“But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye” – Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling’s poetic tenet from The Glory of the Garden could not ring truer for archaeologists Francis Pryor and Maisie Pryor who, in the Autumn of 1992, acquired a large field bounded by hawthorn hedges and ditches in a remote corner of the Lincolnshire Fens.
The spoil was exhausted by half a century of intensive agriculture, yet within a few years the couple had built a home there and transformed a modern arable desert into a flourishing haven for plants, wildlife, and people.
Braving the winter winds and summer droughts of the Fen country, the Pryors set about creating a garden that was ambitious in scope but human in scale.
Fruit and vegetables
Francis Pryor is one of Britain’s most distinguished living archaeologists, the excavator of Flag Fen near Peterborough, a sheep farmer, author of 17 books, including The Fens, and a regular presenter on Channel 4’s Time Team.
His latest book A Fenland Garden is peppered with the empirical wisdom of a writer that has a very special relationship with land and the soil.
They planted a wood that, in time, would be carpeted in snowdrops and bluebells, an orchard for traditional varieties of apple and pear, and a vegetable garden to ensure self-sufficiency in asparagus and Brussels sprouts.
Around the central axis of a long border they built an interconnected ensemble of beds, borders, paths and walks, punctuated by places to rest and reflect in.
The charming and informative account of the garden at Inley Drove near Holbeach St Johns is made all the more interesting by nuggets of Fenland lore, by takes of walks in the woods and by vignettes of a plantsman’s trials and tribulations.
Ultimately, it is the story of bringing something beautiful into being, of embedding a garden in its local landscape, and of reclaiming for nature one small patch of English ground.
As a historian of landscape and culture, Francis Pryor embeds his fascinating narrative of garden creation within the context of his beloved Fenlands. He charts the challenges and rewards of working within denuded monoculture landscapes to create flourishing wildlife gardens.
Over time, the gardens and farm gradually give life back to a soil emptied of wildlife by intensive post-war cultivation.
Structure and shelter
Native hedgerows create design structure as well as shelter for wildlife and plants. Alongside the gardens, the wood and hay meadows, they plant an orchard, a nut walk and a vegetable plot as well as rose gardens, flower borders and a small plant nursery.
As Inley Drove Farm develops, the plants take centre stage in the story, echoing the real-life development from arable field to gardened oasis.
Local characters and histories provide a backdrop to the garden’s creation, while details about the changing climate give a broader context.
Pryor’s description of their inspirations, successes and occasional failures make this a book for all gardeners, while the interweaving of the ancient environment will delight historians and lovers of the Fens.
Looking back on the beginning of their journey, he writes: “I now appreciate that starting a garden was an emotional journey. It was about feelings, affection and security. These things were far more important than the urge to design and create something original or spectacular.”
As the darker nights of autumn and winter roll in this is the perfect book, packed with wonderful anecdotes and observations, for every gardener, nature lover and those with a love of the unique Lincolnshire landscapes.
A Fenland Garden is published by Head of Zeus (Apollo).
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