the hefting of sheep

jpegWhat would you do if you inherited 17,000 acres?  I would run for the hills. Baron Hugh Cavendish of Furness and his wife, Grania chose to stay. Cavendish was the 2014 speaker at the Royal Oak Foundation’s SEEDS for THOUGHT Lecture. He was a complete surprise. Cavendish personally greeted people as they entered the Cosmopolitan Club. A total lack of pretense and affectation characterized his talk. “I always needed a mate to get me going. It has been a 40 year shared journey with Grania, that has challenged and tested our ideas both as a couple and as gardeners”.

The English peerage are known as defenders of the realm, especially when it comes to historic gardens and houses.  Holker dates back to the sixteenth

The Labyrinth Holker Hall

The Labyrinth designed by Cavendish
Holker Hall

century.  It’s long history might have convinced a different kind of man to ensure the garden remained untouched. Cavendish put it all on the line.  It immediately endeared him to me. “Gardens are ephemeral things. They are about giving and taking pleasure.  Gardens should be allowed to die.”  This is a kind of garden heresy, especially in a room full of preservationists.

Cavendish distanced himself from the past. He said there are lots of old people who

Sundial Holker Hall

Slate Sundial designed by Sir Mark Lennox-Boyd
Slate from Holker Hall slate quarry

say: “many changes, no improvements”.  He is clearly not one of these people.  He embraces the present, it’s practitioners and machinery; he believes gardens are made better by the public.  As someone involved in public horticulture, this is a view not often expressed.  We (I) complain about the nameless public: the cutting of beloved flowers, dogs allowed to run wild and barbecue pits at the base of  trees.  The happiness public gardens bring is often forgotten.

Baron Cavendish spoke of the bitter sweetness of being away from a place one loves. He compared his connection to Holker to the hefting of sheep:  the instinct of some breeds to keep to learned boundaries throughout their lives.  His borders are a mere 17,000 acres: mine are much smaller, but I get the feeling of both emotional bond and tether.





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