“From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.” Dr. Seuss
My rainy visit to the winter formal garden at Danesfield House was a dreamscape of “funny things everywhere.”
Sunken several feet below grade, the walled garden becomes its own world. The house disappears, the dramatic view of the River Thames slips away, the breeze stops and a quiet takes over. Everything, except for the sky, is different. A rectangular plot is outlined with trimmed boxwood.
Topiary in abstract and fanciful shapes define the space. Some look like stacked plates, others like figures out of Pac-Man. Some are 20 feet tall, others 8 feet wide. They are like characters ready to move and speak at any moment. As a visitor one feels like another character in the landscape. Formal paths lead the visitor through the space.
The size of the yews gives this garden a sense of age. They are among the few original plants that survived the many twists of this property.
Danesfield House sits on a dramatic cliff overlooking the Thames River. The first home was built on the site in the 1660’s. The land passed through several families until the Great Depression. During World War II the Royal Air Force requisitioned the property for reconnaissance and photography work. War-related construction left the land worthless. The Air Ministry purchased it to use as their Divisional Headquarters, perhaps “the most luxurious Officers' Mess in the country.”
In the 1990’s Danesfield House became a luxury country house hotel. With the exception of the boxwood, topiaries, and a magnificent magnolia tree at the corner of the formal garden, most of the plant material is part of a recent restoration. In a sign that Danesfield's transformation from military dining hall to high end hotel was complete, George and Amal Clooney chose the venue to celebrate their wedding a few years ago.
The gardens are reportedly haunted: “At twilight the Grey Lady of Danesfield Park has often been seen taking a stroll. Dressed in the apparel of the Roman Sisterhood with a pale and solemn face and an old fashioned lantern in her hand, this ghostly lady walks from where Danesfield Chapel once stood, down the hill … and there she disappears!”
On the misty day that I visited, the Grey Lady could have appeared around any corner.
Danesfield House sits outside of Marlow, a charming historic town on the River Thames. Nearby attractions include Ascot – famous for horse racing, Henley – of regatta fame, and Wimbledon – the tennis center.