The hanging gardens of Haslemere
PUBLISHED: 10:56 13 May 2014 | UPDATED: 11:42 04 September 2015
This month, we take a look at the ongoing restoration of the tranquil woodland garden at The Manor House in Haslemere, which will be opening for just one day this summer through the National Gardens Scheme
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The Manor House Haslemere GU27 2ES
Once described by Country Life as the ‘The hanging gardens of Haslemere’, The Manor House was one of the inaugural gardens of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS).
Since the 85th anniversary of the NGS in 2012, visitors can again see these beautiful gardens at their annual open day each May.
Set on a slope in the Surrey Hills, the six acres of gardens have terraced levels, following a perennial stream down to a valley floor of ponds and water gardens, before the land rises again to meadow and pretty woodland.
The house itself has 16th century origins, with 17th and 19th century additions, and when Gerard and Marie France Ralfe bought the property in 1985, they fell under its spell the moment the estate agent drove them through the grand entrance gates. At that stage, the estate was divided into two parts, and in 1992 they bought the other half, reuniting the house and garden as a whole.
“We see our job as being one of restoration rather than creation and it has become a consuming passion to restore a listed heritage house and garden,” says Gerard.
A labour of love
The gardens were originally laid out by James and Agatha Stewart-Hodgson and their daughter, the Marchioness of Sligo, from around 1873, as pleasure grounds typical of the time. “We describe the garden as English romantic and we cannot claim that they were designed by Gertrude Jekyll but they were very much in the same style, which was prevalent during their occupancy of 50 years between 1870 and 1921,” continues Gerard.
When the Ralfes arrived, the gardens were dilapidated and overgrown, the water gardens a jungle of rhododendrons and the contours of the levels obliterated. Their process of restoration has seen the water gardens re-excavated, an old rose pergola renewed, greenhouses rebuilt in the original materials and a massive pruning programme undertaken to bring back form to the overgrown shrubs. Adding a touch of formality to the main lawn is a new addition of a parterre rose garden.
Assisting the transformation is quite a team, including Merrist Wood and Wisley-trained gardener Natalie Beck, Robin and Matt Reeves managing the acres of lawns and Gerard’s brother Douglas Ralfe who lives on site managing the property. “I am the grand overseer, I guess,” says Douglas. “My role is purely managerial – I’m not a gardener – but I love the tranquillity of the gardens and my favourite spot to sit is on a bench looking over the water garden.”
The garden opens for the NGS later this month, on Sunday May 25, when the scene should be one of azaleas against a backdrop of fresh greens, blossom on the bough, bluebells on the hillside, scatterings of tulips and candelabra primulas fringing the water gardens. Hidden away is a small clump of the magical blue poppies, Meconopsis betonicifolia, which may coincide with the opening time.
Summer strolls This is a garden for strolling in and taking the time to appreciate the gentle ambience and stunning views, while return visitors enjoy watching the continuing evolution.
The herbaceous border has been redone with late summer choices such as miscanthus, asters and dahlias and the latest projects are an arboretum and new planting for winter interest.
Get the look...
• This is a garden in the romantic style, so the paths are winding rather than straight
• Other features include hidden areas, stone walls, whimsical topiary highlights and fragrant plants
• Azaleas and rhododendrons are planted to look natural in a woodland setting
• The garden is framed by a canopy of oaks and acers
• The water gardens have been created from dammed up streams
• The owners have adopted a three-year rotation cutting shrubs back by a third to rejuvenate growth
• For this time of year, bulbs are planted in drifts with successional crocus, Fritillaria meleagris, daffodils, tulips and camassia