The Abbotsley story has four chapters so far.
Until subdivided in May 1953, Abbotsley & Sarn were part of Sonning and the piece of bush mentioned by Edna Walling in A Gardners Log:
Having fortified myself with honey, I went forth today with a pick and a basketful of wattles and gums to that piece of bush were we one day plan to have all our favourite native plants massed and grouped. Acacia prominens, the glorious golden rain wattle that grows in such billowing masses of small-textured greyish-green verdure; Eucalyptus maculata, the spotted gum, which has a trunk so much like and even more spectacular than that of the plain tree, and Acacia baileyana, the cootamundra wattle, were in the basket.”
Edna Walling’s Sonning Garden Theatre which was used to entertain troops in war-time ran from Sarn through into what is now Abbotsley.
Time has taken its toll and all but one of the golden rain wattles have gone from Abbotsley but, at the far end of the pool, a thriving copse of spotted gums remains as a reminder of Edna’s days.
Chapter 2 began in 1979 when Abbotsley was subdivided from Sarn to create the block as it is today and by the mid 1980’s Jeanne and Roos Marsden had built the house on the hill and established the dry stone walled garden structure.
In 1995, Jeanne wrote,
“In the next 11 years we have planted mainly natives having in mind the feeding and nesting requirements of native birds and animals. We've transformed an eroded and ugly drain into a rocky creek and fern gully as a haven for small birds. Tiny spotted pardalotes now nest in tunnels in the bank.”
“This small area of Bickleigh Vale is important to the Edna Walling tradition, providing a backdrop to the cottage garden and adding to the harmonious whole.”
.Chapter three was a tough time for Abbotsley. After the Marsdens left Bickleigh Vale, there was a long period of time when the house and garden were left to fend for themselves. The harsh drought conditions also took their toll and many trees and shrubs died whilst weeds took hold. What had survived were many of Edna Walling's favourite Amelanchia trees with their beautiful soft white springtime blossom which wafts over the garden like snow.
In January 2010, chapter four began when Chris and Karyn Jones took over the responsibility for bringing Abbotsley back to its rightful place within the village.
The past three and a half years have been a story of repairs and maintenance of the house and garden and of weeding, mulching and replanting. It’s also created the opportunity to rethink how the garden will be rebuilt to work in harmony with hotter and drier times and the ideas of the new
custodians. The ferny creek has been restored and a newly planted flowering gum and wattles are starting to gain some height whilst thousands of shrubs and small plants are becoming established – many grown from cuttings from the gardens at Downderry, The Shielan and The Barn.
In the back garden, a cedar shed, vegie garden with espalier fruit trees have been established in open areas where native trees once grew creating two very different gardens. The front garden is a place to wander and the back garden a place to both relax and work.
"Abbotsley" was named after Roos Marsden's childhood village in Cambridgeshire, England.
Abbotsley is a village and civil parish within the Huntingdonshire district and is three miles from St Neots and 14 miles from the county town of Cambridge. The village's name is derived from 'woodland clearing of a man called Ealdbeald - perhaps this was in Roos and Jeane's mind when they carved the new Abbotsley from the Bickleigh Vale village woodland.
The doorbell rang and when I answered it, Sam Marsden introduced himself. He had been cleaning out his late parent's house and come across a photo album, Project Book and two boxes of cards which Jeanne and Roos Marsden had put togther over their early years as they built Abbotsley and created the garden from bushland that had formerly been the a remote corner of Sonning.
Sam said that the family thought there was no better place for this early history of Abbotsley to rest than with the current owners - and here it is.
Karyn Jones, 16 March 2016