In the early 1970s Dutch elm disease was wreaking havoc in the landscape.
In 1973 the county architect's department took on a team of temporary workers to combat its spread through felling and inoculation and to carry out replacement planting.
One of the Dutch elm officers was Madeleine Pickthorne, whose first task at Hestercombe in March 1973 was to replace the avenue of elms that had led to the house with an avenue of small-leaved limes. While other members of the team were treating the wych-elm arbour in the formal garden, Bil diverted Madeleine into formulating plans for re-creating the Jekyll planting.
‘The garden at Hestercombe captivated me,' she says. ‘It was of another world, a beautifully proportioned space, timeless and peaceful.'
Madeleine worked with team contracts manager Harry Baldwin, who had already begun work on tracking down sources of seeds and plants, and whose horticultural skills and experience were of great help. They were later joined by Lorna McRobie, a newly qualified landscape architect who joined Bil's team in 1973.
The wych elm arbour in 1980.
From the outset, the underpinning principle of the project was to re-create the planting as closely as possible to Gertrude Jekyll's original plans, although there was early disagreement between the landscape architects, who wanted to use only the plants that Miss Jekyll herself had used, and the Cannington horticulturalists, who advocated keeping existing plants that were ‘in the style of Jekyll' and using the latest cultivars and horticultural techniques.
Roy Cheek provided lists of available plants to match those on the Jekyll plans, but there were disagreements with the landscape architects, who felt some of the plants were not close enough to the originals.
‘There is the argument that Miss Jekyll would have used the latest cultivars: she would have moved with the times and enjoyed new varieties, but we could not put ourselves in her shoes and say, she would have used this one, or that one,' comments Madeleine.
In practice, difficulties of interpreting some parts of Jekyll's plans, coupled with issues over the availability of certain plants and the need to keep maintenance as low as possible, meant that a synthesis of both approaches prevailed.
The two gardeners look out
over the Plat in 1975.