Back to the 80s and beyond


Apologies for a bit of self-indulgence today – plants tomorrow though!

On Saturday I had the pleasure of talking to the E A Bowles of Myddelton House Society* at Myddelton House itself. It was a momentous day for me because, although I was Head Gardener there from 1984-89, I had not returned to see the place for more than 20 years. I was the first ‘modern’ Head Gardener and I started the restoration that has continued, in fits and starts, since then, but most notably in the past decade when the garden benefited from a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of almost half a million (after much hard work I may add).

This was used to improve the infrastructure and to restore the old kitchen garden, which was not owned by the Lea Valley when I was there so was out of bounds. The bringing together of the two parts and the investment in new greenhouses and beds has worked wonders. It is very different from my days. Money was not very forthcoming in those days and I had an annual budget of £1000. But the recent opening of a (small) cafe and museum was also a good idea and makes a visit all the more comfortable. (Above: conservatory today and below 30 years ago)



I had heard that a part of the New River had been restored and wondered how that had been done. In Bowles’ day (above)  it formed a massive feature in the garden the part that flowed through the garden was filled in in the 1960s (below – today)


In fact only a small part by a bridge has been restored, good for safety reasons I guess and it does give an impression. The beds beside the river were reinstated by me in the 80s (below)


… and the Iris beds were refilled with iris.


In Bowles’ day (above) they were mostly species but I established several National Collections (below).



Of course some of the architectural features survive better than plants and the Irishman’s shirt **(the wall above) is still there.


The famous rock garden was always going to be a problem to restore but we made a start (above). Now it is best known for the masses of snowdrops (below)


It was interesting to remember all the interesting people I met who knew Bowles such as Bishop Leslie Brown (and his wife) (left) and Charles Kingdom ..


and of course Frances Perry and Roy Hay (below) who did tours of the garden for a short time after I arrived.


It was good to see that the pond, which was restored in my time there, has lasted!



In the upper garden a ‘Wisley corner’ has been created (below) in a reciprocal approach to the old Bowles’ Corner at Wisley. Although there is huge potential for plants with the Wisley appelation I am not sure if they will all thrive in what is a shady spot. Of course there was a strong RHS connection to Bowles.


But the biggest change was the old kitchen garden and it now looks smart and impressive.


With frames to house the crocus for which Bowles was so famous.


It was an emotional day for me. I had enjoyed my 80s at Myddelton hugely, despite many problems. Gardening is very personal and I had to treat the garden as though it were mine if it were to flourish and it was difficult to leave and, as it turned out, even more difficult to return.


It was a cathartic experience. And good to see that the garden is in good hands, having met the current Head Gardener, James Hall. I wish him and the others there (including Bryan) all the best.


  • ‘One of the most interesting items was an old brick pillar from Gough Park which was of an unusual diamond shape in cross- section. Bowles had a wall added to this single pillar, in much the same way as the legendary Irishman who asked for a shirt to be added to the button he possessed. The area by the wall was thereafter known as ‘The Irishman’s Shirt’ – from the E A Bowles Society

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9 Comments on “Back to the 80s and beyond”

  1. joy
    February 21, 2017 at 7:27 am #

    it looks fab Geoff . and so good to go back . loved the kitchen garden .

  2. derrickjknight
    February 21, 2017 at 10:31 am #

    Never apologise for such an enlightening post. I believe you have commented on the hairstyle before 🙂

  3. Kathy Larson
    February 21, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

    You can’t write too many posts about Myddleton House for my taste!I am so glad to see the restoration going forward.Time to reread ‘My Garden in Spring’.

  4. Bryan John Van Heer Hewitt
    February 21, 2017 at 6:33 pm #

    Good to see you on Saturday in the garden after 20 odd years , Your talk was brilliant ! Thank you….

  5. Julie Floyd
    February 21, 2017 at 9:46 pm #

    It was so good to see you and I still appreciate the same humour 30 years on! I have returned to the garden as a volunteer, as I am not working five days a week now and have time to give.

    The garden always gives me a huge amount of pleasure to visit and I love to introduce potential new EA Bowles appreciators!

    All best wishes for your return to the Emerald Island.

    Happy Gardening (and biking) Julie (Floyd)

    • thebikinggardener
      February 22, 2017 at 7:08 am #

      It was a lovely surprise and real delight to see you too Julie 🙂 You had not changed a bit! The air round there must be very pure. I am glad you still have contact with the garden too 🙂


  1. Does ivy kill trees? | The Biking Gardener - January 25, 2023

    […] yellow berries. It is usually called  ‘Arborea Poetica’. All this is a throwback to my time at Myddelton House where there were ancient tree ivies planted in the deep shade of cedars, surviving along with […]

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