Medieval magnificence
Country Life UK|February 24, 2021
The historic Dower House Garden at Morville Hall, Shropshire, has been sensitively re-created by its painstaking owner, finds Non Morris
Non Morris

THE generous arched front door, framed by Morello cherries and light skeins of pale yellow roses, will stay open this summer, just as it has done since Katherine Swift arrived at the handsome Shropshire stone Dower House 30 years ago to make a garden. The building forms part of a group of dwellings set around Morville Hall, an easy stroll away from the peaceful 12th-century Church of St Gregory.

The evolution of this richly layered, painstakingly nurtured garden is recorded in Dr Swift’s book, The Morville Hours. Garden and book tell the history of this small settlement and the people who have lived here from its monastic beginnings to the present day.

‘It began as an exercise in garden history,’ Dr Swift says, ‘but became intertwined with the stories of all the people who lived here and with the story of me making the garden and the story of my parents and their love affair and why they ran off to Shropshire the summer before the Second World War broke out having only known one another for three weeks…’.

'Her enthusiasm is infectious. “For me, every plant has a personal story, too'

An unstoppable storyteller, her enthusiasm is infectious: ‘For me, every plant has a personal story, too, like the white lilac my father grew in Somerset and me climbing out of the bedroom window into it when I was five or six and it was too sunny to be put to bed early.’ Then, of course ‘there is the history of the lilac itself and its journey from the near east and the people who first brought those plants and seeds into this country…’

Dr Swift’s own story at Morville began when she was Keeper of Early Books at Trinity College, Dublin. Her husband, Ken, who had remained in Oxford, used to meet her at Heathrow every Friday with a wallet of photographs of houses he had been to look at— ‘places for me to make a garden’. He knew that, if he found the right one, it ‘would trump the job’ she loved. One night, he said ‘I think I’ve found it’—and he was right. Despite hesitation about taking on a 20-year lease rather than buying, she was smitten. On arrival, she had ‘no income apart from writing’ and the prospect of a stony, 1½-acre field to transform.

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