If lockdown has taught us anything in the last few months, it is to embrace and appreciate all that we have, and we have upheld this sense of preserving and enjoying what is around us here at West Horsley Place.  Our fields and surroundings are filled with such wonderful things and that is something we wanted to reflect in our Christmas wreaths this year.  It was touch and go whether we would be able to do these with the volunteers, if at all, given the lockdown restrictions.  However, luck was on our side and the second lockdown finished in the first minute of our usual Wednesday volunteering day, on December 2nd.  We were able to have 3 shifts of 5 volunteers each, outside, and it worked brilliantly.  I think we were all just excited to be together, at a distance and to see happy faces and feel a little Christmassy! The wreaths were advertised on-line and sold out in a matter of days. They were collected in a two-hour slot at the front of the house on the following Saturday, with all safety precautions in place, and this gave Matt and I a wonderful opportunity to meet so many new faces.  Thank you for all your support; it really is greatly appreciated!

We hope to continue the wreath making next Christmas as it has proven to be a productive way to raise funds for the garden and we all have fun making them.  With teasels gathered from our fields, rose hips from the garden, and apple slices dried from our ancient orchard, we were able to dress our wreaths to evoke the spirit of West Horsley Place.  In addition to this, each wreath had a small wooden Christmas decoration made from the fallen branches of our old mulberry tree by one of our talented garden volunteers who has a magical way with wood. 

On that note, thank you to all the volunteers who are skilled in so many different ways and give so much of their time and energy.   It is important to harness these skills and embrace the pool of talent in our midst!  All of them have a great passion for WHP and give so much.  Indeed, knowing that the garden volunteers were in the background waiting to join us throughout lockdown has kept me going and keeping them updated has allowed me to focus and realise how much we have achieved over the last year.

You may remember that Lizzie Bourke joined us as a trainee through the WRAGS scheme, kindly supported by the National Garden Scheme.  She has fitted in so easily and it feels like she has always been part of the team.  With her strong work ethic, keenness to learn and wonderful sense of humour, I feel that her year with us will end too soon.  Luckily, I had her here to help with the planting of the new roses in the Mary Roxburghe Rose Garden.  Matt managed to move more than 20 tonnes of top soil (thank you, Matt!!) to replace the soil where the previous roses had grown, and once that was in place, Lizzie and I got on with planting the new bare root Olivia Austin roses.  The roses had originally been delayed during the first lockdown so we were lucky this time around to take delivery and get them in before the weather turned.  It ended up being quite a mathematical process, allowing for the planting of the lavender hedging in the spring and maintaining the planting pattern around the corners.  But we did it and they are nicely tucked up for the winter and already new buds are appearing.  Thank you again for all your financial support via the Sponsor A Rose Appeal in achieving this, and we are looking forward to showing you the rewards of this in the Spring!


In other news, a geophysical survey was carried out in the gardens in the last couple of weeks, by a team from the Surrey County Archaeological Unit.   This covered the main walled garden, the serpentine garden and the grass area to the left of the House.  This is the result of the Trust’s successful application to The Leche Trust earlier this year.  It was a non-invasive survey and if areas of interest are discovered then we may consider looking at these in greater detail subject to further funding.  We hope that the survey will give us more information relating to the history of the garden and its structures, which we know previously existed.  This will hopefully add more information to the framework of historical facts which we have gathered so far in our never-ending quest to uncover the secret history of our gardens.

Finally, I have nicknamed our gardener’s shed ‘The Bothy’, to complement the wonderful building in which we keep all our tools, and most importantly, our kettle.  I managed to put my pyrography machine to good use and decorate an old slither of wood with the new nickname.  A bothy is a basic shelter (which if I am honest, it is!) and historically was accommodation for gardeners or workers on an estate.  Luckily for us, we don’t need to stay here as its luxuries are very limited, including a lack of heating!  I have a great love for pyrography, so it was an opportunity to decorate something else rather than another item in my house!  Pyrography is the free-handed art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks and I use something similar to a soldering iron to do this.  Hopefully, pyrography may be included as one of our future woodland and nature-based courses at West Horsley Place!

So, from the Garden Team we wish you a very happy and safe Christmas and thank you for all your support in 2020.  I am sure it’s fair to say that we are all looking forward to life returning to a sense of normality in 2021, when we hope to welcome you back to West Horsley Place…….Merry Christmas!


Nicky Webber

December 2020