Sarah Singleton takes a walk down memory lane among the blooming gardens of Barnsley House in Cirencester

IN the summer of almost 30 years ago, a cub reporter called in at Barnsley House to interview Rosemary Verey, doyenne of garden design, about a new book, The Flower Arranger’s Garden.

There, sitting in the sumptuous garden of a grand Cotswold house, Rosemary revealed pages of the book bursting with richly coloured photographs as I marvelled (for yes, I was that fresh-faced trainee) at the book, the magnificent garden and, indeed, at Rosemary herself.

Considering the impression it made, I am not sure why it has taken me so long to revisit Barnsley House but this year, the centenary of Rosemary Verey (who died in 2001), seemed a most appropriate time to revisit the beautiful garden I remembered so vividly.

It takes barely 25 minutes to drive from Swindon to Barnsley House, near Cirencester. These days, the house is hotel, with a spa, meeting rooms and cinema, owned by Calcot Hotels. The gardens, however, are as marvellous as ever, and happily, they are open to visitors.

Its most famous features are the laburnum walk and the ornamental fruit and vegetable garden – and in spring, the laburnum walk offers a painterly perspective of hanging yellow blossoms, the focal point of which is a column inscribed with Rosemary’s name. All around the path and archway, hundreds of alliums grow, their architectural, purple flowers providing a vivid counterpoint to the yellow.

Around the summer house are clouds of cow parsley, perhaps surprising in a formal garden (though I love cow parsley in any context) and head gardener Richard Gatenby, who is giving us a tour, explains how impressed US visitors are by the mass of flowers under the trees – which also help suppress ground elder, he says. “You only need a few stems of cow parsley growing around a gateway to create a sense of the gothic and romantic,” he describes.

The garden is around four acres in size, including an orchard, polytunnel and glasshouse, as well vegetable gardens where herbs and vegetables are grown for the hotel kitchen. We progress to the potager, the ornamental kitchen garden, where an intensive mix of fruit trees, currant bushes, fragrant herbs, salad vegetables, squashes and herbs is interspersed with flowers. Richard tells us the potager is based on a design in the 1617 book, The Country Housewife’s Garden.

We view the chickens, ranging freely in their very generous enclosure by the orchard – a spectacular iron and copper-coloured cockerel like something from a child’s picture book, and his harem of multi-coloured hens, and the vegetable gardens with towers of rhubarb, a recently plucked asparagus harvest and huge pots of herbs.

A pool with lily pads contains lots of clearly visible newts, where we also view a display put together for Rosemary Verey’s centenary, with pictures and information.

With the exception of the mature trees surrounding the gardens to the north and west, everything you see was laid out by Rosemary, who created a garden that tempted visitors from around the world. These days, Richard is one of four full time gardeners maintaining the garden.

Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, a younger generation came to Barnsley to learn about gardening and garden design. Rosemary spoke as an Ambassador of Gardeners in the United States, won the Victoria Medal of Honour from the Royal Horticultural Society and received an OBE from the Prince of Wales in 1997. The Prince visited Barnsley in 1986 and returned to see her, and the garden, from time to time.

The original house was built at the end of the 17th century on the sit of the Lower Manor Farm of Barnsley, and it became a rectory in 1766. One wealthy rector, Charles Coxwell, built the high wall that surrounds the garden on the eastern side and a summerhouse in the gothic style.

The house was extended in 1825 and in the 1850s, London planes, weeping chestnuts, an oak, limes and a yew tree were planted to the west. The Verey family bought the house in 1939 and in 1951, it passed to David Verey, and his wife Rosemary.

The gardens are open to guests of Barnsley House whether staying overnight or dining in the restaurant. You can also have a wander round the gardens for £10 per person, which includes tea or coffee and homemade biscuits, subject to availability on the day.