This past October I had the opportunity to take a leave of absence from my position at the EDA to work with a small architectural archives in Somerset, England. Having lived in London during graduate school, I was excited to return to the UK and experience a completely different side of the country away from the bustling metropolis. My stay in the village of Yarlington was an idyllic introduction to the English countryside, nestled between the equally scenic towns of Castle Cary and Bruton, and in close proximity to numerous points of interest including Bath, Stourhead, Salisbury and Stonehenge (which I first spotted during a surreal moment waking from a nap on my way from the airport).
Prior to my trip, Waverly had pointed out that I would be only a short drive from Hestercombe Gardens, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll. The EDA has drawings for this project in the Jekyll collection, and knowing that I was so close to one of her gardens inspired me to make the journey there, which was no small feat. Having never driven in the UK prior to this trip, I had to quickly acclimate to numerous roundabouts, driving without GPS (who knew paper maps still existed!), and of course sticking to the left side of the road (for which Beyoncé’s song ”Irreplaceable” with the lyrics “To the left, to the left” proved to be essential).
Before my visit I had been put in contact with Philip White, founder of the Hestercombe Gardens Trust, who put me in contact with head gardener, Claire Greenslade. She was able to tell me more about the intricacies in working with a heritage garden, specifically the difficulties in keeping color in a garden that was only designed for summer, as well as tracking down the original plants outlined in Jekyll’s design. Last year she was able to find a bulb for an iris that was thought to be extinct, and are now happily planted in their intended locations.
At Hestercombe I learned that the garden by Lutyens and Jekyll was actually the third to be created at the site, following 13th and 18th century gardens, the latter of which is a Victorian garden reminiscent of the wild and rambling landscape at Stourhead. All of the gardens have been restored in the last 25 years, and were opened to the public in 1997 after 125 years of being closed. Hestercombe House has also been recently opened to the public, after serving as the headquarters for the Somerset Fire Brigade from 1953-2006. It now houses a contemporary art gallery and artist residency space.
Though my visit coincided with one of the grayest days I experienced while in the UK, I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent walking through these gardens. The efforts to restore this rich site help it to shine regardless of the weather. If you happen to find yourself in this part of England, please consider taking the time to visit.