Our garden is located in the small hamlet of Lower Norton between Warwick and Henley-in-Arden in the heart of the Warwickshire Countryside.
The garden is about 1 acre in size and is at around 350ft above sea level sloping gently downhill in a south-westerly direction. This does mean that the garden is bathed in sun throughout the day but is subject to the south westerly winds that blow up the shallow valley and across the fields beyond.
The soil conditions vary throughout the garden with some areas very dry and others continually damp. This allows us to grow a wide range of different plants as long as we understand the conditions that different plants prefer. We have learnt a lot over the years about what works and what does not.
Prior to setting up the garden in 1993 the site was meadow grazing although there is evidence of previous ridge and furrow cultivation especially in the orchard area. The garden is sheltered on all sides now by a range of tree species. Many were planted in the early 90’s as part of a Warwickshire District Council hedgerow scheme. The boundary hedgerow and copse trees include hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), hazel (Corylus avellana), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), oak (Quercus robur), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), lime (Tilia x europaea), field maple (Acer campestre) and holly (Ilex aquifolium). As many are now over 25 years old these mature trees provide a wonderful range of habitats for different wildlife species.
It appears that there has been a hamlet in Lower Norton at least since the 11th century. The area, along with Budbrooke and Grove Park was taken from the Saxon Earl and given to Johannes de Curlieu one of William the Conquer’s Norman knights after the battle of Hastings in 1066. The hamlet in those days was called Norton Curlieu and the remains can still be see in a field on the right hand side at the bottom of the lane near the Henley road. When the grass is shorter you can see where the houses and lane were.
The hamlet was decimated in 1680 by the plague and almost wiped out by an epidemic in 1729. When it was re-established they changed its name to Nether Norton, then Lesser Norton ending as Lower Norton.
The area was originally thickly forested and part of the large ancient Forest of Arden. The Forest of Arden, through which no Roman roads were built, was bounded by the Roman roads Icknield Street, Watling Street, Fosse Way, and a prehistoric salt track leading from Droitwich. It encompassed an area corresponding to the north-western half of the traditional county of Warwickshire, stretching from Stratford-upon-Avon in the south to Tamworth (in Staffordshire) in the north, and included what are now the large cities of Birmingham and Coventry.
Although our house name, Waverley, is probably of more recent derivation it does seem to reflect the locality. Many local names end in -ley or -leigh (a clearing in the forest) and the word ‘Waver‘ is the local word for brushwood. Interestingly (but probably conjecture) the neighbouring property is called Tanglewood!
On the tithe maps of the mid-1800’s the hamlet resided in the parish of Budbrooke and much of the land was owned by Lord Dormer and occupied by tenant farmers. On the county series maps of 1881-1890 the boundaries of what is now our garden are already in place and were probably associated with what was then called Norton Curlieu Farm (now Curlieu Farm). There appear to be a couple of small cottages on the land. These were demolished in the 1950s/1960’s and replaced by our current property.
When we acquired the property and neighbouring land in 1993 the garden immediately adjacent to the house was a small, uninteresting garden and the majority of the one acre plot was a paddock that had been used for grazing. In the orchard there is evidence of ridge and furrow cultivation which probably means it was cultivated as part of an open field system by the hamlet residents. Many of the grazing fields around the hamlet show the remnants of similar ridge and furrow cultivation.
The British Geological Survey maps give details of the underlying bedrock and any superficial deposits which lay above this bedrock. In referring to these maps I was quite surprised to see how varied the geology was in our area as we look across the fields to neighbouring ridges. Our specific plot is described as having no superficial deposits recorded and a bedrock geology of Mercia Mudstone. This is a sedimentary bedrock formed between 252.2 and 201.3 million years ago during the Triassic period.
We have about 2 feet of soil sitting on top of heavy clay. In the winter this means that the water table is very high and many parts of the garden are sodden. There is often standing water in some of the beds. The top soil is quite fine and dries out quickly in the summer but over the years we have improved this by adding lots of organic matter from our own garden compost heaps. Both the wet and the dry offer interesting challenges. For example some of our large orchard trees have struggled to gain a deep foot hold and have ended up leaning badly (but are still very productive).