Myddelton House Gardens

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‘Holy ground for plantsmen’

Myddelton House Gardens, Bulls Cross, Enfield

Enfield Market Cross
Enfield Mar­ket Cross in Myd­del­ton House Gar­dens

Named after the cre­ator of the near­by New Riv­er, Myd­del­ton House was built in 1818 for Hen­ry Car­ing­ton Bowles, who was one of five gen­er­a­tions of printsellers based at St Paul’s Church­yard. The house replaced an Eliz­a­bethan prop­er­ty in which Bowles had lived with his wife, who died in 1812.

Edward Augus­tus ‘Gussie’ Bowles was born at Myd­del­ton House in 1865 and he inher­it­ed the estate in 1918 – by which time he had already been busy in the gar­dens for around two decades. The over­all design, pond, paths and much of the struc­tur­al plant­i­ng pre-date his work.

The pond had been cre­at­ed by the extrac­tion of grav­el which made the mound the house stands on and Bowles kept it topped up by divert­ing water from the New Riv­er. The riv­er once flowed through the mid­dle of the gar­dens and its old course is now a curv­ing lawn.

EA Bowles is often referred to as a ‘plants­man’ – a skilled (but usu­al­ly ama­teur) hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist whose main con­cern is with cul­ti­vat­ing a wide and often eso­teric vari­ety of plants rather than con­triv­ing a pic­ture-per­fect gar­den (though Hid­den Lon­don finds Bowles’s lux­u­ri­ant plan­ta­tion more beau­ti­ful than any num­ber of man­i­cured flowerbeds).

After his father’s death, Bowles felt able to indulge his quirki­er fan­cies, devis­ing areas such as ‘Tom Tid­dler’s Ground’ – for plants with sil­ver or gold var­ie­gat­ed foliage – and the ‘Lunatic Asy­lum’, which he filled with botan­i­cal odd­i­ties, includ­ing con­tort­ed vari­eties like corkscrew hazel. Con­ti­nen­tal plant-hunt­ing hol­i­days inspired him to cre­ate an ‘Alpine Mead­ow’, car­pet­ed with snow­drops, frit­il­lar­ies, daf­fodils and his par­tic­u­lar favourite: cro­cus­es.

Clock turret on the stable block
Clock tur­ret on the sta­ble block

He brought dec­o­ra­tive fea­tures here from neigh­bour­ing parts of what is now north-east Lon­don, includ­ing a well bore from Whitewebbs pump­ing sta­tion, a dia­mond-shaped brick pier from Enfield­’s Gough Park, the trunk of a fos­silised tree found dur­ing the exca­va­tion of the King George V Reser­voir at Ching­ford and the stone cross that stood in Enfield mar­ket place from 1826 to 1904.

EA Bowles died in 1954, with­in a few days of his 89th birth­day. In accor­dance with his wish­es, the house and its grounds were trans­ferred to the Roy­al Free Hos­pi­tal School of Med­i­cine and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lon­don’s School of Phar­ma­cy. Med­i­c­i­nal plants were exper­i­men­tal­ly cul­ti­vat­ed in the gar­dens and green­hous­es, while the fields beyond became a sports ground.

In 1968 Myd­del­ton House became the head­quar­ters of the recent­ly estab­lished Lee Val­ley region­al park author­i­ty. The author­i­ty made valiant efforts to look after the gar­dens but parts were neglect­ed until the award of her­itage lot­tery fund­ing in 2009 per­mit­ted their restora­tion.

The kitchen gar­den, peach house and Vic­to­ri­an glasshouse range are among the fea­tures that have been brought back into full use. The sta­ble block now accom­mo­dates a recep­tion area, shop, tea room and a small exhi­bi­tion devot­ed to the life and work of EA Bowles.

Lon­don has many delight­ful gar­dens, from Chelsea Physic Gar­den to incom­pa­ra­ble Kew, in the grounds of palaces and state­ly homes and cor­ners of pub­lic parks. In their own spe­cial way – as the real­i­sa­tion of one man’s imag­i­na­tive vision – Myd­del­ton House Gar­dens are right up there with the best of them.

Myddelton House Gardens, Bulls Cross, Enfield EN2 9HG
Phone: 08456 770 600
Website: Myddelton House Gardens (also on Facebook)
Open: Daily 9.30am–6pm from April to September; 9.30am–4.30pm from October to March.
Admission free; charges apply to private guided walks and special events (see the website)
Nearest station: Turkey Street (London Overground)
NearbyForty Hall

The title of this page is tak­en from a Roy­al Hor­ti­cul­tur­al Soci­ety arti­cle on Myd­del­ton House: “Holy ground for plants­men with a sense of his­to­ry, EA Bowles’s gar­den was aban­doned for 30 years: Lee Val­ley Region­al Park Author­i­ty has restored it admirably.”