In his poem of 1854, “To the Rev. F.D. Maurice”, Tennyson refers to his garden as “…careless-order’d…” Familiar as this type of garden is to us today, the less formal, apparently random planting schemes of shrubs and perennials, which the Tennysons encouraged and cultivated at Farringford, would have been considered old fashioned by their contemporaries.
From the outset the Tennysons were keen gardeners, often to be found digging, planting seedlings and organising the beds. They took special delight in the changing seasons, the flowering plants and wild creatures, as often documented by Emily in her journal. Similarly, Tennyson, a poet of landscape and of nature, refers in several poems to individual shrubs and trees, a few of which survive to this day. It is our firm intention to recreate as faithfully as possible the landscaping and planting schemes as they would have been when Tennyson and his family lived here, and this rich resource of primary material, together with Helen Allingham’s vibrant watercolours, have been our invaluable guide.
THE WALLED GARDEN
Tennyson's love of the natural world was such that he would not permit the cutting down of trees, which guaranteed his seclusion, or the plucking of flowers, whether wild or cultivated. But he made an exception for the walled garden, and here a great variety of flowering plants grew in wild profusion among the ornamental cabbages, vegetables, fig, quince and apple trees.
The garden slopes to the west, at the top of which is a replica of the arbour which the poet built with rushes gathered from the withy bed, so that Emily could enjoy the afternoon sun and the view facing west. In time, the sweetly scented climbing plants will engulf this restful retreat, much as they did in Helen Allingham’s portrayal of the original.
The colourful planting scheme visitors will see today includes oriental poppies; poet’s laurel (Danae racemosa); ‘King Arthur’, ‘Galahad’ and ‘Guinevere’ varieties of delphinium; and tobacco plants (Nicotiana sylvestris), although they are no match for Tennyson’s, described by one visitor as towering over seven feet high!
Fruit and vegetables are also being grown, in keeping with the practical use of the garden, with additional varieties of apple and quince trees being planted this year. A Victorian replica working greenhouse shelters a fan trained fig and is put to good use for the cultivation of the many traditional shrubs and flowers documented in Emily’s journal.
A beautiful terracotta Arts & Crafts sundial by the celebrated potter, Mary Seton Watts, is located close to the greenhouse. Her husband, George Frederic Watts, was widely considered to be the greatest painter of the Victorian era. A close family friend, he painted numerous portraits of Tennyson, including the lovely so-called ‘Moonlight’ portrait, a copy of which hangs in the house.
AND BEYOND ...
Elsewhere, visitors can explore the copse with its enchanting woodland perennials, and enjoy a walk around the recreated historic parkland, which affords lovely views of the house, and of High Down, its rounded upstanding ridge referenced in Tennyson’s poem, “To the Rev. F. D. Maurice.” You may also be lucky enough to catch sight of the red squirrels that have made Farringford their home.
THE RESTORATION EXHIBITION
Included in the price of entry to the garden is the Restoration Exhibition - a fascinating history of the many phases of development from the fairly modest Georgian property to the rambling, ivy clad gothic house of today. Also included is the story of the transformation of Tennyson's kitchen garden to the award-winning walled garden you see now.
For more information visit the Restoration Exhibition page.