Paradise and Plenty – A Rothschild Family Garden by Mary Keen

This book provides the ultimate peep over the walls of a closed and private garden and what a delight we are shown. We are shown Eythrope, the private garden of the present Lord Rothschild, one of a family of great English gardeners.



Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the Waddesdon estate in the Vale of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire from the Duke of Marlborough in 1874. It was one of a string of Rothschild properties along the Vale of Aylesbury and it was said that on a clear day the cousins could wave one to another from the roofs of their various houses  – Tring, Waddeston, Mentmore, Ascott, Aston, Clinton and Halton. Baron Ferdinand’s wife, Evelina, unfortunately died after only eighteen months of marriage and he move to Waddeston with his sister, Miss Alice, and built a fabulous house in the French chateau style while developing the gardens both beautifully and extravagantly. In a time when the number of bedding plants a landowner used was a good indication of their status the parterre at Waddesdon required 41,000 plants to be planted overnight and these were changed four times each year.

For health reasons, Miss Alice had a pavilion built at Eythrope and because it was considered too damp for her she returned to Waddesdon each night to sleep. It was here in Eythrope in 1875 that she began to develop the garden which would come to the present Lord Rothschild in time and become the subject matter of this book. To give an indication of scale, it was reported that in the early years of the twentieth century the garden had 100 gardeners and an annual budget of £500,000. Miss Alice was a perfectionist, and this would appear to have been a common Rothschild trait, and the gardens were developed and maintained to a standard which is quite impossible to imagine nowadays. That said, the present gardens at Eythrope could certainly be held up as an exemplar of both beauty and best practice in all aspect of gardening.

Mary Keen, the author, was asked by Lord Rothschild to redesign the walled gardens at Eythrope and at her suggestion, Sue Dickinson came to Eythrope. Sue Dickinson had trained at Waterperry College and her first placement was at Malahide Castle before going on to Sissinghurst and under her direction the gardens produce all the fruit, vegetables and flowers for a large county house using methods – many traditional techniques which might otherwise be lost – which are of the very highest standards.

The book is organised thematically, moving through Vegetables, Fruit, Glasshouses, Borders, Special Collections, Pots and Topiary and Flowers for the House while each section is an embroidery of historical notes on the garden and its methods, a description of present practices, advice of selection of plants for the various topics with comments on what has worked best at the gardens. It is a book which is both interesting and highly informative and illustrated perfectly by photographer, Tom Hatton, where an unusual approach is employed with colour photographs used to show the beauty the various aspects of the gardens and black and white photograph used to display the practical aspects, skills and techniques of the work at Eythrope.


I enjoyed the book thoroughly and recommend it unreservedly and, for your interest, Mary Keen will present a talk at Hardymount House as part of the Carlow Garden Festival which is organised annually at the end of July. See the Carlow Tourism website for further information nearer the date.

[Paradise and Plenty – A Rothschild Family Garden, Mary Keen, Pimpernel Press Ltd, 2015, HB, Cloth bound, 304pp, £50, ISBN: 978-1-9102-5812-5]

Paddy Tobin

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