The photo is of my two lovely feathered friends. They would often visit me in my garden. If I was sitting on the bench seat they would sit either side of me and try to hold my pencil as I was drawing. They would also visit my studio upstairs and pop by to say ‘hello’.
I have lived and worked at the Larmer Tree Gardens for 31 extremely happy years. I feel privileged to have lived there and to have been able to spend time with the late Major Michael Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers: owner of the Larmer Tree Gardens, and Rushmore Estate. In 1989, when I applied to live at the Larmer Tree Flat; to my great surprise, it was actually Michael that interviewed me. During the course of the interview he asked how I felt about fox hunting. Am sure he sensed my momentary hesitation, but I couldn’t lie, and immediately thought ‘bang goes my chance of living at Larmer Tree’. I told him that I didn’t like fox hunting, and to my great surprise yet again, he laughed and said that he agreed with me, and that the flat was now my new home.
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.
The Larmer Tree Lodge is divided into two dwellings, the Lodge and the Flat, both with separate entrances. In 1989, not long after I had moved into the Flat, the caretaker/groundsman left the Larmer Tree Lodge, 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 me at the Flat, and walk around the gardens studying the wild birds, as well as the variety of pheasants, peacocks and macaws. Being a keen conservationist myself, and a lover of all wildlife 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, and also see-off any 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: their mother had sadly died and the chicks were found wandering alone within the gardens. Now fully grown, two of the peacocks are living back at Larmer Tree Gardens, the third, of his own accord chose to continue living with us and now rules 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. Over the years, I have seen many changes to the gardens as they have gradually became more and more popular. In between my artwork – I would often help out in the grand Larmer Tree Dining Hall: working either 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 knowledge of the Pitt Rivers family history – I was also invited 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 visitors to the Estate and Gardens. The gardens, more recently have become a popular wedding venue, and also well-known for its annual music festival.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to enjoy the gardens and Larmer Tree life 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.