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Garden Centre

Sir John Gieldgud, who sadly died in this past week, had a garden whose style matched his own. George Plumptre remembers visiting the legendary actor to talk to him about his garden

The sight of Sir John Gielgud perched on the edge of the stone basin surrounding a fountain in the middle of his garden made me think this was the perfect setting for Englandís greatest classical actor.

His garden was set out in front of the equally immaculate home, a mini classical pavilion that was originally a wing of the larger mansion next door. He moved here about twenty-five years ago and the garden was always a haven of privacy where he could escape from his public life.

The thing that fascinated me about visiting Sir John and talking about his garden, apart from how much he loved it, was the extent to which it immediately reflected him Ė or at least the person that we the public knew. Our idea of him was always immaculate, classical and neat, not given to overstatement, but with great humour delivered with perfect timing.

These were the qualities of his garden. When he redesigned it, with the help of a friend, Sir John wanted to recreate the style of formal garden that he knew had been made when the house was originally built. But it was no accident that a garden of classical formality also suited his own taste.

One great asset, which I straightaway knew would appeal to a man of the theatre, was the broad terrace in front of house from which the garden could be surveyed. Standing on the terrace you could be on stage: the raised position gave maximum impact to the central gardenís formal design into four blocks, the outlines drawn with immaculate clipped box hedging. The centrepiece of the fountain with Triton spouting water added the perfect theatrical touch.

Elsewhere in the garden elegant statues, billowing hedges of lavender and carefully colour-schemed borders where the greens of different foliage were as important as the flower colours all emphasised the superb orderliness of the garden.

Sir John Gielgud was clearly someone who liked his life to run calmly and smoothly. I remember thinking as I left how much his garden would add to this general atmosphere: reassuring, tranquil, no nasty surprises.

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