don’t look now – come back later

December 16, 2010

Ah, the track for machinery gives the game away. Best not continue if you are faint hearted! Just revisit here in about 18 months time. The image is of the Centenary Border at the Hillier Gardens looking west down 220 yards of double borders planted in the early 1960’s by Sir Harold Hillier. The master plan for the revitalisation and rejuvenation of the borders is near completion. The detail planting will follow. The process was started about 2 years ago and now the chain saws have entered the site and mature trees have been taken down to ground level. This may seem a tad drastic but, originally, the borders were backed with many varieties of holly and other trees and large shrubs that have outgrown the situation. They were also preventing any decent growth below their canopies. The felling and clearance of almost all of the plant material in the Jermyns House end of the borders will take place this winter. Certain plants will be retained for their uniqueness – the tape on the branches indicate those that have been given a reprieve.

In a corner of my bedroom

grew a tree

a happy tree

my own tree

its leaves were soft

like flesh

and its birds sang poems for me

then without warning

two men with understanding smiles

and axes made out of forged excuses

came and chopped it down

either yesterday or the day before

i think it was the day before

Dreampoem   Roger McGough

It’s a big decision and, in a sense, brutal but plants that are deemed special will be propagated and bought on to be planted again in a better situation where they can flourish to their true potential.

Below is the view of the borders in 2007, when the project was ignited. We found the area over grown, gloomy in the greenness and pretty uninviting. Many of those working in the gardens though, had a fondness for the borders and disliked our proposal that involved massive clearance, widening of the central path and the borders themselves. The most important aspect of the new design was the introduction of angled paths that cut across the long planted areas to provide a secondary path network linking the woodland areas beyond. The concept was based on Purcell’s ‘Fairy Queen’ in which the spirits interplay with humans. We felt a real sense of how wild life and ‘spirits’ might emerge out of the woodland and inhabit this area at dusk and dark when the clod hopping humans have departed.


The small plan above shows the long central path. Traditionally this was the single route for promenading between the two planted borders. The secondary paths are seen cutting through the borders at angles giving access through the planting at close quarters. Sharp lines of yew hedging replace the original hollies and will be kept sleek and angular to compliment the exuberant planting within.  Geometric forms, circle, ellipse and squares anchor the new scheme firmly into the ‘natural’ and informal woodland that has grown to maturity on each side. Below is the view to the west showing the wide main path, and the tertiary routes that run between the back of the borders and the woodland.

And below, a view of the circular area at Jermyns House end housing a specimen Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’.

There are more F.s.’Dawycks’ in the centre but these will go as deemed not sufficiently good specimens for an arboretum.

One half of the Jermyns House end is almost cleared . . . .

. . .  but the half at the Pavilion entrance end is awaiting its fate. Below shows the slim path that separates the back of the borders and the woodland of Ten Acres East and West. The evocative feel of dappled shade and pools of light made a significant impact on the design. We knew we should make a strong link using paths to offer an opportunity to explore these rather lovely ‘fringe’ areas as well as the main and obvious central route between the borders. So, the angled paths were born . . .

The woodland looks inviting . . .

. . . and we hope that visitors will walk through, touch, smell, and enjoy the planting as they stroll from side to side – from woodland through decorative planting across the central avenue and through more decorative planting until they reach the woodland on the other side.

6 Responses to “don’t look now – come back later”

  1. Cloudier Says:

    Fascinating, thanks for sharing. Can mere mortals visit once it’s finished? Would like to glimpse a woodland nymph or fairy. Divine, calming Purcell music…

    • julia fogg Says:

      Mere mortals needed as the brief behind the project was to increase footfall, hence stone edging to the central avenue and cross paths so that the borders can be accessible 12 months of the year. Beautiful music, yes!

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