Every year National Gardens Scheme gardens across England and Wales welcome about 750,000 visitors. Supported by HRH, The Prince of Wales, the charity donates about £2.5 million each year from proceeds. Danesfield House was delighted and honoured to be included again this year as one of the NGS Gardens. Here is the story of these exquisite grounds.
The gardens at Danesfield were completed in 1901 by Robert Hudson, the Sunlight Soap magnate who built the house. Since the house opened as a hotel in 1991, the gardens have been admired by several thousand guests each year. In 2009, it was discovered that the gardens contained outstanding examples of ‘Pulhamite’ in both the formal gardens and the waterfall areas. This artificial rock material, developed by James Pulham and his son in the 19th Century became popular with tourist returning from Europe with dreams of grand ‘Italianate’ rock gardens and follies. The problem was aged natural material was not always readily available, so Pulham craftsmen would ‘make their own’ by building up heaps of rubble and old bricks, and coating them with their own proprietary brand of cement that soon became known as Pulhamite. The craftsmanship of the ‘rock builders’ lay in their ability to sculpt the surfaces to simulate the colour and texture of natural rock.
A mixture of herbaceous and shrub plants ensures interest throughout the year. Along the right hand side of one of the walls climbs an Arbutus Tree, also know as a Strawberry Tree. The breathtakingly large areas of romantic lavender that can be seen consist of two main varieties; “Vera”, surrounded by “Twickle Purple” with five other varieties of English and French origin. With the exception of a few original shrubs, the majority of the present planting was carried out during 1990. The original shrubs can be seen growing on the wall below the house and consist of Clematis, Wisteria, Choisya and Chimonanthus. One great success for the ten permanent gardeners who look after Danesfield’s grounds has been the rescue of the Magnolia which can be found in the corner of the formal gardens.
The stunning topiary is believed to be 100 years old and the box hedging is also original and has been restored and maintained by careful, skilled trimming.
If you walk along the path towards the river, on the left hand side you will see a Tulip Tree or “Liriodendron Tulipifera” which was planted in 1991. This task required four men to lift the tree as it weighed 200kg! On the left at the bottom of the path you will see the rockery with approximately 30 different types of rockery shrubs and herbaceous perennials.
Continue on towards the beech glade and you will come across a rare Red Turkey Oak on your left, planted in memory of John Ambler who co-ordinated the final landscape works in 1991. Part of the grounds also include the rampart of an Iron Age Fort which is no surprise as the site was once believed to be the scene of a Danish Iron Age encampment – hence the name ‘Danes-Field’ although this has never been proved.
At twilight the Grey Lady of Danesfield Park has often been seen taking a stroll. Dressed in the apparel of the Roman Sisterhood with a pale and solemn face and an old fashioned lantern in her hand, this ghostly lady walks from where Danesfield Chapel once stood, down the hill towards the school which was formerly Medmenham Gate and there she disappears!
Garden opening dates and times
Thursday 1st August 10.00am – 5.00pm
Tuesday 6th August 10.00am – 5.00pm
Thursday 8th August 10.00am – 5.00pm
Tuesday 13th August 10.00am – 5.00pm
Guided tours for 10 or more are available on NGS Open Days; bookings for such tours are essential. Please contact Kim Smith on 01628 891010. All admission charges go to the charities chosen by the National Garden Scheme.
Adults – £4.00
Children – free
Why not treat yourself to one of Danesfield’s delicious seasonal picnic hampers while you are there? Alternatively take in the considerable views of the Thames from The Orangery or sample the modern interpretations of classical dishes in Michelin starred Adam Simmonds Restaurant.
Members enjoy complimentary dining in both The Orangery (all meal periods) and Adam Simmonds (designated meal periods). Not a member? Find out how to join Design Restaurants at www.designrestaurants.com.