by Beautiful Homes Expert: Craven Ars-Likka
Famed throughout Dorset for their exquisite topiary, extravagant beds and immaculate lawns, the grounds of Puncknowle House, the delightful home Lord and Lady Garden of Goathill, are no strangers to the public gaze. Dozens of visitors assemble each year on the occasion of the Garden's Open Days and RDHS Festivals, often standing one deep to admire the magnificent borders and luxuriate in the calm of a garden well-tended. Indeed the phrase "a well-maintained Lady Garden" has become a shorthand for any perfectly trimmed bush or carefully manicured secret nook.
Rarely, however, has the public been allowed to view Lady Garden's more private places. The former radio and TV presenter Hester Nicely-Pointy who, alongside much-loved Mandy Dandy and Horace the Horse, was three times voted Dorset Television presenter of the year before shying away from public view following her engagement and marriage to Lord Garden of Goathill in 1962, has instead, fiercely defended her privacy over the subsequent decades, declining all interviews and once - famously - an invitation to pose topless [ie without cardigan] for Unique Dorset Twin-Sets Magazine.
So it was with a sense of keen anticipation that a small group of journalist took up the couple's unexpected invitation to visit and to interview them inside their Grade 1 listed home.
Wearing a white blouse and tailored slacks by Mavis of Corfe Mullen and comfortably ensconced in a French Louis XVI Duchess Brisee by Jean Baptist Claude Sene, the former Hester Nicely-Pointy looks a trifle ill at ease and a tad bedraggled after what has clearly been a long day coping with Gerald and his famously insistent appetites. ["A man has his needs and a woman knows this when she takes him on", Lady Garden spiritedly accepts, "In Gerald's case he's simply an enthusiast for anything involving his organ - and yes it can be tiring, but once he's satisfied he's more than happy to relax and read the newspaper - then I just crack on with the day."]
At this point Lord Garden who, along with two delightfully inquisitive Belgian Malinois "Hercule" and "Poirot", has strayed into the room in search of "a quick stiffener" invites us all to visit his favourite room and the couple agree to pose for an "unofficial" photograph. It is, naturally, to the Organ Room that we repair. It is a room of which the music-loving minor aristocrat is immensely proud: "The moment I saw her (Lady Garden) I knew I had to re-arrange my Organ Room in order to do justice to her capabilities and appreciate fully her desires and capacities", he explains. "Since then its been a case of pretty constant adjustment with some enlargement and occasional reinforcement. The size and weight of my instrument now is such that it could cause considerable structural damage so it's in both our interests to ensure it's fully functional and appropriately braced". "At one point I was so obsessed with involving Lady Garden in the organ business, friends described her as "looking thoroughly organized", which I think was a pun and perhaps even a compliment, though I didn't entirely see the joke", he adds.
Be that as it may, Lord Garden's organ is impressive and - as has been said of books - it certainly does "furnish a room". After we politely decline an invitation to watch him finger it, our all-to-brief visit reaches its natural conclusion and, following a quick tour of the Gallery [during which Lord Garden points us towards a recent acquisition of a watercolour celebrating his captaincy of the Puncknowle Crown Green Bowling Team] we leave.
It remains only to thank Lord and Lady Garden for their warm hospitality and generosity in opening up their lovely home to our intrusive gaze.
© Craven Ars-Likka is a freelance journalist feeding off the backs of minor aristocrats and celebrities. A graduate of the University of Afpuddle, he gained a first class degree in English with Interior Design [£300; easy instalments available] and has since written for numerous magazines including: Ideal Gnomes, Unique Dorset Aristocrats, The Buckland Ripers Arts Monthly and Threadlines [The Theadbone Airways Inflight Magazine]. His most recent book Blag Your Way Into People's Homes [And Even Get A Cup Of Tea!] is published next month, though not, surprisingly, by the Threadbone Press.