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Happy 200th birthday to a legendary hotel garden


At Endsleigh, where the garden relates so strongly to the house, Olga is in
her element: she has designed the interior and implemented various tweaks to
the exterior. The inside and out work in harmony and reinforce the
picturesque style of the architecture as designed by Sir Jeffry Wyatville.

The absence of change to the gardens from the original design is emphasised by
leafing through Repton’s Red Book for Endsleigh. You can see his
watercolours of the original landscape with the overlays of his proposals
which look remarkably true to today’s views.

Repton did much work for the Duke of Bedford, especially at Woburn, and
Endsleigh (a glorified holiday cottage) was maintained, but the design was
left pretty much untouched. It stayed with the family until 1955 when it was
taken over by relatives of the late duke’s, including sons and grandsons.
They together formed the Fishing Friends and shared the property.

The garden became rather neglected, but the hurricane of 1987 brought massive
tree loss. This event, coupled with a realisation of the importance of the
landscape, galvanised the fishing club into action. Members’ wives joined
their husbands and instead of fishing, they were out weeding and restoring.

Olga Polizzi and her daughters bought Endsleigh eight years ago. The head
gardener, Simon Wood, had been working there for 14 years and is now in
day-to-day charge of the restoration. About half of the 60-acres of woodland
has become walkable and are full of stunning specimens – acers, cherries,
cedars and more – including fine champion trees. His programme includes
restoring paths and removing much of the self-sown ash and sycamore that has
taken over.

Simon’s favourite part is the Dairy Dell, a steep-sided valley of more than 40
acres, exposed bedrock and many fine trees. There is a stream running
through it. The tiny model dairy was built for Georgiana – a down-to-earth
duchess who married the sixth duke in 1803 – who liked to milk the cows. In
1910, more exotic trees were planted here, especially maples and cherries,
as a result of the Duke of Bedford funding plant expeditions to Japan.

The garden has other striking areas, such as the hexagonal Shell House and
Grotto , which was designed as a summer house for the display of geological
specimens. The rockery and grotto have a central pool and a fountain, many
beautiful pebbled paths and are connected to the dell by a serpentine flight
of stone steps. Another extraordinary feature is a small terrace constructed
from sheep’s knuckles. These are intricately laid to form hard
paving.Presumably, the duke had a thrifty side and lots of sheep. Now, using
like-for-like replacements is illegal, so Olga has to substitute special
plastic alternatives.

Elsewhere, a few minor alterations have been made to enhance the gardens for
guests. Another adjacent terrace was all grass, but to cope with garden
furniture it has been surfaced with crushed slate – Olga’s daughter Alex’s
idea, which fits in well.

Lawns have been reseeded and the 100m-long herbaceous border (perhaps the
longest uninterrupted herbaceous border in the country ) that Repton
designed has been renovated. When it was a holiday cottage for the Bedfords,
a border full of summer flowering show-offs, such as delphiniums, aconitums
and poppies, was perfect, but now other plants, such as hellebores and
euphorbias, have been added to increase the year-round appeal. Historic
watercolours of their former incarnation have been studied to retain the
original feel, though.

The children’s garden, with its rills, central fountain and geometrically
arranged beds, has been restored, and all the water features and cascades
are entirely gravity-fed. Repton loved the sight and sound of water and it
plays a large part in the landscape, embellished by fine bridges, gunnera
and riverside walks.

The creation of this landscape, two centuries ago, involved a vast team of
workmen shifting tons of earth, building the structures, digging borders and
planting trees under the watchful direction of an experienced master. If
Repton dropped in today I think he would be immensely pleased with himself
and relieved that Endsleigh was in the custodianship of a team that shared
his passion.

Four special weekends are being held at Endsleigh to celebrate Repton’s
work: March 21-23; March 28-30; April 4-6, and April 11-13. (

Read more: Hotel Endsleigh provides inspiration to
create a large garden in a small space

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