I first heard of Frank and Marjorie Lawley’s miraculous garden at Herterton when Penguin Books published The Englishman’s Garden in 1982. I marvelled at their ability to grow so many interesting plants in the harsh Northumberland uplands that I had known in my own teenage years at nearby Kirkharle. The garden was only six years old then, so it was clear that the book’s editors, Alvilde LeesMilne and Rosemary Verey, had formed a very high opinion of the quality and importance of what had already been achieved. And it was evident that Frank was an intelligent, sensitive and fluent writer.
Ten years later, when I began to edit the Royal Horticultural Society’s Yearbook and Garden Finder, I made my first visit to Herterton. The garden had grown up since 1982 and it was the structure, rather than the flowers, that then made the greatest impression on me. I realised that it was the quiet, orderly design, as much as the plantings, that created its spirit of peace and orderliness. Further visits revealed the unity and harmony that the Lawleys established between the house, the garden, its plantings and the wider landscape. Only recently did I realise that this unity applied equally to the restoration and furnishing of the house.
This book tells the story from Herterton’s earliest days, tracing the influences and experiences that guided the Lawleys’ developing ideas of garden design and planting. They were fortunate to live at Wallington, which had for many years been a centre for high culture under the progressive ownership of the Trevelyan family and, later, of the National Trust. The ‘Wallington experience’ was crucial, not just as a catalyst for the Lawleys’ development as artists and gardeners, but also for its devotion to Fabianism and the Arts and Crafts movement. Frank maintains that he and Marjorie have always been fortunate to be ‘in the right place at the right time’, but it should also be said that they were the right people to be there. Their sensibilities, their education and their curiosity helped them to benefit enormously from what surrounded them at Wallington and from what they encountered on their travels to other parts of Britain.