RHS Hyde Hall: Garden Visit

A few weeks ago I was invited to a bloggers get together at RHS Hyde Hall in Essex. A new garden to explore with blogging buddies old and new was way too much of a temptation, especially as a picnic, tour of the garden with Ian Bull the garden manager and a plant swap (a planned RHS event for the weekend) were thrown in for good measure.

I don't know Essex that well and as I got ever closer to Hyde Hall, I couldn't believe an RHS garden could be found anywhere amongst the rolling hills (yes, Essex has hills!) and extensive farmland - and that was after I'd taken the signposted entrance to the garden.*

Later Ian enlightened us about the farmland whilst looking at the pictured view above - over 300 hundred acres came with the house and original garden bequeathed to them. So as well as this being let out to farmers, the RHS has plenty of opportunity to make walking trails, plus plant 1,000s of trees on the estate as well as having ambitious plans to make a large lake on the lower lying land. One of their key approaches is to make the garden blend in more with its surrounding landscape, hence the major changes envisaged.

Around the original traditional farmhouse is the more conventional 'English country garden' which the previous owners the Robinsons had made. It has probably the lushest of lawns I've ever seen. Here, visitors are encouraged to take a picnic and generally make the garden their own.

There's a rose garden with strong structures and outlines...

... and yew buttresses enclosing the planting at the side - we were told the scooped shape to soften the structure was one of Matthew Wilson's alterations to the garden.

Another reworked part of the garden is a lower, damper garden with its walls constructed from gabions devised by Christopher Bradley-Hole. Ian told us people either love or loathe this part of the garden. I loved it - my tastes must be changing again!

Hyde Hall is well known for pushing the barriers regarding what can be grown in this country. Sadly last year's harsh winter has devastated the Australian and New Zealand Garden, which was roped off for redevelopment when I was there. Probably the most famous feature in this line is the Dry Garden, which was still going strong. This was my favourite part of the garden, because it was looking really good and provided an opportunity to learn exactly which plants will thrive under dry conditions.

Ian told us that the underlying clay at Hyde Hall provides quite a challenge to having a dry garden as the kind of plants which thrive there in the summer absolutely hate getting their feet wet in the winter. As ever soil preparation is key, with lots of gravel added to help with drainage. The dry garden is also on a slope, which helps. It'll be interesting to see how the large extension to the dry garden fares as the slope for this part is much gentler. As you can see from the photo, this was in its early stages of being built.

Then came a piece of unplanned planting. Last year a wildflower mix was sown in the dry garden extension area. The temporary clearance of the soil to make the new dry garden meant a bank of self-sown wildflowers is the serendipitous result this year.

Over the summer there's also a display of African sculpture throughout the garden (plus workshops on selected dates), which gives the viewer a different perspective on some of the garden's features.

Overall it was a great day, thanks to the RHS' hospitality (special thanks go to Laura Tibbs, Hayley Monckton and Ian Bull) and the lively company of Amanda (Eight by Six) Claire (Plant Passion) and Kevin (Nature/Nurture). I haven't shown you all of the garden so there's plenty more for you to explore and discover for yourselves and with the changes envisaged in the garden's 10 year plan, it looks like it'll be worth many a repeat visit over the coming years :)

* NB the entrance has been moved this year, so it's best to use the directions on the RHS website. Google maps hadn't caught up with the times when I visited in June and would have sent me to the wrong place had I followed its directions. It feels terribly wrong driving through what seems miles of relatively empty farmland, but you will get there eventually I promise.


  1. If you take that top photo, flatten out the hills and make the grass brown, it looks a lot like where I live. :-)

    The garden looks pretty lovely. I do like the "damper" part of the garden with the gabions-for-walls. Not to sure about the part of the garden with the exotic succulents, though. Looks sort of out of place to my eye, but then it can be hard to tell from a photo how things look in the whole of the garden...

  2. liking the benches in the pastureland. a pity about the australian/new zealand planting.

  3. I always imagined Essex to be flat too and to be quite honest most of it is.

    I was really sorry to have missed the Hyde Hall meet-up, not least because its on my list of gardens I must do, it looks pretty good. I have to say I liked the wildflower bit best!!

    That Matthew Wilson, he's a genius isn't he!

  4. Susan - I understand perfectly where you're coming from, especially as you've been such a strong advocate of native Texan planting in your area. Essex is one of the driest parts of the UK and it's vital to understand what climate change might do to the surrounding area. So whilst the Dry Garden is indeed experimental, it's continued success and lack of maintenance required is a key teaching tool. In some ways its probably a better garden for the area than the traditional English garden on view.

    Drought had just been declared when I visited hence the enormous cracks in the soil you can see in the first picture. Whilst we've had quite a bit of rain here since it hasn't made up for the lack of rain we had at the beginning of the year.

    Petoskystone - there were plenty of benches to admire. Most of them are destined to be shown off over at Sign of the Times :)

    Arabella - a week later I was reading all about what Matthew had been doing in the green roofed 'shed' at Harlow Carr. He casts a long shadow over the RHS gardens ;)

  5. PS I was rather taken with the unplanned wildflower bank as well :)

  6. So many nice things! (Except the gabions!)

    I grew up in a part of Essex where there are lots of little hills and winding lanes and hedges and . . . drought . . and cracks in the ground . . . We were lucky, we had a well in our garden. The flat-lands and marshes are daunting. Looks as if Hyde is somewhere in between.

    Like Arabella, I'm sorry I couldn't be there. You never know, I may turn up at one of these events one day! (I hope so!)


  7. Oh no, please don't misunderstand me, VP! :-) I have nothing against non-native--have quite a few in my garden in fact. And I applaud the use of drought-tolerant plants. When I first saw the post, though, two of the three photos of the experimental area didn't show up, so the one photo I saw truly did appear out of context. They're showing up now, though, and it all makes a lot more sense to me, _aesthetically_. And, in fact, now that I see it in context, I like it a lot.

  8. Love the gabions and the serendipitous wildflower patch. Was sorry to have missed out on this, was just too far to go in the end, so thank you for sharing so many photos. Hard to relate to drought when we've been having loads of rain here, just shows how different the weather patterns can be across the UK.

  9. Really like the unplanned wildflower meadow. Like the formal gardens too especially the rose garden.

  10. I visited a few years ago and quite liked it - always thought the garden looked like an oasis in a desert of fields. I also think our last two winters have caused a few upsets to gardens experimenting with the more tender plants. Just as we were getting used to the idea of mild winters!

  11. Esther - it would be lovely to see you at one of these events one day :)

    Susan - so glad we got that sorted :) So sorry you won't be coming to the Seattle fling after all, though I'm not surprised after your radio silence post. Stay well and I hope we meet another time.

    Janet - we were in drought here when I visited and the cracks on my allotment rivalled those I found in Essex. We may have had rain since then, but my plot's still quite dry...

    Bridget - it was a good garden to visit - I learnt a lot.

    EG - it still has that oasis feel to it, but Ian Bull's explanation about merging the garden's borders in with the landscape should go some way to dispelling that feeling.


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