It would appear that the Lady St. Johns had a penchant for gardening. And while it was down to the men to make sweeping changes to the parkland, it was the women who attended to the finer details.
Lady Johanna, wife of Sir Walter St John was a keen gardener. Letters written from her home in Battersea to Thomas Hardyman her steward at Lydiard indicate how involved she was with the planting and development of the garden.
I bid richard brown send down some slips of the Austrian rose if he hath sent them set them betwen the lawrel tre in the court if ther be any that stand far enough asunder …
Another letter to Hardyman gives instructions for Rudler, the gardener, regarding a consignment of seeds.
…to send him a noat of the number and how to use them but the seed must not be s[own] till next yere tell him he must not brag to much least he lose them and tel him I would have all the white and yelow crowns planted in the outward garden as wel as thos that are turned plaine red or yalow or white bid him also save some of his white stock seed to us …
The unhappy Lady Diana Spencer who married John and Anne’s dissolute son Frederick, sought consolation in the walled garden and added her contribution to its design and content.
Inside, the walls enclose a surprising large area of 4,500 square metres. The unusual parallelogram shape of the garden was designed to maximise sunlight throughout the year. The north eastern wall is slightly higher than the rest, providing a barrier against the winter winds, while the corner of the eastern wall is curved, a perfect place to sit and watch the setting summer sun.
The main gated and pillared entrance is approached via an avenue of incongruous fir trees planted in the 20th century. A small arched doorway in the north eastern wall is linked by one of two footpaths crossing south west to north east. The 1766 estate map shows an outer footpath and others crossing south east to north west.
In 2004 Wessex Archaeology made an excavation of the walled garden in advance of an ambitious four year restoration programme.
Sherds of wheel thrown medieval pottery produced in nearby Minety were also discovered. And just one small piece of Tudor Green ware produced in great quantity in the early 16th century - perhaps a jug from the table of Margaret Carew who married John St John in about 1525.
Two sherds of Creamware reveal that the St. Johns were buying from 18th century pottery mogul Josiah Wedgewood, hardly surprising as Lady Diana contributed designs for the potter’s Jasper ware.
Fragments of clay pipes, the cigarette butt of an earlier age, less offensive and a useful dating device, were discovered. As tobacco prices dropped, bowl sizes increased and this along with pipemakers marks make pipes easily dateable.
More than 300 years on, the letters of 17th century Lady Johanna St John have contributed to the design of the restored walled garden. Those responsible for the 21st century planting have where possible selected plants that would have been popular in Lady Johanna’s day. In the 17th century the purchase of a tulip bulb could lead to bankruptcy. Thankfully today they are a tad cheaper.