Gardens in South Hertfordshire

Hatfield House

8th – 9th June 2019

Peter Styles

This was a weekend event that was originally organised by Bob Ivison in 2018 but was postponed to June 2019. 26 members and guests gathered at Capel Manor College on a damp Saturday morning . Our spirits were immediately alighted by our host for the morning Dr. Stephen Dowbiggin, past Principal of the College. His enthusiasm was palpable – clearly a man who although retired still retained a great love and interest in the students and the future of the College.

Capel Manor is an extraordinary Institution. 60 gardens and landscapes spread over 30 acres and it’s easy to forget that these wonderful grounds support no fewer than five individual Schools and Colleges including, Arboriculture, Agriculture and environmental, Conservation, Royal College of Animal Management and Saddlery, plus of course its Higher Education Course-in short, the very epicentre of learning excellence.

Capel Manor
Dr. Stephen Dowbiggin addressing the group.

Since its establishment in 1968, hundreds of students have passed through its doors, many going on to establish successful careers in horticulture, garden design, floristry, equine and arboriculture. Alumni include garden designers Anne-Marie Powell and Kim Wilde.

The Which? magazine has its garden trials here such is the College’s high esteem in the horticulture world.

The history of Capel Manor dates back the 13th century. There is very little evidence of the original estate layout today. The historic Gothic elements seen in the gardens today have been skillfully created to provide a theatrical backdrop to the gardens, so much so that they are in great demand for regular wedding events. The central elements to the estate are the Georgian house and Victorian stables.

There are Royal connections aplenty – HRH Prince Charles is a frequent visitor and both HRH The Queen and Princess Diana have opened display gardens – Stephen entertained us with a few ‘Royal’ anecdotes.

After a splendid lunch at the College Refectory we assembled at Myddelton House garden in the afternoon to meet our host Bryan Hewitt, Senior Gardener. Bryan is a man of many parts, not least an expert on the Gothic horror actor Vincent Price, and is also an author to boot. Bryan made us feel very much a home and is a natural raconteur providing us with a veritable smorgasbord of good stories as we toured the gardens.

Myddelton House and Gardens, built in 1818, are managed by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. Myddelton was the home of Edward Augustus Bowles – ‘The Crocus King’ and Bowles dedicated his life to maintaining and developing the Gardens. Myddelton was also at one time the plant base for the London School of Pharmacy and a vivisection centre.

Members listen to our Host Bryan Hewitt, Senior Gardener
Myddleton House and Gardens

Apart from Crocus one of Bowles‘ passions was for plants with contorted stems and foliage. He created a plant ‘Lunatic Asylum’ – one of the original plants featured here is Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’. Bowles was also an accomplished artist and author.

One of the highlights of the eight-acre garden is the Victorian glasshouse with its four climatic zones and there was a further surprise discovery for us – the original early Victorian Enfield Market Cross which Bowles rescued and erected as a central feature in the Rose Gardens. To these features we can add an extensive heritage kitchen garden and the cut flower beds.

Bowles’ plant hunting trips to the Pyrenees inspired him to create a fine Alpine Meadow which features his signature Crocus and other choice bulbs The recently renovated Rock Garden with its Japanese-style pagoda was of considerable pleasure to Bowles who helped with its construction. On his death his ashes were scatted here.

A stand of Japanese Knotweed was an unusual find for us. Bowles was a great admirer of this invasive plant and specimens are maintained to educate visitors on identification how this weed can be kept in check. I remember planting Japanese Knotweed in my own Richmond garden back in the late 1960’s because of its architectural qualities and easy cultivation made it a firm favourite for a budding landscape designer. I may have been responsible for spreading Japanese Knotweed throughout the Borough!
Throughout the gardens there are plants discovered by Bowles and which bear his name. Hebe ‘E. A. Bowles’, Helleborus ‘Bowles Yellow’, Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ and Viola ‘Bowles Black’ were noted. There are more than 40 plants named after him and a Bowles Corner at RHS Wisley has been dedicated to his plants.

New additions to the gardens, funded by the Heritage Lottery and opened in 2011, include the Bowles museum and a fine Bowles tearoom which we were able to enjoy after our extremely entertaining and informative garden tour by our host Bryan Hewitt.

We all enjoyed a superb evening meal at the Pied Bull in Enfield on Saturday night and on Sunday morning, with the sun shining brightly, we gathered at Hatfield House where we were met by our host Andrew Turvey Head of Gardens and Estates. Andrew maintains the gardens and estate with a staff of 10 – no small feat given that the gardens cover 42 acres.
Hatfield House built in 1611 by Robert Cecil- son of Lord Burghley, is a splendid Jacobean house. It Is the home of the present 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury and has been in family for 400 years. It embraces a diverse portfolio of property, which we were informed by Andrew includes TV and film production facilities as it is so close to Pinewood and Elstree studios. Recent productions include The Crown, Paddington2 and Transformers.

We commenced our tour poising in front of Hatfield House. Behind us, forming an impressive backdrop, was the water sculpture. Suitable titled ‘Renaissance’ it was commissioned by Lord Salisbury and designed by Angela Connor, the world famous sculptor.

Hatfield House
L-R: David and Veronica Priestley, Rob Peach, John Isaac, Jean Peach, Christine Waddell,
Leo Pemberton, Simon Owens, Marilyn Owens, Bob Ivison, Graham Bull, Andrew Turvey,
Peter Styles, Peter Sedwell, Teresa Ivison, Sue Dunnell, Elaine Sedwell,
Penny Hooper, Jan and Tony Overland, Carol Hart.

Hatfield defines the very essence of English history. It was in the medieval parkland in 1558 that the young Princess Elizabeth heard of her accession to the throne. An Oak planted by HRH The Queen in 1985 marks the spot and replaces the original veteran Oak. There are many other fine veteran trees throughout the estate which we were able to inspect including the famous Lime Avenue. Andrew explained that he is collaborating with Barcham Trees on the propagation and planting of new trees to the Avenue.
There was so much to see in one day, but highlights included the Sundial Garden, Commissioned to celebrate Hatfield’s 400th anniversary. We entered the Garden through Box tunnels which opened out onto a paved area surrounded by raised rose beds and blue and white delphinium and iris planting. The unique Longitude Timepiece appropriately locates Hatfield as the centre of the world.

The sheer scale of the 16-acre landscaped Broadwater lake is breathtaking. We were informed that the island has been recently planted with twenty species of Oak.

The East Garden, another highlight, was laid out by the 5th Marquess and contains parterres, topiary drums and octopi shapes, and some very unusual planting.

Hatfield is a place to return to time and again and we all thanked Andrew for his wonderful tour and presented with a copy of the Kew Guild book.

Featured image: Hatfield House, Renaissance Water Sculpture.

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