Rockcliffe is one of the best gardens in the Cotswolds. Created over the last 30 years by garden designer and owner Emma Keswick, it now extends to eight acres and oozes English country garden chic at every turn. This was not the case when the Keswicks arrived in 1981 – there was no real garden at all – and it was not until nine years later that the garden as we see it today began to take shape.
The mellow Cotswold stone house sits handsomely at the centre of the design. From the upstairs windows at the front of the house the view looks down onto a generous stone terrace overflowing in summer with giant regale lilies, Alchemilla mollis and poppies. Beyond, a large lawn mown into perfect stripes ends with a ha-ha and a dramatic bronze sculpture – ‘Southern Shade’– by Nigel Hall. On either side of the lawn are two rows of enormous clipped beech obelisks which taper inwards slightly as they move away from the house, creating a false perspective that elongates the view. Directly beside the house is a dark rectangular canal pool with a stone statue of Nandi the bull, the mythological attendant of the Hindu god Shiva, at its centre. Hanging over and almost into the water are six immaculate specimens of Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ – an unusual but very effective design touch inspired by a visit to Helen Dillon’s garden in Dublin.
To the north of the house the garden drops away to the potager and then rises again up the hillside opposite. An ornamental wooden gate frames a wonderful view of yew topiary doves, grass steps and a stone, domed dovecote, built in 2001 and topped by a gilded weathervane. By midsummer, the whole hillside is awash with brilliant white oxe-eye daisies and in the nearby arboretum, mounds of Rosa ‘Cerise Bouquet’, their arching branches filled with clusters of magenta rose flowers, appear to float above the daisies like a pink cloud.
by Clive Nichols heads to Rockcliffe in Gloucestershire
Rockcliffe Garden, Rockcliffe, Upper Slaughter, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL54 2JW
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