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A fascinating visit to The Garth Pleasure Grounds in Lingfield

PUBLISHED: 09:06 19 April 2016 | UPDATED: 09:47 19 April 2016

The intriguing property at the heart of the gardens was once an 18th century workhouse

The intriguing property at the heart of the gardens was once an 18th century workhouse

Leigh Clapp

Opening for the National Gardens Scheme this month, the historic gardens of The Garth Pleasure Grounds in Lingfield are a fascinating place to visit - and, at this time of year, vast swathes of English bluebells should be carpeting the woodland floor. Leigh Clapp pays a visit...

Make time to stroll the paths in the bluebell woodMake time to stroll the paths in the bluebell wood

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2016

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Taking on an historic building and landscape is always a big commitment, but when David Sherlock and Lana Stanley purchased The Garth in Lingfield, they got rather more than they bargained for.

“When we bought the property back in 2010, we didn’t realise the boundary went beyond the hedges,” laughs David. “Then, after we exchanged, the January snows were everywhere, so it wasn’t until the snow melted and we explored the grounds further that we discovered the land extended beyond!

“At the time, we didn’t know whether to be happy or not, as we hadn’t had a large garden before, so it’s certainly been a bigger challenge than we initially thought!”

That said, the couple soon fell in love with these historic pleasure gardens, working tirelessly to restore the overgrown grounds – nine acres in all – to reflect the fascinating history of the place.

Originally built in 1729, the impressive building at the heart of the gardens started life as the parish workhouse. Later, in 1850, the building was divided into six cottages, before falling into disrepair and eventually being converted into a single home in 1918.

It was at this point that the distinguished architect of the time, Walter Godfrey, who was involved with the Society for Preservation of Ancient Buildings, was brought in. He refurbished the house in the Edwardian style of the day and the ‘pleasure grounds’ in his signature ‘Arts and Crafts’ style. Godfrey also laid out the structure of informal woodland and formal ‘rooms’, divided by hedging and linked by paths, all very characteristic of early 20th century garden design.

“Today, while the gardens have been altered and simplified over the years, they do still retain the bones – and some of the architectural features – from Godfrey’s vision,” says Lana.

“He designed various features that remain, including the spinney, an enchanting nuttery, terracing, gazebo and ornate gates.”

A secret garden

When Lana and David arrived on the scene, however, most of the flower beds had been laid to lawn, ivy scrambled unchecked up the mature trees, other trees lay fallen from storms and forgotten, brambles and nettles had free rein, paths were yet to be uncovered and much of the woodland was impassable.

Clearing and discovering were the main tasks at the beginning of the resurrection of this Sleeping Beauty garden (the sight of bluebells peering out of the debris was to be an exciting surprise come spring) with the property’s illustrious past always guiding them.

“We have tried to recreate the feel and soul of the early 20th century gardens using old photographs and Godfrey’s design sketches and, of course, adding our own flavour to the experience,” says David. “We also looked at photos from previous sales’ particulars from 1957 to help us. Some of the paths had disappeared with time, and we tried our best to reinstate them, but sometimes we had to just follow our intuition.

“Similarly, a number of the garden structures were described as part of the grounds; however, we could not locate their exact description or design, so we had to improvise using footprints of the old OS maps and information from chartered surveyors Montagu Evans and the Surrey Historic Buildings officer.”

Taking advice from experts and having some professional help in the garden has assisted the learning curve and the couple have also been studying online gardening courses to increase their knowledge.

Recent projects have included a summer¬house, establishing an orangery, refurbishing paths, adding flowerbeds and creating an avenue of cherry blossoms. Trees, such as acers and birch have been added, as have many shrubs, including camellias and rhododendrons. Also informing the evolution is the couple’s passion for the environment.

“We love to work with nature,” adds Lana. “For example, we will be refurbishing the pond with an ecologist as a small population of great crested newts have been found there.”

Opening the gates

Opening through the National Gardens Scheme has allowed the garden to be shared with others – and, in spring, the scene includes carpets of bluebells, now thriving under dappled shade in the deciduous woodland, along with swathes of wild garlic, a sprinkling of tulips and blossom on the bough.

“Expert advice is always helpful,” adds David, “but, at the end of the day, we both wanted to create something magical and timeless and we hope we are on the right path. It has become a labour of love.”

 

INSIDER TIP:

Visitors to the open days who are interested in the past of the old workhouse will be able to travel back in history by looking through records, which will be made available for viewing upon request.

 

Need to know

The Garth Pleasure Grounds, Lingfield RH7 6BJ. Open through the National Gardens Scheme on Saturday May 7 and Sunday May 8 (2-5.30pm). Admission: Adults, £5; children free. Home-made teas will be available. For more information, see online at ngs.org.uk

 

Get the look

• Work with the environment, letting nature take the lead

• Make pathways from a sympathetic surface, such as bark chip, pebbles or gravel

• Choose planting that is harmonious and augments the natural wood and clearings

• Include structural bones from hedging, hard landscaping and architectural features

• Add sculptural pieces, emerging from plantings

• Include plenty of interest for the spring season with bluebells, tulips, cherry blossom, azaleas and rhododendrons

• Layer the planting with trees, both deciduous and evergreen, seasonal shrubs and under- planting in swathes

 

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