Appeal Update - April 2021

The Rose Parterre

Following the very generous support for our Walled Garden and Rose Appeals, we have been carrying out further work in the gardens at West Horsley Place. Using the funds raised so far, we have nearly completed restoring the rose parterre, the centrepiece of the Mary Roxburghe Rose Garden.

The existing rose parterre, with its central dovecote framed by 4 large box shapes with four pathways leading from the centre in a cruciform shape, was built in the 1930s by Lord & Lady Crewe, Mary Roxburghe’s parents. They purchased the house in 1931 and set about creating wonderful additions to the garden with sumptuous herbaceous borders and an army of gardeners to maintain them. From the descriptions of the gardens in a 1939 Country Life article, free-growing hybrid polyantha roses and bush hybrid teas filled this area. After Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe inherited West Horsley Place, the gardens were gradually pared down to reduce the upkeep, making them more manageable, both financially and physically. However, the Duchess was still passionate about the gardens, as is evidenced in her many letters to RHS Wisley and the exchange of plant information with her friends.

Renewing the garden

The low stone walling retaining the rose beds had collapsed and has been rebuilt. The roses in two of the quarters were diseased and so had to be replaced, which we did with a pale pink rose with an old rose-style feel. The garden will retain the white iceberg roses, (which were planted at a later date, presumably in the Duchess’ time). The formal shape of the beds had grown out of alignment and these have now been re-dug and re-adjusted. Finally, the lavender hedge is currently being reinstated as part of the original plan, thanks to a generous donation from one of our volunteers.

Our walled gardens

Beyond the Rose Parterre, the 18th century Grade II listed walled gardens at West Horsley Place are a big part of the history of the estate. Sadly since, the walls and walled-garden areas have fallen into disrepair, and some of these stories of how these formal areas were used have been lost. 

Built in the early 1700s, the gardens were once full of lavish flower borders and were famous for their glasshouse fruits but gradually went into decline after World War II. Today, the walls are in a state of disrepair: several are propped up with scaffolding to ensure their stability, but many areas need repointing and repair. Remnants of the once grand planting in these areas remain, with lawns framed by old topiary, roses and flowering fruit trees. Unfortunately, many were overwhelmed with tree ivy, nettles and brambles – but much work has been done to improve this through careful cutting back and more regular maintenance.

In addition to the restoration of the rose parterre, improvement works have continued throughout the gardens. Our thanks are due to the dedicated groups of volunteers who worked to clear the undergrowth to reveal the basic structures of the garden, and help this project move forward.

Gardens with a past - and a future 

Alongside essential clearing and maintenance, work has been continuing to research the hidden history of the gardens. We know this part of our estate has been occupied for over 1,000 years and that Henry VIII even once had a Tudor knot-garden here.  We hope a future archaeological dig and survey, planned for this autumn, might tell us even more and reveal stories hidden beneath the surface!  We have already made some exciting discoveries such as finding out that our Serpentine wall is the oldest in the country and that the wooded area behind it, near the Opera House, was once a meadow.

As well as providing space to relax and take in nature, our gardens, and our wider estate will provide opportunities for local people to volunteer and take part in other events including learning, arts, and natural heritage activities. We look forward to being able to share them with you again soon.