The gardens of Preen Manor

PUBLISHED: 16:21 20 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:34 20 February 2013

The present house, the third to be built on the site, sits in gardens lovingly restored by Ann Trevor-Jones and her late husband Philip

The present house, the third to be built on the site, sits in gardens lovingly restored by Ann Trevor-Jones and her late husband Philip

Rachel Crow visits Preen Manor where Ann Trevor-Jones has created a garden which grows funds for good causes

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Rachel Crow visits Preen Manor where Ann Trevor-Jones has created a garden which grows funds for good causes

Standing on the high vantage point of the House Lawn at Preen Manor, your gaze is drawn from the formal gardens descending in terraces before you to the Shropshire landscape opening out to the horizon: the view to Wenlock Edge in the distance framed by magnificent Victorian yews and cedars sitting on the lower banks. Its the perfect spot to take stock of the gardens which Ann Trevor-Jones and her late husband Philip spent more than 30 years creating.

It never really occurs to me how much work has gone into them, admits Ann, when acknowledging the enjoyment visitors now gain from the gardens. You just think thats lovely, thats just what we wanted to do.

Ann has emerged from the kitchen of the manor house where shes been occupied all morning baking cakes for a garden viewing party due the next day. She is kept busy throughout the spring, summer and early autumn with group parties; open days for the National Garden Scheme and its charities, alongside special fund-raising events to finance renovations to St John the Baptist church.

I have a group of ladies up in the village who always come to make the teas for the (NGS) open days and they love it, says Ann between answering a succession of telephone calls. I once suggested perhaps we should stop doing it because we are all getting older but they wouldnt hear of it. So we carry on, she laughs.

For years Ann was a volunteer county organiser for the NGS and also treasurer for the Shropshire and Powys branch, until invited to join the National Council where she is now a vice-president. Her hard work was recognised in 2008 when she received the MBE for services to the NGS and to the community in Shropshire.

Ann and Philip moved to Preen Manor from Caynton Hall near Shifnal in the late 1970s. At that time the six acres comprised just lawns and a large kitchen garden but they spotted the potential to create something of their own.

We wanted gardens of variety, each is a big garden in miniature with a different feel. Its grown organically really as weve gone along,
explains Ann.

Philip, who was the fourth generation at the helm of the familys Shropshire-based lock systems manufacturing group Lowe & Fletcher, had the eye for scale, translating Anns ideas and visions into reality.
He was really good because he could see things in the right perspective. When we were planning Id say Id love to have so and so and Philip would put it all down to the right scale.

I couldnt have done that, I just go out with my packet of seeds and get on with the job.

Preen Manor sits on the site of a Cluniac monastery dating from the 12th century. The remains of the monks cell were unearthed during the garden restoration and the 13th century church still stands to the side of the house in the shade of an ancient yew. The monastic buildings were demolished in 1850 to make way for a large Victorian mansion built by the celebrated domestic architect Norman Shaw. But it was to stand on the site for only 70 years, falling derelict following the First World War until it was razed to the ground.

Set around a courtyard, todays manor house is made up of the former domestic buildings, an amalgam of architectural styles, the enormous chimneys that rise up from the centre an incongruous reminder of the Norman Shaw mansion.

I always give visitors a quick run-down of the history of the house and the church because I think its nice to know as it sets the picture. Its not just a garden but eight centuries of someone living here as well, Ann explains.

The distinct and contrasting areas of the garden linked by weaving walkways each hold a different appeal throughout the months. Theres the shady green fernery of the Secret Garden nestled within the 12th century ruins of the monks refectory; the warmth of the myriad blooms populating the informal, higgledy-piggledy borders of the Cottage Garden; the sea of white when the rose garden is in bloom; the Chess Garden with its life-size, sunken stone chess board; the abundant pickings of the kitchen garden and orchard or colourful wild flower borders that punctuate the manicured lawns.

In the formal gardens below, clipped box hedges echo the chimneys running along the remaining wall of the former Victorian mansion, which now serves to separate the lower and higher levels of the garden.

Helped by her long-serving head gardener Peter, under-gardener Roy and one-day-a-week by volunteer Margaret, who fell in love with the gardens on an open day, Ann notes how, even after 30 years, the gardens are still a work in progress. But we have more or less achieved what we were looking to. I could never have imagined what we have done now in one go at the beginning. Im sure a garden designer could, but I dont think it would have been as good, she adds with a smile.

There are no set rules in this garden and thats what I like about it. Its all our own ideas and if we dont like it, we can dig it up and start again.

Preen Manor, Church Preen, near Church Stretton, will be open for the National Garden Scheme on October 3, when there will also be a thanksgiving service in the church.
For more details call Preen Manor on 01694 771207.

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