Walking through my still lovely October secret garden, and then through misty Hannah Park, which lies just across the street, I recalled another enchanting place near my cottage home in England, deep in the Herefordshire countryside.
The eleven-acre garden, about fifteen car-minutes away, was a stunning, semi-wild place, and an integral part of How Caple Court, a huge Edwardian mansion built high above it.
Being far from the madding crowd, it didn’t draw hordes of tourists.
Early one misty April morning six years ago, I decided to visit again. The owner, a slim, handsome man of about 50, was just leaving in his Aston Martin. We exchanged smiles and nods in his large, walled courtyard. He drove off.
I’d be alone amid wild glory, likely for hours!
I left my watch in the car, dropped the four-pound admission fee into the empty ‘honesty box,’ strode through dew-damp grass to the arched entrance, and into centuries past...
Britain’s National Trust, established in January of 1895, preserves wonderful old gardens- and great houses- almost gone to rack and ruin, but they hadn’t been invited here. Someone occasionally tended the wide, rolling lawn that prefaced the garden rooms; little else had been done, thank goodness. Groomed beds and perfectly planted borders would erase How Caple Garden’s peculiar magic.
Wild peacocks screamed as they shook out their magnificent finery. Songbirds’ lovely melodies echoed through much of this immense sunken garden. Lost in wonder, I recalled scraps of Lord Byron’s poetry as I paused under crumbling arches that still supported perfumed delicate roses, whose scent seemed to recall the wispy revenants of once-living human beings.
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, from which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all
I love Byron.
How Caple Garden is certainly haunted.
I think this place relives memories it loves. I absolutely did hear threads of classical music, barely discernable, that seemed to come from the wet earth and its sun-warmed riot of spring flowers. Light and shadow played together, suggesting fanciful wisps of people in motion. It was just possible to perceive faint laughter, damped by the thick, springy moss that blanketed everything. I felt I could slip into yesterday and never come back, should I choose to…
Sometimes bushes rustled, though there was no wind. A sunken, leaf-choked, rain-filled pool appeared bottomless. My reflection rippled with each drip-drip of moisture that shivered the flat, black water. Narrow, channeled, barely moving streams appeared and disappeared into and around other large and small pools and overgrown paths. Thickly rooted vegetation, with its power to uproot whatever blocks the life-giving sunlight, was gradually cleaving- and heaving- acres of ornate, massive stonework.
There were places so overgrown I had to trace their weatherworn, indistinct shapes to discern what they had once been. Inside one vine-smothered nook I found an ancient, dew-damp stone bench. Spiders wove complex, glistening webs above and below it. Broken branches and twigs lay strewn about. Nearby, lush ivy cloaked high stone walls and enveloped Corinthian columns. The rhythmic sound of dripping water, nature’s patient clock, softly ticked away the decades. In a few centuries this wondrous place will blur and blend into the rich earth, like an ancient, forgotten photograph left outside....
The garden knows nothing of modern life—of a world that’s moved on to highways, jets, fast cars, and pop culture. A faun half-hidden in the tangled undergrowth wouldn’t seem strange, or fantastic.
It’s the most wildly romantic place I’ve even been to.
Finally, hours later, driven by hunger, I left, feeling somehow—shifted. No other word will do. There was a shift in my perception of how I fit into the grand scheme of things.
This unforgettable garden had called me back one last time- to listen to the clean silence, to look deeper, to feel the life that was still there. I eliminated distractions, like watches, companions and chatter, and found a kind of nirvana.
Update: Six years later. How Caple Court is now hosting weddings. Aerial overviews show a more ordered lawn and garden close to the house. (Perhaps the proceeds earned are being used to slowly resurrect this vast place. I hope the tidying will be confined to areas close to the mansion...)
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. The magnificent, timeless, wild beauty I experienced has left a soft, permanent glow in my memory.