Listening to the land
Country Life UK|September 29, 2021
When Libby Russell moved to Batcombe House, Somerset, it was the countryside with which she fell in love. Over the past 17 years, she has taken cues from that landscape to create a garden that is entirely at home in its setting, reveals Natasha Goodfellow
Natasha Goodfellow
AS a niece of the 10th Duke of Rutland, Libby Russell is no stranger to beautiful landscapes. Born Elizabeth Manners, she grew up on the Belvoir estate in Leicestershire and at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire and it was this sense of the beauty of her surroundings —an amalgamation of the light, the views and the colour of the stone particular to a place—that she and her husband, Alexander Russell, were searching for when they began looking to relocate in about 2001.

‘We’d been living near the coast in Kent,’ says Mrs Russell, one half of Mazzullo + Russell Landscape Design, ‘but the land there was very flat and trees struggled to grow. I wanted to find beautiful natural countryside, not too far from London, which we could afford and that I could fall in love with.’

Their search eventually led them to Somerset, to a Georgian rectory built onto a 17th-century farmhouse with about 100 acres in the village of Batcombe. ‘Before showing us the house, the vendor dropped us at the top of the land across the valley and suggested we walk back,’ says Mrs Russell. ‘We saw the fields buzzing with insects; the amazing wildflower meadows alive with bellflowers, ox-eye daisies and yellow rattle; the beautiful stream crossed by a bridge of Doulting stone—the stone used in Wells Cathedral. From the top of one of the hills, we saw the views straight across to Glastonbury Tor. Of course, by the time I’d got to the house, I’d fallen madly in love—it’s such a beautiful part of the world.’

The sloping garden behind the house, when they finally reached it, had less to recommend it. Apart from an imposing cedar, ‘the Maserati of its day’, planted by the vicar in about 1785, there was a small area enclosed by a yew hedge and then ‘not much more than two asymmetric rectangles of lawn up a hill’. Firm believers that ‘so long as the setting is right you can make a house and you can make a garden’, the Russells made an offer.

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