Friday 16th January 2015, our second trip to the Withersdane Hall Gardens at the invitation of PROMIS to help them with advice on re-invigorating the gardens. Over the last eight years the gardens have been cared for by Imperial College’s (Wye College’s) gardeners on a much reduced budget, as best they could; during this period of interregnum, awaiting new occupants. That period is now over and the new owners, PROMIS, are tackling the overgrown shrubberies, clearing fallen trees and generally bringing the garden back to its former glory. We, the Lucy Huntington Garden Design Partnership are privileged and excited to have the opportunity to advise on this important work of restoration.
In 1946 Wye College purchased Withersdane Hall from the Barnard Family and over the years added a significant array of buildings to accommodate the College’s students. As a College teaching Horticulture to degree level it was vital that the gardens provided the ornamental garden demonstration areas which were needed to show as wide a range of plants, design and husbandry as possible. From 1946 amenity horticulture lecturer Mary Page set about designing and developing the gardens, very much in the prevalent style of creating a series of ‘garden rooms’ (as seen at Sissinghurst and Hidcote) and she made good use of the Victorian walled garden to enclose the new gardens. The basic structure still exists today but modifications have of course been made by successive generations of horticultural lecturers and head gardeners. Between 1998 and 2006 I had that duty and pleasure, so it seems logical that I should again be involved with shaping the gardens for their new use. The brief from PROMIS is to honour the legacy of the last seven decades and indeed to be mindful of the parts of the garden planted by the Barnard Family pre-WW2.
Inevitably there is some fairly dramatic clearance to be done where shrubs, in particular, have lacked the pruning attention that they would have had in former years. There are still many fine and rare trees and plants in the garden which will most certainly be retained. Where replanting is needed it is planned to reference the planting records which have been extracted from the archives of the Wye Heritage Centre and my own files, some of which go back to when I was an undergraduate at the College.
Together with the original designer Mary Page; horticulturalist, lecturer and gardens advisor, Tom Wright made a number of alterations with the help of the students on his innovative post graduate one year course on landscape design and maintenance. Those in the world of horticulture and garden design might be interested to know that the late Christopher Lloyd was a student and briefly a lecturer at Wye College and retained a critical interest in the gardens throughout his life. In recent times I contributed by significantly improving disabled access to the garden, opening up one of the enclosed gardens to improve visual cohesion and simplifying some of the planting to reduce maintenance costs.
A new phase has now started which will ensure that the garden serves the Withersdane Hall users and visitors at Withersdane and adds to their journey of recovery. For all those involved it is the intention that the gardens will be a part of regaining a sense of wellbeing and calm which is so vital to all healing.
Lucy Huntington, Garden Design