stoneleigh abbey

In 2003 we rented from friends an apartment at Stoneleigh Abbey on the bank of the River Avon in Warwickshire. One of a number that had been built at the rear of the Georgian section of the Abbey, the apartment had no garden of its own beyond a small flagged courtyard located near the entrance. But owners and tenants could make use of the walled and other gardens surrounding the building as well as wander about the parkland and river walks that made up the estate. As these were all maintained by professional gardeners we had the (perhaps dubious) pleasure of enjoying the fruits of gardening without doing the work.

Stoneleigh Abbey was originally a Cistercian monastry which, following the Dissolution, was acquired by Thomas Leigh and converted into his family's ancestral home. It was visited in 1858 by Queen Victoria and, some fifty years before, by the novelist Jane Austen who was related to the Leighs through her mother. On route from Bath to Southampton, the Austens thoroughly enjoyed their stay at Stoneleigh, learning to negotiate both the labyrinthrine corridors and the woods around the house that were 'impenetrable to the sun even in the middle of August'. More ...


One good thing about visiting Great Britain for any length of time is that it enables us to make our obligatory pilgrimage to the National Trust gardens at Sissinghurst in Kent and Hidcote Bartrim in Gloucestershire. The acquisition of Hidcote in 1948, the first of a now extensive collection of National Trust gardens, was not without risk as the property came without an endowment and so its maintenance had entirely to be paid for by the organisation. It eventually became self-financing as the garden's reputation, and interest in it, grew. Today some 150,000 people come each year to view what is generally thought to be one of the most beautiful small gardens in Britain.

The garden is also seen as quintessentially English which is curious given its creator, Lawrence Waterbury Johnston, was an American by birth. I find Johnston as interesting as his garden. Born in Paris of rich parents with close connections to the then American political and social elite, Johnson was nonetheless an Englishman at heart. He was schooled in England and graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1897 with a Bachelor of Arts. More ...