The first thing that strikes a visitor arriving at High Glanau Manor are the truly spectacular views towards the distant Brecon Beacons. This comes as a breathtaking surprise − after ascending the hill to the house by a road enclosed with trees, the visitor enters through the red brick gate posts, and is greeted with the realisation that High Glanau is, as its name suggests, on a hilltop. The town of Monmouth and river Wye are only a short distance away down in the valley, but up here, on top of this hill, is another world.
High Glanau Manor is an important Arts and Crafts house, and is now the home of Helena and Hilary Gerrish and their family. The house itself nestles comfortably in to a level area of an otherwise steep hillside. It was built in 1923 by Henry Avray Tipping and was his last home, where he lived until his death in 1933. Tipping was one of the most respected authorities of his time on the history, architecture and gardens of English houses. He was the architectural editor of Country Life from 1907 until his death in 1933, and his articles on country houses and gardens became the magazine's most important feature. Tipping worked alongside Gertrude Jekyll from whom he drew inspiration for his own gardens. He was also a friend of the architect Harold Peto, whose garden designs were equally notable.
At High Glanau, Tipping designed the house and gardens together, and the result is an architectural integrity which remains today. The gardens are currently being restored to their former glory by Helena, who has already performed nothing short of a miracle. When she arrived here, seven years ago, the gardens were totally overgrown, and she has made it her project since then to bring back to life this beautiful Edwardian house and its gardens. Taking a tour around the garden with Helena, one cannot help but be infected by her enthusiasm and passion. Stepping first out onto the terrace behind the house, this is the formal part of the garden. Steps lead down from the terrace to an octagonal pool, planted with lilies, where a fountain plays. Water is pumped up the hill by a hydraulic ram installed by Tipping in the river at the bottom, and is constantly available to supply water features around the garden. Moving from the terrace, around the house clad with Wisteria, which, at my visit, was close to full bloom, I am reminded of the Arts and Crafts style where gardens were brought right up to the house. Then down more steps, passing some young box topiary Helena is growing to replace Tipping's originals, come the stunning 100 foot long double herbaceous borders. These are made all the more effective by the knowledge that Helena planted them herself in a single season. Using old photographs of Tipping's original garden, she has managed to use the original planting scheme whose subtle colours are softly reminiscent of the garden's Edwardian era. At the end of these borders is Tipping's pergola, with a seat placed beneath where the visitor may sit and admire the vista back up the wide grass path between the borders to the house. The pillars of the pergola are the original stone columns, and the wooden beams have been restored to copy those in the old photographs. Up a short flight of steps is a gate through the old wall into the Kitchen garden, where young fruit trees are planted, and vegetables provide the family organic home-grown produce. There is a fine Edwardian greenhouse, Tipping's original, now repainted to restore its elegant style. Inside grow fabulous tulips early in the year, followed by herbs, tomatoes and courgettes. An old original vine climbs across the roof and geraniums in pots add bright colour. Back through another gate in the old wall, the garden becomes less formal at the lower level. There is a small irregular pond with an island planted with azaleas and hostas. Then down the hill a little further is a gate onto a lane which seems to be the end of the garden. But here is a surprise, because the gardens at High Glanau stretch to twelve acres and continue on the other side of the lane down through the woods to the river. These lower woodland walks were planted by Tipping with Rhododendrons which now in their maturity grow high amongst the woodland trees while bluebells carpet the ground.
The combination is both unusual and intoxicating, tempting the visitor to venture further down the hill where there are streams and waterfalls. Returning back to the top of the garden, and passing the house on the other side, next we climb more steps through the upper woodland walks. Here is a more secret, mysterious place, the ancient steps mossy and uneven, the rhododendrons add to the gloom of this woodland giving this part of the garden a romantic, gothic feel. Helena is the first to admit that this restoration of Tipping's garden is a work in progress. Parts are now beautifully restored to the original design. Other parts remain hidden, their secrets still to be discovered. But this is what gives the garden its charm. It shows its age in a genteel way, as a garden that has grown gracefully into itself, without losing touch with its past. This is a very special garden, not to be missed.