The Garden Guide

Book: Gardening tours by J.C. Loudon 1831-1842
Chapter: Middlesex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Wilshire, Dorsetshire, Hampshire, Sussex, and Kent in the Summer of 1832

Blenheim woodland garden

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Near the house, and from that to the cascade, the surface is sprinkled with choice trees and shrubs, planted in dug patches, in the usual manner. These patches seldom contain more than a single tree or shrub, or a standard rose, with a few flowers round its base. There are at the same time a number of large patches or masses, containing azaleas, rhododendrons, and other flowering shrubs, intermixed with flowers. Some of these masses are bordered by young oaks, twisted so as to form a wreath, care being taken, in pruning them, never to cut the leaves. In some cases, the common oak is used for this purpose, and in others, the Turkey: both form very beautiful edgings. The subsoil being "stonebrash" or rock, before the patches could be planted, a quantity of rock or stonebrash was dug out, and the excavation filled with earth. In consequence of the porous rocky bottom, this earth is washed in, and in part lost in the interstices of the substratum, so that the surface of many of the beds or patches is 7 in., and in some cases as much as 1.5 ft., below the level of the adjoining lawn. This is a very great deformity; and, indeed, the edgings both of the walks and beds, throughout the whole place, partake of the same character of harshness. Mr. Jones, who has been head gardener to His Grace at White Knights and Blenheim since the year 1802, is as well aware of these faults as ourselves, but has not hands enough to remedy either them, or several other equally glaring defects. No expense, or, perhaps, we should rather say, no effort, has been spared to obtain not only fine plants, but also large specimens of them. There are quantities of large Magnolia conspicua, tree pï¾µonies, purple magnolias, Pavia carnea and rubra, choice azaleas, kalmias, hybrid rhododendrons, wistarias, and, in short, of all the more rare and beautiful trees and shrubs procurable at the nurseries; a long straight line of tulip trees, and another long straight line of trees of Magnolia conspicua. There are many circular masses of heaths, which seem to thrive here remarkably well. Erica stricta is now between 3 ft. and 4 ft. high, forming magnificent bushes, and covered with flowers. Erica mediterranea grows most vigorously, and has already attained the height of 5 ft. The same may be said of E. australis; and all the other hardy species are proportionately vigorous. Among the trees which thrive remarkably well here are, the tulip tree, Judas tree, Virgilia, Ailantus, Nyssa aquatica, liquidambar, sassafras, and the Balearic box, which, like the common box, is of a much more beautiful green when grown under the shade of trees than when fully exposed to the sun. There are some old trees of Catalpa, 30 ft. high, with heads from 30 ft. to 50 ft. in diameter, now covered with flowers. Among the other old trees, besides the oaks, are some deciduous cypresses and Lombardy poplars; but the greater part of both these latter have been cut down since we last saw the grounds in 1810. The poplars were generally considered to be the oldest and finest in England; the few which remain are decayed at the top, and cannot last many years. The deciduous cypresses are also decaying; though large, they are smaller than those at Syon. There is a Portugal laurel, the branches of which are 100 yards round at the base; those of the Portugal laurel in Eastwell Park, in Kent, are considerably larger. A green-house in a tent-like shape has been formed at one angle near the house; and a handsome rustic shed, open on all sides, and covered with shingles, has been erected in the interior of the grounds. There are various other covered seats, but none of them are good. There is a circular piece of green trelliswork, with gilt balls, which we consider the ne plus ultra of bad taste and absurdity. It would disgrace a cockney tea-garden; and the sooner it is swept away from the grounds at Blenheim the better. So much for the details of all that part of what is called the duke's private garden, which lies between the palace and the cascade.