January 2019 - Waterperry Gardens
‘THE PLACE BY THE WATER WHERE THE PEAR TREES GROW’
Waterperry is one of those names which when heard for the first time, you just know you have heard it somewhere before. It has a warmth and familiarity about it, like Winterbourne and Merrieweather - surely Thomas Hardy must have used it for one of his Dorset rustics! It's a pleasing word, just the act of pronouncing it makes the mouth curl up at the edges. It speaks to us across the centuries and sounds English to the core. But is that an apple core or perhaps more likely a pear core? For 'Perry' is the old English word for pear and if you ever get the chance to taste perry cider than do so because it is absolutely delicious. If we go further back in time the word becomes 'Pyrie' which means a collection of pear trees and before that 'Pyrige' which simply means 'the place where the pear trees grow'. Put 'Water' in front of it and you have 'the place by the water where the pear trees grow'.
What, you may ask, has all this to do with an article on the Gardens to Visit website about Waterperry Gardens? Well quite a lot really because one of the things I enjoy immensely about Waterperry is the way that it is forever going forward - in terms of development of both the garden and the surrounding facilities - but at the same time it recognises, acknowledges and indeed celebrates its past. In my opinion, too many gardens these days seem to forget about their origins and plough off in directions completely at odds to the gardens original concept or design. Not so Waterperry. Take the name for example' the place by the water where the pear trees grow', how long ago was that name first coined, eight hundred or maybe a thousand years? Quite probably, but the name is as accurate today as it has ever been.
One afternoon in late winter, when the sun had summoned just enough strength to remind birds that the nest building season was approaching, I got the irresistible urge to flee my office and feel the winter sun on my face. So, I headed towards Oxford and before I realised it found myself driving into the Waterperry car park. After a quick cup of tea, I set off for a stroll past the herbaceous nursery and foliage borders and on down to the River Thame, (a tributary of the Thames) which defines the meandering eastern border of the garden and from there walked into the orchards.
Of course, these aren't the original pear trees which stood here so many centuries ago, those have long gone the way natural things do, but that's not the point. What Waterperry has done is to acknowledge its beginnings and to create a living breathing continuity to the way the land is worked - and worked it most certainly is. Throughout our region there are scores of old orchards - pear and other fruits - but most are neglected and in decline. You see them as you drive the lanes, split and broken dead branches weighed down by mistletoe and old man's beard. Not so at Waterperry, here the laterals and spurs on the perfectly shaped cordons have all been regularly pruned and it is abundantly clear that as much care goes into their culture today as would have been the norm in a well-run productive Victorian or Edwardian fruit garden.
'Pride in horticultural perfection' could easily be Waterperry's motto and here lies the second example of its readiness to acknowledge and celebrate its past whilst making great strides forward. If there is one place that Waterperry gardens reminds me of more than any other, it is the gardens surrounding Newton Rigg, my old forestry and horticultural college tucked away on the north-eastern edge of the Lake District near Penrith. Here every plant was pruned to perfection, every bed and border meticulously weeded and every person who worked in that garden took pride in their collective achievements. Waterperry is not a horticultural college but it once was and the values, commitment and pride such institutions generate lives on in the soil, the plants and those that work here today.