A selection of tall trees add drama to the scene: Sequoia sempervirens and Sequoiadendron Giganteum, a weeping beech, Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendulum’, and an atlas cedar Cedrus atlanica glauca. At the foot of the lawn, the long grasses and wildflowers of the bulb meadow are dotted with ant hills, an indicator of long undisturbed grassland. The bulb meadow comprises a mix of traditional meadow grasses, plus wildflowers such as bird’s foot trefoil, forget me not, speedwell, cowslips, sorrel, plantain, and scarlet pimpernel. This is an exciting place for invertebrates; in 2014 we found evidence that the hummingbird hawk moth was breeding on the lady’s bedstraw.
Sown with bulbs, the area comes alive with daffodils and snake’s head fritillaries in Spring. Specimen trees, Magnolia soulangeana, Magnolia stellate and cherry, draw the eye to the centre of the space and offer cover for many small birds. The signature colour of ‘Waltham red’ is threaded throughout the planting scheme. Mature copper beech, prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’, acers and other plum-leaved trees create a ring of fire in Autumn, as the Boston ivy that adorns the house turns crimson. The bulb meadow is managed to ensure soil fertility remains low, encouraging healthy growth of both the snake’s head fritillary and the meadow flowers; each year fallen leaves are raked up and transported to the leaf mould pile for composting.
As is traditional, the parkland beyond is grazed by cattle and sheep, creating an idyllic vista at the edge of the gardens. In recent years, the loss of two substantial oak trees in Lake Field has led to a unique management strategy. Both oaks have been tidied of their branches and the trunks have been fitted with a handcrafted, wooden shingled roof, creating a remarkable field shelter at either end of the field. Thus, the trunks can degrade in their own time and will provide excellent habitat for invertebrates and fungus for many years to come.
A diverse 12-acre woodland wraps around the lake and parkland. Sitting at the heart of Waltham, this mixed deciduous woodland is a rich home for fox, roe deer, muntjac, stoat and many small mammal species and birds. Native trees of oak, hazel, and beech abound, alongside horse chestnuts and other non-native species. The woodland is believed to be a westerly remnant of Windsor Great Forest and may have been part of the Great Wood itself. In places, lines of boundary oaks can still be seen, and the woodland pathways follow the field margins of yesteryear. The handiwork of Carlota Oppenheimer continues to shape the woodland: the tree lined Green Walk leading down to the centre of the woods, the rhododendron grove and camelias, the thatched woodland pavilions. A maple walk, planted by Carlota, was destroyed by the great storm in 1987. Replanted with Lime, Tilia cordata, Lime Walk has become one of the focal points of the woodland. The trees over arching the central path give a cathedral effect, particularly beautiful in the snow.
The woodland is managed with a light touch. The paths are moss covered and a diverse array of fungus can be found here, sprouting from both the trees and the leaf litter. Deadwood is left standing, a unique habitat in its own right. Fallen twigs and boughs are woven into eco-hedges, creating dense hedges where birds, invertebrates, amphibians and small mammals can seek refuge and fodder. Fallen trunks are usually left to rot, a home to saproxylic insects which feed on deadwood. Some have been sculpted into organic forms by sculptor, Jeffrey Armstrong. Blending seamlessly into the landscape, these too will grow moss, lichen and fungus as they age and decay, at one with the natural rhythms.