Cyperus papyrus is one of the more unusual plants we grow at Gravetye. It is a native of the Nile and because of its warm, aquatic demands, can be a little tricky to grow. Through the winter it’s kept in a warm glass house and then once the water has warmed up (around June), we plant it in the lily pond for all to enjoy its exotic ‘pom-pom’ foliage.
The ancient Egyptians used Cyperus papyrus to make parchment. This parchment was very valuable and thus reused time and time again; old text was erased for something new. The previous text could never be completely erased and so it was possible to read the preceding writings, like an accumulation of different stories. This layering is called a ‘palimpsest’.
A historic garden is also like a palimpsest. It has known different times, different owners and gardeners and sometimes redesigned. These layers of history are all superimposed over the garden today.
A historic garden manager must then question what to keep from the historical past. What is the ‘truest state’ of the garden? The older the garden, the more difficult this question becomes.
It’s an amazing paradox for a garden which is by nature constantly changing with the seasons, years and trends. History must always be respected but evolution never resisted.
At Gravetye, we’re trying to make the garden evolve and meet new needs without compromising our history, charm and character. We always keep William Robinson’s concepts in the forefront but are mindful not to be stuck in the past.
Developing our palimpsest is a delicate practice; whilst retaining the original structure of the garden, we slowly introduce new features such as stairs, pathways, fences. Always one step and a time, and with unreserved care and thought.
Words and photographs by Martin / archive images property of William Robinson Trust