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 AND BEYOND
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.
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.
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.
THE RESTORATION EXHIBITION
Our newly opened exhibition on the recently completed restoration of the main house is a fascinating detour for all visitors to the gardens this summer and is included in the price of entry. An illustrated timeline maps the many phases of development from the relatively modest Georgian property built in 1802 to the rambling, ivy clad gothic house seen today. The timeline charts its change of use from private dwelling to hotel, and finally its recent dramatic transformation into the historic house and home of our most celebrated poet.
The evolution of the walled garden from working kitchen garden - a sheltered retreat so beloved of Tennyson - to the site of Fred Pontin’s eighteen bungalows is no less an extraordinary tale. Discover the many phases of the work undertaken, from the demolition of the bungalows to the careful planning and stocking of beds, resulting in the magnificent award-winning garden enjoyed today.
We are delighted to reopen the gardens to the public and we hope that during your time here you will enjoy learning more about Tennyson, his family, and his love of gardening and the natural world.
“Went to our withey bed, such beautiful blue hyacinths, orchises, marsh marigolds and cowslips. Wild cherry trees too with single white blossom. The park has for many days been rich with cowslips and furze in flower. The elms are a golden wreath at the foot of the down, we admired the mespilus in flower and the apple trees with their rosy buds. [Alfred] dug the bed ready for the rhodedendrons. A thrush was singing among the other birds, as he said ‘mad with joy’. At sunset the burning splendour of Blackgang Chine, and St Catherine’s, and the red bank of the primeval river contrasted with the turkis-blue of the sea (that is our view from the drawing-room) make altogether, a miracle of beauty. We are glad that Farringford is ours.”
(Emily Tennyson’s Journal, April 1856).