Surrey Hills Society on the Year of the English Garden

Gatton park makes for a stunning winter day out

Gatton park makes for a stunning winter day out - Credit: Gatton Park

As we look forward to the ‘Year of the English Garden’, plus a special anniversary for Capability Brown, chairman of the Surrey Hills Society Christine Howard reports on some of the best gardens to visit locally

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2016


To mark the 300th anniversary of the internationally recognised landscape gardener, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716¬1783), and in celebration of the country’s amazing gardens and landscapes, Visit England is promoting the ‘Year of the English Garden’ in 2016.

Although our near neighbour, Kent, is often referred to as the “Garden of England”, Surrey too could lay claim to that title – especially where Capability Brown is concerned. He was extremely prolific in our county. Examples of his work include Claremont in Esher, Addington Palace at Croydon, Peper Harrow in Godalming, Shillinglee in Chiddingfold – and, the most prestigious of all, Hampton Court Palace.

One of his most expensive commissions was also in Surrey, at Gatton Park, near Reigate. Now partly¬owned by the Royal Alexandra and Albert School, the National Trust and the Gatton Park Trust, it is the focus of a Heritage Lottery Fund bid in 2016, which aims to continue the work of restoring this historic landscaped garden (more of which in a moment).

A leading lady

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Although Brown did not hail from Surrey himself, we can lay claim to our own born¬and¬bred influential garden designer in the form of Gertrude Jekyll (1843¬1932). Born in Bramley, near Guildford, she spent her life in the west of the county, making her home at Busbridge. Her friend and architectural collaborator, Edwin Lutyens (1869¬1944), created Miss Jekyll a beautiful Arts and Crafts house there, which still survives to this day. Although a private residence, it is sometimes opened to the public for special days.

Lutyens and Jekyll created many a magnificent house and garden together here in Surrey, as well as other places in the country like Lindisfarne Island in Northumberland and Grimsdyke in Harrow – now a hotel. Best remembered for the creation of more natural gardens and working with nature, Jekyll rejected the highly formalised and labour¬ intensive Victorian gardens of her time in favour of more cottage¬style borders. A wonderful example of her work can be seen at Loseley Park, near Guildford.

No one can talk about Surrey gardens without mentioning the internationally famous gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley. Visited by over one million people last year, not only are there year¬round gardens to enjoy, but they also carry out important scientific research and support commercial growers as well as domestic gardeners. Of course, in old Surrey, we also have the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, which is not only famous as a garden but also hosts the world’s largest seed¬bank project.

The National Trust has lots of lovely gardens in Surrey, too, including Clandon Park (another one bearing the mark of Capability Brown), Winkworth Arboretum, Hatchlands, Leith Hill Place and Polesden Lacey. At the other end of the scale, the smallest and quaintest garden in Surrey is possibly Oakhurst Cottage near Godalming. The cottage dates from the 16th century and is preserved as a labourer’s dwelling of the Victorian era. You will need to book in advance.

Landmark year

Here at the Surrey Hills Society, in recognition of the ‘Year of the English Garden’ and Capability Brown’s big birthday celebrations, we have nominated Gatton Park Trust as our chosen project to support in 2016. If you do nothing else this month in Surrey, may I recommend a visit to these gardens to view their beautiful snowdrops. The gardens are open every Sunday and there is a Snowdrop Week from Monday February 15 to Friday February 19 for you to enjoy. For more details, see online at

The society is also planning a series of special talks and visits there this year so do check out our website too. Everyone is welcome to join us – you don’t need to be a member – though if you are interested in becoming more involved with the society, we’d be delighted to welcome you.

• If you would like to join the Surrey Hills Society, or if you are a business join Surrey Hills Enterprises, see online at

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