Hestercombe was something of a secret garden back in 1973
To visit the Gardens, Gallery and House, you no longer need to pre-book a timed admission slot online (simply purchase gardens admission on arrival). Please note: the Summer Late opening on Wednesday 4th August has been cancelled.
The Formal Gardens were so run down that Somerset County Council, with the support of Somerset Fire Brigade, initiated what was to become one of the first major garden restorations in the country.
Remarkably, 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 70 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 left 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. New research stimulated a major reassessment of the planting of the Great Plat and it was subsequently replanted in 1998.
The Georgian Landscape Garden and Victorian Shrubbery
In 1995 the Hestercombe Gardens Project started the restoration of the Landscape Garden, designed by former Hestercombe owner Coplestone Warre Bampfylde c.1760s. For the previous 30 years, it had been managed as a commercial forestry following the clear felling of the eighteenth century parkland for its timber value in 1963. The lakes, which had become completely silted up, were dredged, removing over 17,000 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 now have the unique opportunity to follow the progress of the garden as it is returned to its full eighteenth century appearance.
The Victorian garden had been overlooked in the excitement of earlier restorations but now with its importance realised, work has seen it restored to its former glory.
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 century 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.
17th century Water garden
Work is underway on the restoration of a beautiful Water garden at Hestercombe, which will be opening to the public in 2021. Founder and Chief Executive Philip White MBE writes,
"It is not often that you can claim to have discovered a new garden but that is exactly what happened at Hestercombe".
Recognised as such only in the last few years as a result of archival research at Hestercombe, the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century Water garden was first identified on a previously unknown estate map of 1840 and from a mention in the accounts of Sir Francis Warre of 1712.
Situated in the park close to the entrance off the council road, it had been misidentified in the past as a duck decoy but its square shape and the small square island indicated a different use. The pond extends to an acre and has raised walkways around it. In the late nineteenth century the Portmans dredged the lake and added a boat house, probably to facilitate duck shooting as ducks were known to be reared in the early 1900s at Combe House by the gamekeeper, Mr Butters.
In Tudor and Jacobean times when the Water garden is thought to have been created, perhaps having been developed from an earlier landscape feature, it was fashionable for ladies left at home while their husbands were at court to amuse themselves by fishing. The small island probably had a banqueting house reached by a rowing boat or punt where the owners and their visitors could take picnics.
Certainly by 1650 Water gardens had become unfashionable and were no longer constructed. At the moment the most likely creator was Richard Warre who inherited the estate in 1615. Under his stewardship the estate expanded considerably and increased prosperity may well have led to the creation of the Water garden.
Richard Warre died in 1637 after which the estate was inherited by his infant John, born in 1636, who was brought up by Francis Wyndham at Orchard Wyndham, near Williton.
Work funded by the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in February 2020 on restoring the Water garden, initially with scrub clearance but, as a result of the pandemic, work was stopped until mid June with the major desilting taking place at the end of July and August. Many thousands of tons of silt were removed and spread on a neighbour’s arable field. Archaeologists have maintained a watching brief throughout this process and made some interesting discoveries including; that clay was extracted from the site in the 1720s to make the bricks required for the extensive remodelling of the house that took place at that time, to discovering the remains of the Portman’s punt found in the silt still with its original punting poles and a brass plaque recording its makers as G. Winter, Boat Builders, Eton and Windsor.
Work continues on the Water garden to create a new spillway and to complete the restoration of the extensive stone wall around the outside of the structure. It is hoped that work will be completed and the Water garden, a very rare survival of which only a handful remain, will be open to visitors later next year.
Hestercombe is unique in having now four complete period gardens on one site, which firmly establishes it as one of the most important heritage gardens in the country.
Recently restored, the Octagon Summerhouse was rebuilt without any original drawings to go from. It had been mentioned in a journal so the team had a rough idea of its location and then the original foundations were discovered. Odd shaped bricks found from around the estate were found to make up the corners of an octagon, so the style was based on this original brick, and going from pictures of summerhouses of that period.
The Orangery epitomises Sir Edwin Lutyens’ classical style. Using South Somerset’s yellow hamstone to the best advantage, he created a sophisticated building that grows out of the local slate providing a link between the informal lawns and the Formal Gardens.
The Gothic Alcove
First recorded in 1761, the original building was taken down after 1887 but was reconstructed in 2000 using, as a model, known Bampfylde designs in the gothic taste. The roof was changed again in 2008 following the discovery of a Bampfylde painting.
The Witch House
The Witch House was first recorded in 1761 and was much admired by eighteenth century visitors. In 1785 Henry Hawkins Tremayne, squire of Heligan in Cornwall wrote: “The dead branches of Trees are twisted in the most fantastic shapes two statues whose heads are just at the entrance and other such grotesque forms not copied but merely done by pieces of wood of proper shapes rudely nailed together.
The Chinese Seat
Recently restored, the Chinese Seat is a simple wooden building sheltering a bench in the Chinese style.
The Mausoleum’s role as a garden seat is celebrated in a poem set into a tablet below the obelisk. The verse is a quote from Alexander Pope’s poem ‘Windsor Forest’ first published in 1713 – ‘Happy the man who to the Shade retires, Whom Nature charms, and whom the Muse inspires, Blest whom the Sweets of homefelt Quiet please But far more blest, who study joins with Ease’
The Temple Arbour
Built in the 1770s, in Tuscan doric style, this building was recorded as having had two long benches and four single chairs in the estate sale of 1872. It had been almost totally destroyed before restoration commenced in 1996 but now, once again, commands a magnificent prospect with views over the Pear Pond to the distant hills.
The Rustic Seat
The Rustic Seat is positioned so that it allows visitors to stop and contemplate the splendour of the Great Cascade.
This romantic centre-piece of the garden is ringed by trees and set off by a lawn decorated with large boulders of white quartz.
The Great Cascade was created in 1762 and was apparently inspired by Bampfylde’s visit to William Shenstone’s garden, The Leasowes, Halesowen.
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.
Hestercombe continues to develop and it is hoped that with secured funding, a twenty-first century garden will be developed on the estate for future generations to enjoy.