Features at Down House include former dewponds, specimen trees, a richly planted informal layout, yew hedges and topiary and ornamental fruit trees. The garden is on a former poorhouse site. The garden is open by private arrangement or bi-annually for National Gardens Scheme Open Days.
The whole site is enclosed within a stone wall. The front drive encircles an old dew pond, which is now dry. The area is now planted with bulbs, silver birches and acers (including Snakebark maple, liquid amber and acer brilliantissimum). The front garden contains five mature Scots pines, one copper beech, one beech and a false acacia. Lawns and extensive herbaceous borders to the west lead to another dew pond surrounded by ornamental fruit trees (including crab apple varieties). Two have been grown into an inter-locking arch.
A small orchard between the house and the dew pond is screened by yew hedges and a double archway topiary of cupressus leylandii. The site of the kitchen garden has been converted to a tennis court, though the greenhouse remains, and is home to a large specimen of passiflora.
The house façade and sides have several climbing plants, including wisterias, roses and magnolias.
The garden is extremely well-maintained by the owners. They take part in the National Gardens Scheme, usually every other year, for which they arrange a special theme.
- Description: There are two dew ponds.
- Specimen Tree
- Description: There are several mature specimen trees.
- Description: There is a double archway topiary of cupressus leylandii.
- Description: Yew hedges.
- House (featured building)
- Description: The date and history of the house is disputed. Before it became a private house it was a poorhouse, but may have been a farmhouse prior to that.
- Earliest Date:
- Latest Date:
- Garden Wall
- Description: The site is enclosed within a low stone wall.
- Description: The front drive encircles the dew pond.
- Description: There is a small orchard between the house and the dewpond.
- Tennis Lawn
- Description: The site of the kitchen garden has been converted to a tennis court.
- Description: The greenhouse remains on the old kitchen garden site.
The owners believe that the core of the house dates from 1662, and was then a farmhouse. Olveston Parish History Society believe that the house was purpose-built as a poorhouse on waste land of Olveston Manor in 1833.
There are two versions of Down House's history. The original deeds have been lost so doubt remains. The owners believe that the core of the house dates from 1662, and was then a farmhouse. This became a poorhouse and remained thus throughout the 18th century, becoming a private house in 1801.
Olveston Parish History Society believe that the house was purpose-built as a poorhouse on waste land of Olveston Manor in 1833. The Department of the Environment's register of listed buildings puts the date as early 19th century with later alterations. The dewponds indicate the keeping of cattle on the land, though mature ornamental trees are scattered around the area in a manner highly suggestive of a landscaped park.
The house was occupied for 20 years in the 20th century by Major and Mrs Gourlay, who did much to establish the garden. Mrs. Gourlay was a member of the famous gardening family, the Wilsons, who did much work in plant breeding. The Gourlays specialised in narcissi and daffodil bulbs.
Mrs. Nan Bernays (widow of Robert Bernays, M.P. for North Bristol 1929-45) continued with building the garden. Vita Sackville-West presented her with 400 roses, many of which remain today.
- Associated People
Avon Gardens Trust