paradise restored

A garden designed for romantic dalliance is being lovingly rebuilt. By Anna Pavord. Photographs by Phil Starling

Easton Lodge has had three very different owners in the past 100 years. Brian Creasey has spent a life in truck rental. Charlie Wearn was a kind of Lovejoy of the Sixties, hoarding away demolished bits of London - helmeted finials from the Knightsbridge Barracks, windows from the Persian Embassy - to sell on to the highest bidder. Daisy, Countess of Warwick, did what Edwardian countesses had to do: she tagged along with the Prince of Wales.

The house is marooned in the flat, arable acres of north Essex, close to Great Dunmow. Daisy inherited the place, then a substantial estate of 14,000 acres, in 1865, when she was only four. More avaricious members of the family were furious at the terms of the bequest and threw pats of butter at the portrait of Sir Henry Maynard, her benefactor, while the will was being read. After Daisy's marriage in 1881 to the fifth Earl of Warwick, Easton Lodge became a favourite weekending place for the Marlborough House set, the Prince of Wales's cronies. A photograph taken at Easton Lodge shows them sitting on the steps of the house: the men bursting out of their buttons, the women fabulous in the best hats that ever perched on a bird's-nest hairdo.

Love affairs, such as the one between the Prince of Wales and Daisy herself, were an important diversion in this fast-living set. The right setting was paramount. The Countess said that the Prince's home, Marlborough House, provided "the finest surroundings for flirtation to be found in the metropolis". By asking Harold Peto to redesign parts of her own garden, she made sure that Easton Lodge could supply the rural equivalent.

Peto, who started work there in 1903, left intact the Countess's Victorian garden, with its heart-shaped ceramic plaques dotted around fussy flowerbeds, and laid out a new Edwardian garden to the north of the house. There was a croquet lawn, of course (this was, after all, the age of the endless afternoon), a massive wooden pergola with an arched roof smothered in climbers, and a dangerously romantic Italian garden.

The focus of this was a pool, more than 100 feet long, with curved apse ends. It was the centrepiece of a sunken garden, paved throughout in stone, which was surrounded by a raised grass walk bordered with yews. Six sets of wide, shallow steps led down to the sunken area, where there were also flowerbeds bursting with Edwardian tropicana: cannas, tobacco plants and other spiky exotics.

Peto, who trained with Edwin Lutyens in the architectural practice of Ernest George, never did much architecture, at least in this country, but he was a dab hand with gardens. He could only do one sort - Italian - but the style happened to suit the time: plenty of big seats for lazing on, the sound of water to soothe brows fevered by romance, intimate, hedged walks for privacy and long, long vistas to show off his clients' acres. His gardens were about conspicuous consumption.

So was Daisy. "We would dine late and long," she wrote in a memoir, Afterthoughts, "trifle with the opera for an hour or so, or watch the ballet at the Empire, go on to as many houses as we could crowd in. As for money, our only understanding of it lay in the spending, not in the making of it."

This is where Brian Creasey comes in. He has come to understand the making of money pretty well - and has now learned how to spend it, too. He was only three years old when Daisy Warwick died in 1938, but on a misty spring morning in 1971 he brought his family to see Easton Lodge, by then a much reduced, overgrown ruin. The Warwicks had lost most of their fortune. The main house had been pulled down by Daisy's son, in the Fifties. Trees sprang from the balustrade round Peto's romantic pool. The intricate pergola had collapsed long before, under the weight of an unexpectedly heavy snowstorm.

Creasey's children so hated the place, they wouldn't even get out of the car. Impenetrable brambles choked the drive, but Creasey could just make out the pattern of a complex cobbled courtyard, with stars and concentric circles of different coloured stones around a fountain.

He decided to leave his home of 14 years in cosy Stevenage and buy Easton Lodge, with one-and-a-half acres of its original 35-acre garden. In fact, he bought one-and-a-half acres of concrete rubble, for the present Easton Lodge is just part of the west wing, which was saved when the rest of the house was demolished. The rubble came from the dairy, stables and coach houses that once stood on the site.

Why did he buy it? "I like to do a deal," he said, shooting me a glance from piercing blue eyes. He is trying to pretend it was a business proposition, but what he was buying was romance. Slowly, he got dug into the place. Now he is obsessed with it.

Gradually, he is picking up the pieces of Easton Lodge that were scattered after Daisy's death. She had by then undergone a most radical change of character. She became a socialist, standing against Anthony Eden in the Warwick and Leamington by-election. She was also an early champion of animal rights. Twenty dogs and at least as many cats roamed the garden in her last years, though the pet elephant that she kept at Easton Lodge in the Edwardian era had long since packed its trunk.

When Creasey first took on Easton Lodge, he knew nothing about the elephant. Or Daisy. Or Peto. Gradually, he built up a dossier of material: old Country Life photographs (their gardens correspondent, H Avray Tipping, wrote glowingly about the garden in 1907), estate maps, newspaper cuttings, books by and about the Countess.

After the sale of his business five years ago, Creasey persuaded Daisy's granddaughter to sell him another four-and-a-half acres of garden. This brought into his grasp what had been an area of volcanic ant hills, but is now a fine lawn, a very pretty brick-and-dressed-stone casita in a state of total ruin, raised stone flowerbeds (or, at least, the footings of them) laid out by Peto on what used to be a grand lawn in front of the house, and half a yew walk, which over a period of three years has been gradually brought under control.

The casita is now most beautifully restored, and faces the house along a wide grass walk and rose borders. Creasey has added a long, plain sheet of water in front. Is Peto passing on messages to him in the night, I wondered? Or is it that underneath the iron exterior of this man of deals and truck rentals, a garden designer has always been struggling to get out?

Having the place "done" is evidently not the point, or Creasey would long ago have got somebody in to do it for him. He gets a "buzz", he says, from unpicking the ruined puzzle. He likes bricklaying and bushwhacking and smoothing wilderness back into lawns with his little tractor. But he also likes the intellectual side of gardening. He follows up as rigorously as a bloodhound any clue that is likely to shed light on the place. He knows the garden so well from old photographs that he can instantly identify any remains he comes across. As he walks across the lawn, he still sees the long-gone pergola billowing with the Vitis coignetiae, the rambling roses and the wisteria of the old Country Life photographs.

At the yew walk, he is on the edge of Peto's sunken Italian garden, which did not come in the last parcel of land he bought. But he's started to clear it (with the permission of the owner), and the Japanese dell, dug out to Peto's designs by 67 labourers from the Salvation Army's Home for Inebriates. Only one complete set of steps remains in the Italian garden, and, with dressed Ham stone selling for pounds 160 a cubic foot, a complete restoration would seem to be out of the question.

But obsessives have different ways of adding up sums. My bet is, he'll do it one day.

But, you may ask, what about Charlie Wearn? He hasn't played much part in this story so far, but he fits in between Brian Creasey and Maynard Greville, who knocked down the greater part of the house at Easton Lodge.

Wearn personifies the ebb and flow of a garden's destiny. Like Peto himself, he was a jackdaw collector of architectural bits and bobs. He bought the place as a ruin ten years before Creasey came on the scene, and started to fit out the house with booty from his salvage business: a marble staircase from the Turf Club is one London souvenir. But business flowed in two directions, and some of the artefacts that Peto in his turn had collected for the garden in his bounty-hunting abroad disappeared to new locations. Wearn then tired of Easton Lodge, sold it to Creasey on a handshake, and in so doing ensured a new future for a garden with a golden past

The garden is open every Sat and Sun and Bank Holiday Mondays from 2- 6pm. Admission pounds 2. A grand ball will be held at Easton Lodge on Saturday, 22 June, to raise funds for further restoration (details 01371-876979)

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?