Fri, 19 Feb 2021
WHEN the von Opel family moved to The Malverleys in East Woodhay 10 years ago, they appointed Mat Reese as their estate manager. Since then, he has transformed the landscape around the house to create a flowing palette of colour and seasonal delight.
Before winter set in and before the latest lockdown measures, I visited Malverleys estate on a beautiful day last autumn, along with photographer Phil Cannings.
The sun was shining, the sky was blue and there was a crisp chill in the air, but even so Mat Reese said we were not seeing the gardens at their best – or at least not all of them.
Malverleys is a privately-owned estate with a working farm and when we arrived Mat was busy dealing with the sheep on the 200-acre estate, 10 acres of which are given over to the garden.
He heads a team of five who deal with all the estate works – from repairing fencing to opening up the private chapel or chasing the aforementioned sheep.
The estate is busy all year, but winter tends to be quietest and is a good time to take stock and start to plan for the next season.
Mat trained in horticulture at Myerscough College, a year at Wisley, followed by three more years at Kew, before going to Dixter, East Sussex, where he learnt more of his craft from gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd.
When he arrived at Malverleys 10 years ago, part of the grounds surrounding the house was a football pitch. Over the last seven years, this has been transformed into a trail of different themed garden spaces from summer whites to bright tropical oranges and yellows.
Water features have been installed with reclaimed statues strategically placed to add to the splendour and style of each area. The mixed borders in the walled garden provide all-year-round colour with tulips in the spring and annuals and biennials ever-evolving to surprise and delight. The walled garden also contains areas for fruit, vegetables and cut flowers.
Mat said: “We wanted everything to look natural. I didn’t want to create anything that was too contrived, but I did want each area to have its own style.”
To keep the natural look, the themed gardens are separated by tall yew hedges.
As we walk through the Hot Garden we are surrounded by bright reds and orange and yellow before entering the more tranquil atmosphere of the Italian or Cloister Garden, where roses line the borders.
Each section has its own atmosphere, but Mat says he wanted to create ’a line of views’ where stretching ahead of you was a continuous palette of colour which changes as you enter each section of garden.
“The White Garden [which includes four small fountains] is one of my favourites. In late spring and early summer it looks really pretty and the scent is amazing.”
Mat explains how the gardens are created: “You have to start by drawing it out. When you’re working with such a big space it’s best to divide it into ‘rooms’. You work out the dimensions of each space and the proportions and then tweak your ideas as you go along.”
Naturally, the von Opels are involved in any design ideas, but Mat also took inspiration from visiting other gardens and adapting ideas along the way.
“To a certain extent you have to go with the flow. We kept the designs simple so each garden is a constant work in progress.”
This approach means that subtle changes are made to each garden every year.
“In the autumn we ‘accept the browns’,” says Mat. “It is early in the year that we look to make changes and think about what might work for the spring and summer and what colour we want to add and what we need to take out.”
Every year, the team plants hundreds of tulip bulbs in the run up to Christmas to ensure a blaze of spring colour.
“It’s like being an editor – you have to decide which bits are interesting or necessary and which bits can come out, to create the right impression on your audience.”
Walking along the terraces and borders the display of colour and texture looks effortless, almost as if the borders have been left to their own devices, but that is part of the artistry of Mat’s skill.
He has created a natural organic design that has been carefully planned to the finest detail.
Outside of lockdown, the gardens are open to visitors by appointment and raise money for charities. Malverleys also welcomes about 20 schools a year when they spend the day learning about farming and agriculture and growing your own vegetables.
“In an ideal world we would all be self-sufficient,” says Mat. “We want to show the next generation how easy it is to grow vegetables and feed yourself from even the smallest of gardens.”
For more information, visit www.malverleys.co.uk