Hatfield House in bloom
PUBLISHED: 12:29 20 May 2014
A restored event in the plant lover’s diary is the Hatfield House Garden Show. Taking place at the end of the month among world-renowned landscapes, it is full of inspiration. Philippa Pearson talks to the woman who brought it back, estate owner and passionate gardener Lady Salisbury, about the show and remodelling the estate gardens
Unusual perennials, shrubs, roses, seeds, bulbs and traditional garden accessories set against the backdrop of one of Hertfordshire’s most historic houses – it must be the Hatfield House Garden Show. This newly-reformed show, now in its second year, brings together specialist nurseries, garden accessories and crafts along with garden workshops and inspirational displays. Beautiful gardens and interesting plants have always been associated with Hatfield House and the new show enhances the venue’s reputation as a mecca for garden lovers.
‘Several years ago, the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury organised the Festival of Gardening at Hatfield House,’ explains estate owner Lady Salisbury. ‘It was a great gardening occasion but hasn’t featured here for many years. We wanted to introduce a new hybrid garden event which would sit alongside the glorious gardens we have at Hatfield.’
Plant fanatics won’t be disappointed by the selection at the show on May 31 and June 1, which includes displays by specialist nurseries such as Hopleys Plants of Much Hadham and Daisy Roots – run by Anne Godfrey – fresh from exhibiting at the Chelsea Flower show. Other highlights include garden question-time sessions with Capel Manor experts, environmentalist Peter Oakenful on gardening for wildlife, drop-in floral decoration workshops with the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies and a guide to growing veg in small spaces. There will also be many garden clubs and societies present, and stalls selling everything from seeds to sculpture.
The Hatfield Garden Show is set within a redesigned area at the front of the stately home. Work began on changes here, once a huge car park, in spring 2011 when a circular area was grassed over. This was complemented by double avenues of trained limes on each side of the courtyard area in winter 2011 and early spring 2012. ‘The design is very clean and simple,’ explains head gardener Alastair Gunn. ‘While he was growing up here, Lord Salisbury remembers there was always talk about the courtyard not being a car park, so he is pleased to see the area being reclaimed as a garden.’
Lord and Lady Salisbury are passionate gardeners and are actively involved in how the gardens are maintained, having introduced many new features and planting schemes. Lady Salisbury regularly walks around gardens with Alastair to see how areas are developing, what changes could be made to the planting or design and discuss options for new features.
Introductions over the past few years have included the Longitude Dial, which was unveiled at the summer solstice in June 2011 in the Sundial Garden (previously the Scented Garden). The new sundial is surrounded by raised beds of herbs and aromatic planting which complement the original theme of a scented garden created by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury in the 1970s. The original sundial from the garden now sits on a grassy mound in the orchard area next to the East Garden parterre. Here, Lady Salisbury has been inspired by grassy mound features at the family’s country home at Cranborne in Dorset. ‘We’ve recently added more planting in this area,’ says Alastair ‘And last autumn we planted more than 500 camassia bulbs, which seem to thrive in the clay soil here.’
Roses are one of Lady Salisbury’s favourite plants and a few years ago the wide border of roses in the Sundial Garden was completely renovated. Roses were removed, the soil replenished, the plants replanted and the collection extended. A new edition is the rose ‘Lady Salisbury’, a pretty free-flowering rose with pure pink scented petals, launched at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2011. In the West Garden parterre, roses climb up new obelisks while borders are being renovated and new planting added. Lord and Lady Salisbury are particularly keen on trees and larger shrubs and it’s in the Woodland Garden where work has been focused over the past few years. This garden, dating from the 18th century, was once a shrubbery and arboretum and has many ancient and interesting trees. The great storm of autumn 1989 devastated the area and many trees were casualties. It took two years to clear the site and gradually the Salisburys’ have added new specimens and expanded others.
‘There’s a good selection of magnoila, camellia, acer, rhododendron and cercis among other collections,’ explains Alastair, who adds that more than 70 new trees were planted in this area last autumn. The whole effect of the Woodland Garden is of serenity and interest; it’s a lovely place to wander gently and enjoy the changing seasons and contrasts with the formality of the rest of the gardens. Visitors to the show can visit both the West Garden and the Woodland Garden to enjoy the planting.
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Hatfield House Garden Show runs from 10am to 5pm on Saturday May 31 and Sunday June 1. Entrance is £10 for adults, £9 for seniors. Accompanied children under 16 go free. Ticket includes entry to the West Garden and Woodland Garden.
The gardens and house are open until September 28. The West Garden is open Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holidays 10am to 5pm. The East Garden Wednesdays only, 10am-5pm (separate charge). The house is open Wednesday to Sunday and Bank Holidays 11am to 5pm. Garden season tickets are available, see hatfield-house.co.uk
The shops around Stable Yard are open Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holidays most of the year. Check the website for full details.