Tag Archive: jekyll


On our way home from a recent trip to Devon, we diverted to one of my all time favourite gardens; Hestercombe, just outside Taunton, Somerset.

I remember coming here many years ago, when the local Fire Service were headquatered in the house and the work to restore this classic Lutyen’s – Jekyll garden design was just getting underway. Even then the strong structural elements- though in a poor state of repair-  shone through. Since then, several decades later, the Charitable Trust that owns the place has done a marvellous job in restoring not only the gardens but much of the surrounding parkland too, so that you can wander through a very interesting ‘designed landscape’ reflecting earlier design styles harking back to the’ landscape garden’ school.

The main garden is what you come here for.  Sunken and surrounded by a series of strong pergolas and with two stone rills descending either side, it is a joy to behold. We were fortunate in arriving early in the day and had this wonderful place of quiet and reflection virtually to ourselves.

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The restoration story is a fascinating one, including a quest to find a series of plants that were in the original Jekyll planting plans but which were no longer readily available. This is most notable for a number of gladioli varieties, one of which was discovered by accident as one of the historians associated with the garden was giving a talk..only to be approached by someone who thought he had one of the missing gladdy’s! Since then this rare plant has been nurtured and propagated to get to the necessary scale for mass planting…and the display of gladioli is certainly impressive..

This is a real story of horticultural dedication; a trait seen in abundance all around the gardens. The house, though perhaps less of a priority, is gradually being brought into beneficial use, but it does require some renovation. We finished off our tour with a rather nice lunch in a very classy restaurant overlooking the gardens.

Old School Gardener

Frther information: Hestercombe Gardens website

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WP_20160619_15_40_15_ProBack in June, we took the opportunity of a visit to this garden as it was open under the National Gardens Scheme. Located near to Fakenham, in north Norfolk it is a large garden (10 acres) with a lake, mature yew hedging and a sunken garden originally laid out by Gertrude Jeykll.

There’s also a swimming pool garden, shrub borders, a lovely kitchen garden with herbaceous borders, fruit cage, cutting garden and bog garden. A relative of one of the former staff at the Hall lives in an adjoining country cottage which has a delightful old-fashioned cottage garden packed full of wonderful plants and very productive on the food front too.

I loved the display of Candelabra Primroses by the Lake- something I hope to emulate as I have a lot of seedlings growing on at Old School Garden.I hope that you enjoy the gallery of pictures.  

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Old School Gardener

WP_20151007_15_37_25_ProI finally got round to visiting a place I’d wanted to see for some time- Voewood, an arts and crafts masterpiece in north Norfolk.

Taking advantage of the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme we set off on a rather wet and windy day a week or two ago to High Kelling, near Holt.

Our tour of this private house was full of surprises and curiosities. Owned by a rare books and art dealer Simon Finch (who now lives in one of the coach houses) it has been decorated over the years in a very individual style with plenty of personal mementoes and artworks, many hailing from the 1960’s and 70’s. The house with its fourteen bedrooms can be hired out and it also acts as a centre piece for an arts festival.

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The house was designed (1903-5) by Edward S. Prior. Voewood is perhaps one of the greatest achievements of house design of the Arts and Crafts movement. More than almost any other building of the period the house fulfils the ideals for architecture developed by William Ruskin and William Morris.  In the designing and building of Voewood many of Prior’s philosophical ideas found physical expression.

Its design and construction were characterised by the use of radical planning and forms, innovative technologies, such as the use of reinforced concrete, extensive external decoration, a distinct building philosophy involving craftsmanship and the use of quality local materials and the integration of the building and its interiors with the garden and its surroundings.

The house is based on a butterfly plan. The three storey central portion of the house is flanked by splayed two-storey wings. The plan enabled Prior to maximise views out and to give the best orientation to a range of rooms. He could also relate the external spaces to the internal areas. The area contained within the splay faced the gardens, with the northern of the wings acting as the entrance, with a two storey porch and daylight basement. This wing also contained the library and billiard room at ground floor level. The wing opposite contained the kitchen and service accommodation together with the dining room. The fruit and vegetable garden lay adjacent. The entrance, through oak doors, leads into a six-sided hall up a straight flight of Hoptonwood stone stairs into an octagonal lobby.

Though never lived in by its original owners (there seem to be various theories as to why, including its proximity to a then T.B. hospital), the house was turned into an old people’s home and has also been a hotel. And despite some alterations (e.g. the closing in of two flanking loggias), it has retained most of its original features. I was especially impressed by the construction which used concrete formwork on a (then) extensive scale, resulting in nicely rounded corners to walls and window openings and some chunky concrete beams which provide an interesting, simple decorative feature to many ceilings. However, I was a little disappointed with the window and other ironmongery which, in contrast to many other houses of this style and period (see, for example my recent post on Goddards, York), was rather plain. Perhaps this is further evidence of the alterations carried out in the 1930’s.

Though visiting on a damp October afternoon when there was not much floral interest to be seen, the gardens still managed to impress. The main layout from the back of the house appears to follow its original stepped, symmetrical design, whereas the former kitchen garden to the side has been skillfully turned over to a rather more ornamental layout, though retaining many good examples of wall-trained fruit.

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The original gardens were of great renown and highly regarded. Voewood was perhaps Prior’s greatest garden design. Garden making was a preoccupation of his middle period. Terraces extend from the wings of the house and end in steps leading down to the garden level. The garden is also reached from the terrace by a double flight of steps leading to two stone paths, separated by a water feature in the form of a stepped stone tank containing water-lilies, iris and forget-me-not. The central feature of the garden is a large basin. Pergolas with masonry walls lead east and west.

The garden at Voewood (then called Home Place) was admired by Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Lawrence Weaver, who described and illustrated it in their book Gardens for Small Country Houses;

“The stepped scheme at Home Place, Holt, designed by Professor E.S. Prior will be a counsel of perfection to most people”.

Further information: Voewood website

Old School Gardener

 

 

IMG_8605On the way home from our recent break in Devon, we took the opportunity to visit a couple of National Trust houses and gardens just off the A303, a road that’s conveniently ‘lined’ with some great gardens. First stop was Barrington Court, Somerset.

A large walled garden was lined with displays of wallflowers and tulips which were  wonderfully vibrant. Much of the rest of this area was bare earth- or so I thought until I noticed it  had been covered with landscape/weedproof fabric and then mulched with compost- one of the gardeners explained how they create planting holes through these layers and so restrict the amount of time they weed- a very useful idea that looks attractive as well as being practical.

I was also glad to see the ‘bones’ of the other gardens (it was rather too early to see the borders in all their glory). To my surprise I also found a Melianthus major in flower! I was told how the gardeners usually give this a protective winter mulch and cover and in the season to follow it puts on lots of leaf growth but no flowers- it must be due to the mild winter that this glorious plant (which smells like peanut butter when you brush the foliage), had managed to put on an early spring show. Having just pruned mine at home to the ground I’m wondering if I would have been better leaving it alone! We shall see if it manages to complete its growth cycle this summer.

‘Discover the haunting echoes of the past at Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house free from collections and furniture. Explore using your imagination and your senses to discover a house full of memories, where light fills the rooms and you feel you can almost touch the past.

The property was saved from ruin and restored by the Lyle family in 1920s, when the court house resembled a barn rather than the proud manor house that it is. Close your eyes and you’ll almost be able to hear the sounds and see the sights of the glamorous parties held in the great hall during Barrington’s hey day. On the first floor listen out for the voices resonating from the past, of the young evacuees who called Barrington home during the Second World War.

 Stroll through the Gertrude Jekyll inspired gardens, which with their focus on plant varieties and colours are a delight for all the senses. Be spurred on in your own garden or allotment by the stone-walled kitchen garden that produces a variety of delicious fruit and vegetables. Don’t just take our word for it, why not stop off in the Strode House Restaurant to taste these home-grown delights.’

Oh, and yes, we had a lovely lunch in the afore said restaurant….

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Further information; National Trust website

Old School Gardener

 

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