In search of Gertrude Jekyll

Hatchlands Park, Surrey

by Judy Farncombe

W hile Hatchlands Park is a beautiful house and estate in its own right, it is overshadowed by the neighbouring National Trust properties of Clandon Park and Polesdon Lacey. However, it has two claims to fame; the collection of historic musical instruments on display within the house; and a small jewel of a parterre designed by that leading light of British garden designers, Gertrude Jekyll. The history of the park falls in to three important periods.


Hatchlands Park house, photograph by Judy Farncombe The Boscawens purchased the house in 1750 and landscaped the park, creating new walks and woodlands. After they sold the estate to the Sumner family, both father and son made further alterations to the park. The father, William Brightwell Sumner commissioned Benjamin Armitage to make alterations, and his son, George Holme Sumner asked Humphry Repton (1752 - 1818) to redesign the park and garden. In 1888 the Sumner family sold the estate to Stuart, later Lord Rendel. He had extensive changes made to the fabric of the house and also commissioned Gertrude Jekyll to supply plans for the formal gardens.

The National Trust have been making an heroic effort in returning the estate to a place of tranquillity and quintessential Englishness, bearing in mind its constraints of staffing and money. The Jekyll garden has been nurtured lovingly by Sue Streeter, the head gardener, into something as closely as possible resembling the original plans laid out by Miss Jekyll, as held by the Trust's offices in Cirencester. Due to the vagaries of the soil, weather and plant disease, these plans cannot be followed slavishly and yet produce a garden of beauty. So what Sue and her team do is to try to keep to the colour scheme drawn up by Miss Jekyll, and as the original plants specified fail, they are replaced by modern and more disease resistant varieties of the same type and colour range.

Peonies in the Jekyll garden, photograph by Judy Francombe

The Jekyll planting scheme follows her usual choices - roses, peonies, irises, geraniums, valerian, aquilegia, lupins, nepeta, and foxgloves - in colours ranging from red, pink, purple, through to blue and white. The main flowering season is during May and June. The parterre is laid out in four squares each framed again in oblong and cornered beds. The centre about which all these beds rotate is a raised square of hard landscaping with a fountain held up by cherubs and four giant terracotta pots containing small palm trees.

There are plans afoot to replace the fountain with a sundial as originally intended in Miss Jekyll's plans, but they have not yet located where the original piece of garden sculpture went so that they can reclaim it.

Another aspect of the garden, which is not as originally intended, is the balustrade around the parterre, many of which have gone missing. I heard one of the visitors commenting on how sad it was that the metal railings, which had been taken out during the war, had not been replaced by the National Trust. Sue said that they are being replaced as and when money can be found for them, but as the originals were in Portland Stone they are a costly item. So far only the side facing the front of the garden has them. None of the original balustrades have been found on the estate, and the National Trust can only narrow down the period within which they disappeared to fifty years, so if you have the missing items please contact them! A view of the central fountain through one of the palms, by Judy Farncombe

The four square flowerbeds hold roses and peonies, mainly in red, white or pink. Three of the squares being dedicated to red flowers, white flowers or pink flowers. The fourth square holds a mixture of all three colours (red, white and pink). The peonies are lush and healthy, looking like Victorian ladies in crinolines, but the roses have been an ongoing problem for the garden staff. Black spot and mildew have attacked them even after the soil had been changed and constant spraying instigated. The varieties planted are Blanc Double de Coubert, Irene Watts, China Old Blush, Pharisaer, Grace Darling and Ophelia. Those that have succumbed to disease, particularly Grace Darling and Ophelia, have been replaced with Duke of Edinburgh and Zephirine Drouhin. There are also Rosa Rugosa shrubs around the edge of the parterre and, as they are beginning to take over, Sue says their days are numbered.

The rectangular beds edging on to the path hugging the side of the house are filled with Rosa Rugosa, iris (both flag and sibirica), foxgloves, geranium Graveteye, valerian and aquilegia. The foxgloves are in both white and purple, as Sue does not believe in the ethnic cleansing required keeping foxgloves the fashionable white so loved of English gardens. All the beds are edged with box. Along the back of the garden, just beyond the missing balustrade is a larger hedge, it will be going to a new home in the car park so it has been allowed to become larger and busier that it should be.

A view towards the distant landscape, photographed by Judy Farncombe

The view from the side of the house through the parterre leads the eye into the landscape beyond. We see urns, statues and a beautiful temple in the near distance of the Pleasure Park. Trees of theatrical dimensions and qualities are part of this backdrop, the nearest being a stately London Plane, its branches brushing the ground just outside the parterre and causing problems with flower planting in that end of the garden. This part of the park is awash with daffodils and bluebells during their flowering season.

The view from the side of the garden currently backed with the hedge looks out into the borrowed landscape of farmland and gently rolling hills, seen beyond the edge of the Pleasure Park. Due to Repton's skills of landscaping parkland it is hard to distinguish what would be his work and the work of nature, where as the small Jekyll parterre is clearly the work of mankind imposed upon the landscape. They both have their place in the rich garden history of the England.

© Judy Farncombe 1999


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