Hestercombe is three gardens in one; an elegant Edwardian ‘front garden’ and an exciting Georgian ‘back garden’, with a Victorian shrubbery connecting the two.
The Edwardian garden was laid out by the unlikely pairing of the young architect Edwin Lutyens and the spinster garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll. Unlikely but a match made in garden design heaven. Children will enjoy the water elements of their design here, following the rills and hiding in the circular bowers with their round pools.
Passing through the Victorian shrubberies to the other side of the house, the ‘back garden’ is the exciting bit for children. Here, hidden in a wooded valley, is the Georgian landscape garden. Exploring this garden requires a bit more time and stamina, especially for little ones as it is a relatively long walk and an uphill start, but is well worth the expedition.
For me this is Hester’s Combe; Hester being the witch to whom the Witch’s Hut, half way up the valley, belongs. My children are spurred on by their mother convincing them that she has just seen the swish of the tail of a black cloak disappearing into the shrubbery or round the bend in the path ahead. Somehow we never seem to catch her up, but then she does have magic on her side! Even if you aren’t lucky enough to see her, the children will enjoy visiting her hut decorated with snakes and owls.
The valley garden is dotted with garden buildings in an eclectic variety of styles, all of which are great places to stop for a drink and snack, or a full picnic, while admiring the view – which is exactly what the Georgian’s used them for. My particular favourite is the Rustic Seat, lurking in the shrubbery waiting to be discovered. From here you can gaze up at the waterfall, and be ‘fixed to the spot with admiration’, as one 18th century visitor wrote. The cascade is fed by the rill, a stone lined channel which runs in an elegant, sinuous path from the upper pond. From the pond follow the rill and allow yourself to be tricked by the topography into believing that Coplestone Warre Bampfylde (great name!), who laid out the garden in the 1750s, achieved the impossible and made water flow up hill. The view from the top of the waterfall is impressive too.
The gardens at Hestercombe have been restored over the last twenty years and work is still continuing. One of the things I love about this garden is that it is constantly evolving and there are always new things to discover… and it’s open all year round.