It seems such a long time since my last update, but these winter months have given me the chance to spend some time on more garden history research, as well as the opportunity to raise more money for the gardens by selling Christmas wreaths at the Christmas Fair, with the help of our devoted garden volunteers!  This year, with Craft in Focus at WHP for 5 days, we decided to make the most of the opportunity of having over 9,000 visitors to WHP and created some wonderful Christmas wreaths.  These were made with cinnamon sticks, dried limes and oranges kindly donated by the Baker family at Oxenford Farm in Elstead, cones collected from Hankley Common and glycerined rosehips from the gardens at West Horsley Place.  In addition, we gathered fresh mistletoe from our ancient orchard, so all in all we generated a substantial sum for the Walled Garden Appeal.  Thank you for supporting us!

During this time, we have also had visits from Matt Pottage, the Curator of RHS Wisley, close neighbours of ours, and Jim Arbury, one of the UK’s leading fruit specialists, also based at Wisley. This was Matt’s first visit to West Horsley Place and he seemed to be enthralled by the gardens and house.  He has been extremely kind and helpful and I hope we can find a way forward to work together in the future in some way.  In the meantime, he very kindly offered archival assistance for my garden history research project and the archivists, although they have found very little on the design of our formal gardens, did manage to discover more details about the heated curvilinear vinery which was situated in the main walled garden and which was definitely in place in 1849.  This was 60ft by 16ft in size and housed black hamburg, sweet water and muscat grapes.  In addition, I have discovered that there were also glasshouses on the lawn outside the library, filled with myrtles, orange trees and geraniums, as described in Keane’s book, ‘The Beauties of Surrey’.

 As for Jim Arbury, he returned to WHP to have another look at our orchard, having visited it a few years previously.  He was able to give some advice on the rejuvenation of the orchard with heritage fruit trees, which will reflect the age of the house.  He was particularly interested in our pear trees, which he considers to be particularly old, and has suggested that these be DNA tested in June this year to establish their age and variety.  We have about 9 old ones in the orchard, with a couple having reverted to their wild pear rootstock.  One of our garden volunteers, Gareth Matthes, a local ecologist, has an obsession with orchards and collected some of the miniature pears from these trees and took them to his friend Dylan, of Dylan’s ice cream in Haslemere, to make a wonderful pear sorbet.  So….a wild pear sorbet, which apparently should be drunk with champagne was the result, which was delicious……we had a tasting while Jim was with us but no alcohol was consumed as Jim was cycling back to Wisley!

In the meantime, Matt Link, who works with me in the garden, and does a commendable job keeping the lawns looking immaculate in the Summer months, has been doing an incredible job of clearing a large area of woodland behind our Serpentine garden to create an exciting usable woodland space.  It is important for us to link the outside space together especially outside the walled gardens in order to make this area more accessible for future events and workshops. We sincerely hope, in the not too distant future, that we will be able to hold woodland craft courses with the backdrop of our serpentine wall.  On the subject of the serpentine wall, we have recently discovered that it is the oldest serpentine wall in the country! 

In addition, by studying old photos, we have found that this woodland area, directly to the north of the walled gardens, which up until now has been overgrown with head high brambles, trees and saplings, was in fact a meadow 100 years ago.  It just goes to show how quickly nature re-claims its own…..

As far as the removal of the ivy on the walls is concerned, we have made huge progress and we have probably cleared 70% of the walls.  The box hedging is still ongoing with a huge amount of weeding still to go but we are planning a programme of spraying and feeding to get it into tip-top condition for the growing and opera season.

As for plans for the main garden, I am focusing on trying to re-organise the rose parterre, re-laying the low level stone retaining walls which have collapsed and purchasing new roses for two of the sections where the roses are sickly.   The costs of this will be met by the money that has been raised and donated specifically for the Walled Garden Appeal, so thank you again for supporting us.   I am hoping that by the beginning of the Opera season, this will be finished so it can be enjoyed and fully appreciated throughout the summer for the many outside events which will be held in the garden.

As I write this today, another gem of history has emerged……a letter to Lady Crewe in 1940, informing her that a bomb was dropped on the drive at West Horsley Place, resulting in the loss of the peach house and other glass structures outside at the back of the Tudor Kitchen, glass houses…. I knew nothing about these structures until today.  This is the wonderful thing about West Horsley Place…..every day is a new adventure, a journey of discovery!!  I wonder if there are any surviving residents of West Horsley who have memories of this bombing or know of stories passed down in local families?  Please get in touch if you do.

I will be posting an update regarding my garden history research on the website in due course.