so wide it was never a successful feature and was filled in. This area was planted with specimen trees in the 19th century as a wilderness (a kind of cultivated wood with walks) by then owner Henry Drummond.

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The wilderness

This wilderness is a magical area, full of unusual trees, including fine conifers and many oaks, including a Black Oak (Quercus velutina) and a  Lebanon Oak (Quercus libani).

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Limes ‘marching’ across the landscape

There is also a line of two rows of limes, planted very close together with a footpath inbetween, which reminds me of the marching hammers in Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

The gardens are part of the private Albury Park estate owned by Northumberland Estates, but are luckily open to the public twice a year for the National Gardens Scheme – once in spring for the many bulbs and again later in the year for the autumn colour.

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