Early Restoration - paradise restored
The Formal Gardens were very run down in 1973 when the Somerset County Council, with the support of the Fire Brigade, initiated what was to become one of the first major garden restorations in the country. Fortuitously and quite incredibly, when restoration began some of Gertrude Jekyll's original planting plans were discovered in the potting shed at Hestercombe stuffed into a drawer where they had lain undisturbed for nearly seventy years.
Further research revealed a second set of plans located in the Reef Point Gardens collection of the University of California at Berkeley where they had been depositied by the American landscape architect Beatrix Farrand. The work to restore Jekyll's original planting was mainly carried out in the early years of the restoration but as more information becomes available it is further refined. For example, new research stimulated a major reassessment of the planting of the Great Plat and it was subsequently replanted in 1998.
In 1995 the Hestercombe Gardens Project started the restoration of the Landscape Garden. For the previous thirty years, it had been managed as a commercial forestry following the clear felling of the eighteen century parkland for its timber value in 1963. The lakes, which had become completely silted up, were dredged, removing over seventeen thousand tons of silt, the original views were opened once more and the remaining buildings restored.
In April 1997, the garden was reopened to the public for the first time in 125 years. Although the main features of the garden have been secured, the work of restoration is expected to continue for many years to come. Visitors, therefore, have the unique opportunity to follow the progress of the garden as it is returned to its full eighteenth century glory.
The Victorian garden had been overlooked in the excitement of earlier restorations but as its importance, as part of the development of the gardens at Hestercombe, was realised, it has gradually been taken in hand.
In 1998 initial restoration of the Victorian Terrace was undertaken resulting in the repair of the fountain and the reinstatement of the formal bedding scheme.
In 1999 work commenced on the Victorian Shrubbery to the north of the house, centred on the existing yew tunnel. The aim was to recreate a shrubbery typical of the late 1870s, contemporary with the Victorian Terrace and the remodelling of the house. Unfortunately, no late nineteenth centry British shrubberies survive and its recreation has, therefore, made an important contribution to understanding this period of the garden development.
Many influences have been brought to bear on the design of the gardens at Hestercombe. The Landscape Garden is rooted in an eighteenth century taste for idealised classical landscapes that developed from studying the seventeenth century landscape paintings of Salvator Rosa, Gaspart Poussin and Claude Lorrain.
The intricate patterns of Victorian bedding schemes had their origins in the formal parterres of the 17th century. Inevitabley, there was a reaction against this 'unnatural' gardening fashion, particularly in the writings of plantsman, William Robinson, who popularised the notion of naturalised planting. In the Formal Garden, Lutyens fused Elizabethan style raised walks with pergola and wter features influenced by Italian and Moorish gardens - the whole set off by Jekyll's sophisticated Mediterranean palatte.
In 2003 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the Hestercombe Gardens Trust a significant grant that initiated a five year development and restoration project confirming Hestercombe's national and international importance.
Further Heritage Lottery Funding together with a substantial award from Viridor has allowed major restoration on the 17th century Mill and Barn by the Mill Pond and Dutch Garden. Visit our Watermill page for additional information on this project.