The history of Bourne Hall, Ewell: III
After the death of George Torr, which occurred in 1867 at the age of 52, his widow continued to live at Garbrand Hall with her young daughter Bertha and an adopted daughter Emily Onions. Mrs. Torr was well known and respected for general benevolence and for the beauty of her gardens. The Gardeners’ Chronicle for 1875 contains the following note, contributed by Wallace Morse of Epsom:
‘The chrysanthemums at Garbrand Hall, Ewell, Surrey, are now in a perfect blaze of bloom. They are exhibited to the best advantage by being arranged on each side of the walk of the orchard-house, while at intervals the tallest forms completely arch overhead, thereby greatly enhancing the general effect. They comprise all the best kinds of the different types, and reflect the greatest credit upon the skill of Mr. Child who has certainly brought them as near as possible to perfection. Among the best are the following…’ and then follows a list of 31 names, including Lord Derby, Yellow Dragon, Sir E. Landseer, Fair Maid of Guernsey, Princess Teck and Orange Perfection.
James Child was Mrs. Torr’s head gardener for ten years from 1872, and he won many prizes for plants of various kinds, azaleas, chrysanthemums, and orchids taking pride of place.
The following are typical comments from the gardening journals of the day:
Royal Horticultural Society Great Summer Show, 1878: first prize for stove and greenhouse plants. These included ‘a well-bloomed bush, about four feet through, of Darwin’s Tulipifera, a grandly flowered specimen of the lustrous azalea Duchesse Adelaide of Nassau, and a bright and fresh Clerodendron balfourianum (awarded to Mrs. Torr, gardener Mr. Child)… First prize for group of six ferns amongst amateurs, an admirable lot of plants from Mrs. Torr (Mr. Child, gardener). The central object was Davallea mooreana, a plant about six feet through, its deep green fronds very striking.
Royal Botanic Show, 1878: Mr. James Child received a special prize for a ‘capital lot [of orchids] which included Cypripedium stonei, with two grand flowers, and a large well-flowered plant of Oncidium ampliatum majus’.
Royal Botanic Show, 1881: ‘James Child, third prize for azaleas, his best specimen being a superbly bloomed Azalea criterion, the best azaleas on the ground… Mr. Ratty was awarded the first prize in the amateurs’ class for six azaleas, but we think it should have been given to Mr. James Child, who most certainly had the best flowered lot’. (Mr. Ratty was a frequent prizewinner at these shows).
Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, August 14, 1879: ‘Garbrand Hall, Ewell, the residence of Mrs. Torr, is famed for the excellent plants, especially Azaleas, which Mr. Child grows so well and exhibits so successfully. But there is much to admire in Mrs. Torr’s garden besides the specimen plants. The grounds, which are about 15 acres in extent, are enclosed by a lofty and substantial wall. This comparatively small enclosure has been made the most of by judicious arrangement. Banks have been raised, and curving walks formed in such a manner that the real extent of the grounds has been masked in a very successful manner. Shrubs, Conifers and ornamental trees have been planted in profusion. Some of the finest variegated Acers we have seen are there, also mop-headed Acacias, Robinia inermis. At the front of the mansion a beautiful miniature lake has been formed, the water being clear as crystal, so that the grand Lombardy Poplars, Willows, etc. growing near the margin are reflected with remarkable effect in the pure spring stream. A noble Tulip Tree near is flowering profusely. In one place is a flower garden, in another a rosery with rocks and herbaceous borders in suitable positions, the whole garden forming a charming secluded retreat rendered additionally enjoyable by the excellent manner in which the grounds are kept by the gardener. Mrs. Torr’s exhibition plants are not grown in low yet roomy span-roofed houses which one might expect to find, but in a long lofty range of lean-to’s having a southern aspect. There the splendid Azaleas are arranged, some being elevated on large pots, others on taller drain pipes and large chimney pots, so that the plants are as near the glass as possible. The plants are not placed out of doors at any time, and they evidently receive the best attention, as is indicated by their cleanliness and free growth. Other greenhouse plants are in the same excellent condition, as also are the stove plants that are grown in the same range. Orchids are not so numerous as formerly, but the stock is a choice healthy one if small. Several houses are devoted to grape culture, and useful crops are produced, quality of fruit rather than large-sized bunches being the object aimed at. In the conservatory are Dicksonias with trunks of unusual size, and in a case very fine examples of Todea superba with various flowering plants on the side stages clean and well cultivated. In the kitchen garden, which contains many fruit trees and good vegetable crops, the most striking and singular feature is the boundary wall, which represents a segment of a circle. For a considerable length the wall faces south or nearly so, and on this aspect every Peach tree has been killed by the late severe winter and inclement spring; but where the wall curves, presenting a south-eastern aspect, every tree is healthy. The trees on the southern portion of the wall grew and formed fruit, then the whole of them died suddenly, not a vestige left. Mr. Child does not again intend planting Peaches there and, indeed, it is little use doing so unless the trees can be covered with glass. The wall and aspect are suitable for diagonal cordon pears, and it is questionable if any other trees could be planted more usefully and ornamentally’. (We are indebted to the Librarian of the Lindley Library for this extract).