The restoration of the Formal Garden at Hestercombe 1973 to 1980 Part 1
Basking peacefully on a Somerset hillside, the formal garden at Hestercombe is not only the quintessential Edwardian garden, but widely held to be the finest ever produced by the celebrated partnership of plantswoman Gertrude Jekyll and architect Edwin Lutyens.
The rescue of the garden in the 1970s by the Somerset County Architect's Department and the Somerset Fire Brigade, was, according to Patrick Taylor in The Oxford Companion to Gardens, ‘a pioneer feat of restoration...at a time when Lutyens and Jekyll, while not exactly forgotten, were woefully neglected'.
An Edwardian garden
Designed for the Honourable Edward Portman, the 1.5-hectare garden was laid out between 1904 and 1908 below an existing Victorian terrace leading from Hestercombe House, looking south over the Vale of Taunton Deane.
A 38-metre square sunken garden, known as the Great Plat, is flanked by terraces on all sides. To the east and west are the Rill Terraces, each with a 43-metre rill that runs from a hemispherical dipping pool fed by a water spout to a rectangular water tank at the southern end of the garden (for plan of the garden, click here).
A third terrace, the Grey Walk, borders the northern edge of the Plat, while a great 70-metre-long oak pergola runs the length of the Plat to the south, framing views of the countryside beyond.
To the north-east of the Plat, a circular pool garden, the Rotunda, forms a pivotal link with the garden around the Orangery, a building designed in classical style by Lutyens, and beyond that to an area known as the Dutch Garden. To the north-west corner of the Plat is the Rose Garden, with a pleached wych-elm arbour at its head.
The garden is built of morte slate, quarried from the Combe at the back of the house, with edgings of finely finished golden sandstone from Ham Hill near Yeovil. Morte slate combines three types of rock: a rough silty slate, a grey or brown fine-grained sandstone, and a fine-grained grey siltstone. Much of the Formal Garden is built of the grey siltstone: the paving is of morte slate, and also the walling, which is laid in narrow courses with lime mortar raked well back to give the impression of drystone walling.