Whitbourne Hall and its gardens are opened to the public every Monday in May and June and we do urge you to take this opportunity to go and see not just the beautiful architecture of the house and its outbuildings but also its grounds, walled kitchen gardens and flower borders.
The walled kitchen garden is looked after by the 39 residents who live at the Hall and within its red brick enclosure you will find all manner of edible delights. The list of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers produced is quite remarkable: pears and apples grow espalier against walls as well as in rows in an orchard; beds of cabbages, beans, peas, carrots, leaks, squashes and salads; raspberries and redcurrants under netting; companion planting and a lake attracting a wide range of wildlife; herbs in pots and tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers and tender plants growing in the communal greenhouses.
The gardens here are particularly interesting because it is not often that you see a private space grown by individuals and their families within the structure of a residents’ association. The residents have formed a group called the Whitbourne Hall Community of which each member pays an annual communal charge and helps to manage the grounds as well as the maintenance and upkeep of this stately estate. You may see one resident on a sit-down mower, another sweeping the communal pathways, another one watering and several hoeing or harvesting. Visitors can stop and chat, and there is a display of old photographs and historical information in the dining room of the Hall showing what life was like when the Evans family, wealthy vinegar making industrialists, used to live here.
Within each plot you can see the individual personalities of each gardener, some with their tall, multi-coloured gladioli, others with their neat lines of green brassicas or the billowing profusion of wildflowers and grasses. Each to their own, but one thing is for sure, this garden is extremely fertile and well managed. Many families can eat very well indeed from just the supplies within these walls, and during the warm months it is unlikely that many of them need look elsewhere to fill the larder. Gardeners, we all know, are very generous creatures, so we can only guess at the content of the conversations, seed swapping and growing tip sharing ideas that flow in this garden.
The greenhouses are a revelation. They were constructed by Foster and Pearson of Beeston in Nottinghamshire, very prestigious greenhouse and conservatory manufacturers, established in 1841. Their client list reads like a Who’s Who of Victorian high society and aristocracy. From Queen Victoria, to the Duke of Devonshire, the Duke of Beaufort and the Rothschild family, as well as the Chelsea Physic Garden in London and the Botanical Gardens of Sydney and Hong Kong, anyone with a grand garden and income to match would commission one of these beautiful structures. Although the greenhouses at Whitbourne Hall are not in a perfect state, they are still fit for purpose, and they form quite a labyrinth of horticultural endeavour. You will find cucumbers, tomatoes, chillies, flowers and little germinating seedlings in every corner.
Make sure you take a peek in the tool shed: hung on walls are old agrarian and horticultural implements from the last 150 years as well as great heaps of old terracotta pots. They make plastic modern day plastic pots look so ugly. At one time Whitbourne Hall must have had an army of salaried gardeners and under-gardeners looking after every border, but after the First and Second World Wars so many men were killed that few were left to take up the positons left open in domestic service in Britain. The world order changed, with the expansion of state education, urban employment and crippling death duties, and many of Britain’s big estates were either broken up or sold.
We recommend a tour of the whole 8 acres around Whitbourne Hall: winding paths lead round an immaculate rockery, planted with great devotion and care; there are hanging baskets flowering with profusion, salvias, nicotianas, roses and lilies blooming round every corner. Do not miss a walk round the now glassless palm house and take a look at the fountain that sprinkles water round the parterre garden at the front.
From neatly trimmed borders, to flowering wisterias, manicured lawns, ancient trees, garden statuary and native hedging, Whitbourne Hall’s secret gardens are not to be missed.