I have lived and worked at the Larmer Tree Gardens for 31 extremely happy years and feel privileged to have known, and been able to spend time with the late Major Michael Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers: owner of the Larmer Tree Gardens, and Rushmore Estate. The Larmer Tree Gardens were originally created by landowner General Augustus Pitt Rivers in 1880; intended as pleasure grounds for “public enlightenment and entertainment”; and were the first private gardens to be opened for public enjoyment in the United Kingdom. It is lovely that to do this day, the gardens are still popular and providing pleasure for so many.
In 1989, not long after I had moved into the Larmer Tree Flat, the caretaker/groundsman left the Larmer Tree Lodge, the Lodge is divided into two dwellings, and I was asked if I would help out and care for all the birds that lived within the gardens. Michael Pitt Rivers was a keen bird watcher and enthusiast, and would often visit the gardens to study the wild birds, as well as the variety of pheasants, peacocks and macaws. Being a keen conservationist and a lover of all wildlife myself, I was happy to accept my new role. The gardens had been closed for many years and though overgrown in places, it was all quite magical and I loved it. For the following 6-9 months I lived at Larmer Tree, on my own, whilst a new caretaker/groundsman was found. The only visitors to the gardens, apart from Michael Pitt Rivers, were the estate workers who would pass through periodically.
During this period I would lock the gates and secure the gardens at night, whilst also seeing-off poachers. I wore the bird-keepers hat throughout, and fed and cared for the ornamental pheasants, peacocks and macaws. As mentioned on my Macaw Magic and Peacock at Larmer Tree artwork pages, I knew one could have a close relationship with our furry friends, but didn’t realise a close relationship/bond could be formed with birds. It was a huge learning curve for me, a lovely experience and one I will never forget. The two remaining macaws are still my trusted friends to this day and more recently, Brian and I rescued and raised 3 orphaned pea chicks found within the gardens. Their mother had sadly died. Now fully grown, two of the peacocks are living back at Larmer Tree Gardens, the third, of his own accord chose to live with us and rule the roost here at our cottage, within the Rushmore Estate.
After the storms during the early 1990’s, a number of trees came down and as the gardens were being tidied up, it was decided to open the gardens to visitors. I have seen many changes to the gardens as they gradually became more and more popular. In between my artwork – I would often help out in the grand Larmer Tree Dining Hall: working behind the bar, or as a waitress at one of the many special functions and events. I also worked in the old shed which was the original ticket office, and then in the grand newly built shop. With my interest in the gardens and the Pitt Rives family I was also asked to conduct guided tours of the Gardens.
During the 90’s, both Michael Pitt Rivers and his partner, Mr. William Gronow Davis, very kindly commissioned me to produce a number of artworks. My art business continued to steadily grow, and it was super to also be invited to produce a Larmer Tree Garden map, plus Peacock postcards, and a Children’s Larmer & Nature Discovery leaflet/guide for the Estate and Gardens, The gardens meanwhile became well known as a popular wedding venue, and over more recent years for its music festivals. I feel very fortunate to have been able to enjoy the gardens during those early years, and it is lovely that the gardens are now being used as General Pitt Rivers envisaged all those years ago.
Sadly Mr. Michael Pitt Rivers passed away in 2000 and Mr. Gronow Davis in 2015.