Hatfield House gardens - The big tidy up

When the gates close at the end of the season at the 42 acres of garden at Hatfield House, what happens during the months between until they open again? Philippa Pearson goes behind the scenes and finds out...

IT’S a busy time of the year for gardeners: cutting perennials back, clearing weeds, preparing lawns for mowing and generally getting the garden ready for the new season. Most of us probably have more than enough to do in our plots but imagine what it’s like when you’ve got 42 acres of garden to maintain.

The gardens at Hatfield House welcome visitors from all over the world to see sumptuous planting and to walk amidst perfumed borders and charming woodland areas.

Upkeep of the gardens carries on throughout the year but it’s when the estate closes at the end of September each year until the following April that major renovation and new features are integrated.

A team effort

Working closely with Head Gardener Alastair Gunn and three other full time gardeners, owners Lord and Lady Salisbury are passionate garden lovers and are actively involved in how the gardens are maintained, introducing many new features and planting schemes.

Since last September, the gardening team have been busy putting in new features for the 2012 season and the main courtyard in front of the house will have seen major changes.

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Once a huge car park, a small central area was grassed over in spring 2011 and is now extended to form a larger circle and complemented by double avenues of topiary limes on each side of the courtyard.

‘The design is very clean and simple,’ explains Alastair, ‘and whilst 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 back to a garden.’

The thick tarmac has been scooped out by diggers to make deep channels, to be infilled with soil, for the new lime avenues. 

A rosy outlook

The Longitude Dial was unveiled at the Summer Solstice last June in the Sundial Garden (previously the Scented Garden), surrounded by new raised beds of herbs. The old sundial previously in this garden has been given a new home in the orchard area next to the parterre in the East Garden.

The sundial sits on a grassy mound at the interchange of paths and Lady Salisbury has been inspired by similar features at the family’s country home at Cranborne in Dorset. More grassy mounds are planned in the Woodland Garden, too.

Lady Salisbury adores roses and a few years ago, the broad border of roses running along the rear boundary of the Sundial Garden was renovated and replanted and is now looking sumptuous as roses have had time to fill out and mature.

An addition to the borders near the Longitude Dial are groups of the new rose ‘Lady Salisbury’, a pretty free flowering rose with pure pink scented petals, launched last year at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. New roses are also planned in the parterre in the West Garden where obelisks and garden structures will support climbing roses and add height to this garden.

Preparing for visitors

Elsewhere in the gardens this spring before they open in April, it’s the usual business of cutting back and dividing perennials and taking the opportunity to bring some of the existing planting schemes into harmony here and there.

The Kitchen Garden is expecting an additional greenhouse which will give more space for overwintering citrus fruits, and tomatoes in summer, and also give more room for raising plants from seed: Alastair likes to grow annuals from seed to add to borders.

When you next visit the East Garden, only open on Wednesdays during the season, admire the apple tree avenue lining the vegetable beds. ‘They are pruned each year in autumn back to two buds,’ says Alastair. ‘It’s quite an unusual pruning method, but this keeps their formal shape and structure.’

Structure, formality, traditional, wildness and contemporary features – you’ll find it all in the gardens at Hatfield House, and each year the gardens keep on evolving just a little bit more when the gates close at the end of the season.

Philippa Pearson is a RHS award winning garden designer and writer. Visit www.philippapearson.co.uk or contact her on 01767 651253

PAY A VISITHatfield HouseHatfield AL9 5NQ01707 287010

visitors@hatfield-house.co.ukwww.hatfield-house.co.ukThe gardens and house re-open for visitors on Saturday, April 7 until September 30. The shops around the Stable Yard are open outside of the main open season, but check the website for full details.Garden volunteers are welcome to help maintain the gardens throughout the year. Contact Hatfield House if you’d like to offer your help.

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