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SPOTLIGHT ON: A Glorious English Garden
Tim Hart, a former investment banker, bought Hambleton Hall in 1979, and has spent the last 30 years overseeing improvements to the garden at this former hunting box. The results are simply stunning. Pat Richardson, founder of HotelsThatWereNot.com, talked to Tim – a self-confessed tree-planting enthusiast – about what he and his team have achieved, and how.
What was the garden like when you came?
It was generally good, with fine mature trees and glorious views, but there were also some elements which were past their sell-by date.
So what was the biggest challenge you faced back then?
Understanding that some of the garden’s best-loved elements – for example, the rose garden and the views – were also potential drawbacks.
In what way?
Hambleton Hall sits on a peninsula, surrounded by Rutland Water. This gives us very dramatic views, which are a tremendous asset - but also could undermine parts of the garden, by drawing the eye away from the garden itself. We addressed this problem on our parterre by planting a yew tree hedge, now about 7’ feet high, which restricts views when you’re in the parterre space.
We also inherited a formal rose garden in this area. The roses were exhausted. We tried soil replacement in the early 80s, but the new roses did not thrive.
Our garden consultant, Neil Hewertson – Head Gardener at Stowell Park, designed a new garden for us in this very important area. It features a central pond, and beds with structural elements - such as lollipop quercus, ilex, fastigiate yew, shrub roses, clematis, aster, viburnum plicatum, sedum and lavender.
The result is a vastly improved year-round effect, which is very important for an hotel.
What other big change have you made?
The annual border on the south side of the house, of which I’m very proud. Annual bedding is deeply unfashionable, but we find that there’s no need to choose ‘naff’ or municipal plants – things like orange geranium, begonia, busy lizzie. Our re-plantings in May and November deliver a splendid show of bulbs - narcissus and, mostly, tulip – in April and May, and a really strong showing in August, September and October, too, when other parts of the garden can be dull. We use lavender pinnata, oak-leaf geranium, senecio, reddish heuchera, salvias and such for the summer. And then in winter, red heuchera, winter pansies, senecio again and ornamental grasses keep the bed alive while we wait for the spring bulbs.
Do cut flowers from the garden fill the vases at Hambleton Hall....
Lots of greenery, yes, but we generally buy flowers
...and do vegetables and herbs appear at mealtimes?
Which tree, plant or flower gives you personally the most pleasure?
My pair of flourishing cork oaks, Quercus suber.
And what has proved to be the biggest challenge in the garden nowadays?
Lulled into a false sense of security by a succession of mild winters, we were encouraged to use some borderline-tender plants, such as hardy palms, teucrium and callistemon – the bottlebrush plant. All are now dead.
How many people work in the garden now, to maintain it?
There are two, full-time.
Finally, do you have a top tip for anyone with a garden as big as Hambleton Hall’s?
When you take on a new garden, spend time on getting the plan right!
Wouldn’t you rather stay somewhere really special – with a garden that’s really special, too?
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