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Norah Lindsay and Mottisfont Abbey

Norah Lindsay (1873–1948) and Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire, Registered Grade II.

Norah Lindsay started as an amateur garden stylist for her rich friends and became a sought-after garden designer. Her commissions included Cliveden, Bucks (Registered Grade I) and Hidcote Manor, Glos (Registered Grade I).

Norah's parterre at Mottisfont Abbey
Norah's parterre at Mottisfont Abbey © Mottisfont Abbey

Norah used a graded colour palette with grey-green foliage and pink, purple and yellow flowers. She had a spontaneous planting style consisting of clumps of seemingly self-sown plants, lent structure by architectural plants such as cardoon thistles and columnar Irish yews. Norah's own garden at Sutton Courtenay Manor, Oxon (Registered Grade II) was the perfect example of her carefree style. Her artful informality with a haphazard abundance of flowers set against a backdrop of trimmed hedges provided contrasts of light and dark. The look was influential and Norah was inspirational to others as an early example of a female garden designer and she was also hands-on, working for long hours, often getting up at dawn to meet the head gardener and assisting with the staking and transplanting.

One of her commissions was Mottisfont Abbey. In 1934 Gilbert Russell, a great-grandson of the sixth Duke of Bedford, bought the property and made major alterations to the garden commissioning the garden designer Geoffrey Jellicoe as well as Norah.

The garden layout on the north side of the house is largely the work of Jellicoe, who designed a paved walk and a rectangular level lawn, laid as a bowling green. There is also an avenue of pleached lime trees and an octagonal enclosure of high clipped yew hedges.

On the level ground within the U-shape formed by the wings of the house, Norah designed a box-edged parterre in 1938. The parterre is planted within the hedges with spring bulbs and summer bedding schemes. A rare collection of historic shrub roses is displayed in the walled kitchen garden, and is registered as the National Collection of ancestral species and 19th-century rose cultivars. 

Norah Lindsay
Norah Lindsay (source Wikimedia Commons)
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