Butterflies, bees, dragonflies and a bat walk: The Gardens of Easton Lodge in August
Jill Goldsmith, from the Gardens of Easton Lodge Preservation Trust, extols the virtues of a visit to the natural wonder at Little Easton, near Great Dunmow...
August at the Gardens of Easton Lodge is usually a lovely quiet month, so a good time for visitors and volunteers to enjoy watching the butterflies, bees and dragonflies.
The dragonflies seem to have had a really good season, flitting around the lily pond and foraging wider afield in search of more insects.
The bumblebees and butterflies love the lavender hedges and on sunny days have been out and about in big numbers. The trust’s volunteers have noticed lots of colourful moths and beetles, and a hummingbird hawkmoth regularly visits too.
Visitors can enjoy the Historic England grade II registered gardens every Thursday, from 11am to 3pm, while the volunteers are at work. Hot and cold drinks and home-made cakes are provided. There is no need to book tickets.
The drought has disrupted volunteers’ routines. Normally by August, with all the planting and early summer weeding and mowing done, they are quietly dead-heading and harvesting vegetables. This year, though, the main activity has been watering vulnerable plants.
Some vegetables are growing very slowly, but there is a glut of plums and mulberries to pick and so the produce stall is still well stocked.
Visitors love finding out about the gardens from the volunteers. And it is a lovely space to bring children, for a picnic and a run around, and to climb into the treehouse.
Sunday August 21 is the next full open day at the gardens, with gates open from 11am to 5pm. Woodwind of Stortford will be playing in the afternoon. The wind band are a talented group of local enthusiasts who love getting together to play and have a very wide repertoire.
The trust’s volunteer archivists will present a display on the history of the Maynard estate, which included land and property in five counties at the beginning of the 19th century. Many properties in the villages around Easton Lodge have plasterwork badges, with an ‘M’ or a stag, indicating they once belonged to the estate.
The Maynard family’s ownership of the Little Easton estate dates back to Elizabeth I’s time. The Easton Lodge mansion was built in 1597, looking out onto the hunting forest, studded with large oaks. The mansion was largely destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1847 and then again by another fire in 1918.
The open day will feature a range of stalls, including plants, crafts and produce from the gardens. Children can enjoy a craft activity and fun trail, as well as getting to know all about Daisy, the Countess of Warwick, and her baby elephant Kim. What better way to while away a summer’s day, with a local bacon, cheese or hummus roll and slice of home-made cake?
Tickets can be bought online through the gardens’ website, Facebook page or direct through Trybooking, or they can be bought on the gate. The entrance fee is £5.50 for adults and there’s free entry for children under 16. Dogs on leads are welcome.
And on Friday August 26 there is the opportunity to come to the gardens for a bat walk, starting at 8pm. A few years ago a week-long survey showed that the gardens were home to seven species of bat. Maybe we will hear others too, as we know a couple of other species live in Essex?
The Gardens of Easton Lodge are the most important legacy of Harold Peto’s work in the East of England. Frances Evelyn "Daisy" Maynard, the Countess of Warwick, commissioned Peto to redesign her gardens in 1902. His designs include the sunken Italian garden and its 100 ft long pool with water lilies, which has recently been restored; a treehouse which has been recreated; and a glade with Japanese rill and other features, which leads down to a trout lake.
After the Second World War, when the estate was returned to the Maynard family after its use as an airfield, the gardens went untended and most of the mansion was pulled down. The large part of the original gardens is maintained and managed by volunteers of the Gardens of Easton Lodge Preservation Trust.
The gardens around the remaining wing, now called Warwick House, are also open to visitors on Sunday open days thanks to the kind permission of their owners.