A gardener locked down without her garden

We received some pictures from one of our members, Ann Pembroke, showing drifts of snowdrops in her garden on the Isle of Wight. Some of you might remember that a group of De Beauvoir Gardeners visited Great Whitcombe Manor several years ago.

Great Whitcombe Manor

It seems that these photos are the closest that Ann herself will come to seeing the snowdrops. They were sent to her by Mike who tends her garden. She has been in self-confined lockdown in Clerkenwell since last March – miles away from her garden except for one short visit over Christmas:

‘I took advantage of the COVID-19 break in my self-confinement and travelled home to celebrate Christmas and my 83rd birthday, which Her Majesty, honouring my merit, had made a public holiday on 1st January!  Ha! Ha! It was a lovely break, with a lot of catching up. Mike’s van’s new part had not arrived so our planned planting session was dropped. My return journey will depend on the provision of public transport as my return on 4th January took 7 hours.’

Ann Pembroke

Great Whitcombe Manor stands alone at the top of a hill, ready to catch all winds. It enjoys ground of 8.5 acres and includes a walled garden, rose garden, wildlife garden and spring garden. The glade, between the walled garden and the woodland, is of particular interest. It has a direct uninterrupted view of the Curtain Wall of Carisbrooke Castle, it’s nearest neighbour.

In 2019 students of the Isle of Wight College planted unusual trees, including Chinese and Mexican species. The Woodland Trust provided Silver Birch, Rowan and Beech, which were planted as an avenue at the top of the wildflower meadow. Currently, The Woodland Trust is working on establishing the designation of Ancient Woodland of Whitcombe Hangar.

Whitcombe Hangar crowns the centre of the Isle of Wight, commemorated by a stone in the grounds. It was there that the ponies for King Charles I escape from imprisonment in Carisbrooke Castle were hidden to take him to the Coast and on to France, where his wife, Henrietta Maria, sister of King Louis, would raise funds for a new army. In 1648 the owner of Great Whitcombe Manor, Edward Worsley, plotted the King’s escape by sending messages in farm produce and signalling from the rear of the Manor. The Plot failed. Charles was tried for treason in Newport, Isle of Wight and taken to Whitehall for execution.   

It happened that Samuel Pepys played truant from St. Paul’s School in the City of London to walk, with a friend, to Whitehall to witness Charles’ execution. Pepys sailed with his cousin Lord Montague to bring Charles II back to England for his Coronation where Charles II’s story, from the Civil War, was dictated to Pepys, to be recorded in his diary. Later Pepys was to be one of the Stewards to carry the canopy over the head of Charles II at his Coronation.

Ann tells this story to link the Stuarts with the Samuel Pepys Collection of furniture, prints, a painting and other artefacts donated to her by the Corporation of the City of London. She is working to restore the disused agricultural buildings of the Brew House and adjacent Cart Shed to house Collections for public and scholarly display, with the Cart Shed restored to a Community Hall, with a kitchen and facilities for events.  

In her absence Ann’s garden is tended by Mike, a retired teacher whose ancestor sculpted Henry VII and Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey and a bust of Sir Thomas More. This was his latest report, along with the snowdrop pictures (Ralph is a builder and Ann’s potting bench was destroyed in the recent hurricane):   

Dear Mrs. Pembroke,
I hope you are keeping safe and well. A new month – lets hope for some dry weather soon, the ground at Whitcombe is pretty sodden and yet the pond is not overflowing! I have been keeping quite busy along the boundary of the meadow and south lawn however I have been unable to dig out the weed as the ground is so wet. Most bays are now cut right back and the bramble removed but the ground will need to be dug out to prevent future growth. The bramble on the boundary between the meadow and hanger is virtually all removed, certainly the part cleared last year hasn’t fared too badly, what bramble has returned was easy to remove. There’s just the length between the large gate and the glade to finish. I’ve brought down quite a lot of logs from the hanger where the large beech bough had come down – by Fluxes land. I’ll finish cutting that up one day and slowly transport it along the boundary! I’m afraid I haven’t started to dig the beds in the walled garden, the soil is far too wet. I have attached some pictures of the work done in the road and some of the snowdrops, also your January bill.

Ralph has made you a very nice potting bench, hopefully it will be installed next weekend.

Lockdown is full of stories like Ann’s. Very few of us have been unaffected by the changed circumstances of the last year. But it seems to me to particulary poignant to be removed from your garden and I hope that Ann can return soon to enjoy the summer in hers. Once things are back to normal we might even make another trip to see it for ourselves.

You can contact Ann by email: annpembroke@outlook.com