In the Garden News
The meadows at Gravetye have been looking particularly impressive this year, Tom explains why the cold spring hasn’t been all bad…
"… beauty was never lost sight of; nothing was done without considering its effect on the landscape from every point of view …"
William Robinson on Gravetye Manor1918
William Robinson – The Father of the English Flower Garden
The gardens at Gravetye Manor are a very special place and can be considered amongst the most influential in English gardening history. The manor became the home of the creative, innovative and revolutionary gardener, William Robinson in 1884. Robinson spent his remarkable life as a professional gardener and botanist, but made his fortune through writing about his experiences and ideas on horticulture. His most notable works include The English Flower Garden, which is one of the best-selling horticultural books of all time, and the hugely influential title, The Wild Garden.
Robinson's ideas about naturalised plantings, allowing nature to flow into the garden were ground breaking. Previous to Robinsons books gardens were places where nature was controlled and suppressed, meticulously managed, with carpet bedding and topiary. Robinson travelled the world studying plants in their natural habitat and spent years discussing how the beauty of these habitats might be replicated in the garden. This paved the way for much that we take for granted today in modern garden design. After years of studying, gardening and writing Robinson came to Gravetye and it was here he put his ideas into practice.
Gravetye Gardens in the 21st Century
Today Gravetye is a mature, charming and very beautiful garden. The tree line and the masses of naturalised bulbs show Robinsons' genius in a way that only he could have imagined over 100 years ago. The wild garden tumbles down its south facing slopes into the contrasting formal areas of the garden, and wherever you are in the garden there is always a stunning view of the surrounding countryside.
After the Second World War the garden fell into a period of neglect until the manor was opened as a hotel and restaurant in 1958 by hotelier Peter Herbert. He threw all his energy into the renovation and management of the garden until his retirement in 2004. Over the last few years' financial constraints meant that areas of the garden suffered. Now, thanks to the backing of new owners, a major restoration project is under way.
Summer 2010 saw the appointment of Tom Coward as Head Gardener. Having worked for 3 years alongside Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter, his experience has proved second to none in tackling this project. The focus will be not only on conserving and re-creating Robinson's work but also progressing the garden in homage to his experimental style of gardening.
Nearly all of the formal borders in the garden have become infested with bind weed (Calystegia sepium) and this can take several years to control. We have had to dig out many beds and until this invasive perennial weed is eradicated we will grow annuals and bulbs, in a naturalistic style. This will allow us to still have flowers in the flower garden, whilst tackling the weed problem at the same time. It also gives us the opportunity to try something new, before the final planting of mixed borders. Solving the weed problem throughout the garden is our major priority before the garden can truly progress.
- Glass Houses
Robinsons original Victorian Glass Houses have fallen into a bad state of repair and will be restored. The glass has been removed from the 60ft Peach House to make it safe. First of all we hope to restore the two functioning Foster and Pearson green houses. We hope this will keep them solid for the next 25 years. The next priority will be to restore two Foster and Pearson cold frames followed by re -building the Peach House. The two remaining Foster and Pearson glass houses need to be totally rebuilt and may be moved to the Kitchen garden. As well as being very valuable facilities to serve the garden with plants and the hotel with kitchen produce, these glass houses are historical and beautiful attractions, in their own right.
- Kitchen Garden
Paths and gates within the Kitchen Garden will be restored and the design of the garden is currently being reviewed. The installation of some good fruit cages and replanting wall fruit will be encompassed within the re-design. In the short term we are concentrating on restoring this area to a productive traditional kitchen garden, to supply produce for the restaurant, cut flowers for the manor and stock plants for the garden.
Original landscape features are to be restored such as the York stone paths which run along the top of the flower garden, and one of the pergolas. In the future we may replace more of the original pergolas. As well as this landscape restoration we plan to make some new steps, running through the wild garden, to connect the croquet lawn to the Kitchen Garden. All original landscape features will be built using historical pictures and plans, so as to re-create them to original details and proportions. The design for the steps has been inspired by photographs and descriptions in the Getrude Jekyll book Stones and Water.
A fence will be installed to control the damage caused by muntjac, roe and fallow deer as well as rabbits. This will be sensitively placed so as to have minimal impact on the landscape.
- Irrigation System
At the moment there is only one hose pipe of mains water to irrigate the little garden, long border and flower garden. We are therefore looking to install a modern irrigation system to replace the obsolete Victorian system and the use of mains water. This will be linked to a bore hole for a source of cheap sustainable water.
Re-planting in the orchard and trees in the wild garden will help solve the problem of the generation gap in plantings.
Initial indications show the total restoration to be a 5 year project, but with additions such as our own chickens and bees, there will continuously be something new and enchanting to experience in Gravetye's gardens.
To find out more about Tom's exciting work in the garden, visit our press page for the latest news.
Tours of the garden are available for small groups. Pre-booking is essential. Please contact our reception team on 01342 810567 for further information.