Landscape architecture, garden design, planting design and management - Rowland Byass

Where I'm from (1)


Stanford Hall across a characteristically open Wolds landscape. The cooling tower plume of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station can be seen on the horizon.

Where I’m from is the east Midlands. No, not near Birmingham (West Midlands, wholly different). Northern Leicestershire to be more precise. Open in character, even bleak in parts, with small patches of woodland kept for their value as fox covers (this is hunting country). Redbrick former industrial towns of variable attractiveness. A lot of it isn't 'pretty', but the countryside round here is still largely 'real' in the way that prettier places are not.

Leicestershire redbrick, base of Mountsorrel granite. St Pancras Station is built of the same Leicestershire bricks.

Growing up, we lived in a couple of villages about equidistant from Nottingham and Leicester. These days Nottingham is somewhat unfairly best known for gun crime. To my sister  and me as young children, it was the city over the horizon; London, New York and Paris rolled into one.

On the A60, looking south towards Loughborough

And it was the city on the horizon. Hoton, where we lived, is at the edge of the Wolds upcountry, from where the A60 snakes into Nottinghamshire past vast rolling fields of arable crops with long views towards pylons and distant villages with names like East Leake and Bunny.  In Natural England’s landscape character areas of England, the Wolds is part of a

'belt of gently dipping Jurassic rocks which stretch from the Cotswolds to Lincolnshire
characterised by rural, open, mixed farmland landscape with long views from the summits of undulating hills.'

Hoton lies atop a hill ridge looking across to Stanford Hall, a redbrick originally eighteenth century country house a few miles across a valley, with little in between but more vast wheatfields and a few big hedgerow trees. Around the Hall itself are copses  of mature trees, which from the end of our garden appeared continuous. I imagined them as an endless forest.

The agro-industrial countryside of my childhood was not a ‘natural’ place. Walking the dog, you might be disturbed by the unexpected boom of a bird scarer behind one of the hedges that were flail-cut each year so brutally by farmers who had no notions of rural prettiness. We would make dens and tunnels through the chemical monoculture of wheat (or oilseed rape, or peas) that stretched down the slope beyond our garden in the summer.

The most exciting outdoor childhood landscapes for play were all places of danger and dereliction. The old decaying farmyard and paddock with horses next door before its conversion to executive homes with leylandii-hedged gardens. I once ran across the paddock and came terrifyingly close to being trampled by a big white horse, or so it seemed at the time. Trixie, our Jack Russell, met her end after she wandered into the farmyard through a gap in the fence and ate rat poison. The old second world war aerodrome on the other side of the village: expanses of crumbling runway, strange concrete buildings, and cavernous hangars, in which straw bales were stacked higher than a house. Thrilling to climb up and jump off.

Prestwold Hall

Up on the Wolds near Hoton, Prestwold is the seat of the local gentry, the Packes, who still own most of the land in the villages around there. St Andrew’s, the local parish church, lies in a wood in the grounds of Prestwold Hall, an elegant early nineteenth century pile inhabited by the current scion, Edward Packe-Drury-Lowe (to give him his full name). My grandfather’s ashes are interred in the churchyard there. The marker is engraved with lines by AE Housman chosen by my grandmother. Their sentiment of protest at a cold, cruel Divinity still takes me aback

If truth in hearts that perish
Could move the powers on high,
I think the love I bear you
Should have made you not to die.

In a field nearby is a more contemporary cemetery – an ‘eco-burial ground’. My father, a solicitor, did the legal work to turn what was a field into a designated burial ground. The wooden grave markers are festooned with plastic trinkets, soft toys and other paraphernalia. A tree is planted on the site of each grave. Such things wouldn’t be allowed in ‘normal’ cemeteries. It all feels quite pagan, a little creepy. There is something much more raw about the sight of these tacky grave offerings, than a sober engraved headstone. My grandmother was buried there, three years ago. The burial ground sits on a low ridge, with views down from the Wolds to where the low lying washlands of the Trent and Soar rivers begin, a wholly different midland landscape.




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