Daily Telegraph Article - Blooming Late in Life?
7th May 2017 - By Jane Slade
Springtime at Amesbury Abbey is heralded by carpets of daffodils and bluebells that flank the long drive up to the ancient building and surrounding cottages. The River Avon, which cuts through the retirement village’s gently undulating 35-acre landscape, is a favourite picnic spot in summer for the retired residents who can enjoy a spot of fishing and family fun with the grandchildren in this idyllic spot near Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
The animated twitter of the bird life is matched only by the excited chatter of the property owners who stroll the grounds – where the 13th-century queen Eleanor of Provence, wife of King Henry III, is said to be buried – and meander down to the fresh water spring, where early hunter gatherers settled to build Stonehenge.
“We do live a sybaritic life,” admits Marigold Routh, 86, who has lived at Amesbury Abbey for five years. She owns a one-bedroom ground-floor apartment with a patio. Like many retirees, it was a wrench for her to give up her family home – but a bigger one to give up her garden.
Marigold Routh, 86, owns a one-bedroom ground-floor apartment with a patio at Amesbury Abbey and is pictured here in the Amesbury Abbey greenhouse.
“We had a two-acre garden with a wildflower meadow and walled garden,” she recalls. “I have to say I miss the garden more than the house – but look at this.” She gestures toward the patio, which she has filled with raised beds and plant pots, and the grassy area beyond.
“I grow clematis, dwarf roses, daffodils and geraniums, and don’t have to bend down too far to look after them. There’s even a heated greenhouse where I can keep my geraniums in winter.”
Routh, who has a natural sciences degree from Oxford University, worked in plant physiology for chemical manufacturing giant ICI in the Sixties at the cutting edge of weed killer and insecticide development. She loves being surrounded by plant life.
“We have beech trees here which were planted by the Duke of Queensbury in the mid-18th century, limes and cedars of Lebanon which were planted in the 19th century, and a giant sequoia redwood from America,” she says. “I love popping down to the river to see the wildflowers and pottering in the greenhouse.”
The abbey was converted into a retirement village by the late Mary Cornelius-Reid, a pioneer of retirement communities back in the Fifties. “All the residents love the gardens, they are so important to their wellbeing,” says Mary’s daughter, Naomi Cornelius-Reid, who now runs the family business with her two siblings.
“There is so much space for our residents to enjoy; there’s the river, woodland, and acres of grounds. We put on lots of events in the summer: picnics, barbecues by the river, fetes, fairs and a Proms in the Park.
“Many owners have had gardens which they miss more than their houses, but here they have all the benefits of a big garden without having to look after it. People can also have their own little gardens if they want.”