Ruins and personality at Great Comp


Great Comp garden, near Sevenoaks in Kent, is a remarkably personal garden, wrapped round a 17th century house.


Dotted around the garden are the ruins which, by the time you spot the second one, you realise must be the creation of the same person who has created the rest of the garden.


They offer an interesting tension between wild imagination and order, classical romance and technical challenge, drama and horticultural excellence.


So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that as I was walking around, I was thinking about who had planted this garden. Even at this time of the year (September) it’s well-maintained, but there is such a sense of personality here that comes through.


One answer was in the interesting exhibition of photographs and cuttings in the summer house, which include these ‘Important ladies from the WI’.


I hope they enjoyed the garden as much as their modern equivalent obviously were!


Another clue was in the book I bought at the ticket office, The Life of an Amateur by Roderick Cameron. I fell in love with the writing immediately, and I sat on a bench to finish it, I could imagine Mr Cameron’s voice accompanying me round. Particularly his question, “Why if I and Great Comp are so great are we not famous?”


He and his wife, Joyce, moved to Great Comp in 1957 and created the garden we see today. It is now run by the Great Comp Trust, and is obviously flourishing.


So rather than say more, I have taken the liberty of using Roderick Cameron’s words for my creative response to this garden. It’s a collage from exact phrases (and chapters) taken from the guidebook. Somehow a collage felt important given that parts of the garden feel like a collage too. And although Roderick Cameron died in 2009, I imagine that the skeleton structure he designed is what gives the garden its cohesion.


And, as he said himself: ‘it is still my garden’, even after the running had been taken over by the Great Comp trust. It is the Trust I imagine who we have to thank not just for the sensitive and alive maintenance of the garden itself, but possibly the most welcoming tea room ever!


So here’s my Roderick Cameron Collage, I can only imagine what a wonderful personality he must have been.


I have views about plenty of things but…

I have throughout my life
been interested in the incidentals,
my real life’s work:
the fifty years of designing,
constructing and maintaining
the Great Comp ambience.
To me,
to me
anything open
to the public
should have
an element of
the theatrical.

Although never much of a personality,
I spent one night
in the unfinished buildings
of Mussolini’s 1942 Exhibition.
During the night a plane
circled several times
and dropped a bomb,
led me to become
an expert on concrete

Great Comp
It will have been noticed
that my early life was devoid
of any interest in gardening.
I found gardening tools,
spades, forks, rakes
and a bricklayer’s trowel
no problem at all.
It is not necessary to be a genius
to be a garden designer.
Harold Nicolson spent a lot of time
running around with ranging rods.
Read Gertrude Jekyll.
Read Isaiah Berlin.
The first ruin was the start,
the same ruins
could not have been built
by other people.

November and December Diary

I have made at least three
daily perambulations
and noted for this diary,
last winter cold but not dropping
even on clear nights,
our 70 magnolias coming,
gingkoes, field maples,
many common oaks to replace beeches.
The Liriodendron and Magnolia veitchii
and plenty of others, Acer griseum,
Malus tschonoskii, Parrottia,
Eunymus alatus, Cornus controversa
Two visitors from Hungary.
Plenty to enjoy but
no damage is a suitable note
to end my diary
on a note of optimism.

Can the whole ambience survive
me for another 50 years?
Laziness and listening
to Late Junction
until midnight,
and it is still
my garden.


Six such magnificent singers
emerging unobtrusively
from the choir,
these occasions are almost
like a family party.
A strange thing:
I am reading The Secret Garden,
opinions not science.

Outside Influences
Like the dramatic guard’s whistle
before the departure of an express train,
awe inspiring
need not be gigantic or complex,
to many no doubt as dull
as ditchwater.
One reason why my book
could never be a best seller.
I rest my case.

And such a contrast to my life
during my time on earth,
never letting anyone complete
a sentence in committee or elsewhere.
I accept an element of truth in it all.
It is given to few to be
both popular and achieve something,
my late wife and I are not
of that company.
One of the last things
she said on her death bed was
You never let me get a word in edgewise.
The last thing I want to do,
or ever wanted to do,
is to manage men
or women either.
At Great Comp I told them
just to do what I wanted.
If I were to presume to pass on advice,
be thankful for the sun,
let others worry about what follows.

Those who know my writing habits
will also know
that when it comes to amendments
and supplements
I am incorrigible.
I see Great Comp
not so much as a centre of erudition
as an oasis where civilized people
will be able to enjoy the garden.
I can only express my gratitude,
and so ends my story.


The website for Great Comp is here
Date visited: September 2013

4 thoughts on “Ruins and personality at Great Comp

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s