Restoring the Dutch Garden at Clandon Park

Dan Bennett, Senior Gardener Dan Bennett Senior Gardener
The Dutch garden at Clandon Park

Since the fire in 2015 we’ve continued to work hard in the garden to maintain our high standards of presentation, whilst work continues to restore the house. Recently we’ve had an exciting opportunity to begin work on returning one area of the garden back to its past glory.

Clandon’s Dutch Garden was created by the 4th Earl of Onslow and his wife Florence. This small garden, formed by clipped hedges and centred around a circular pool, was originally modelled on the Sunken Garden at Hampton Court. 

When we took over the estate in 1956 it had largely reverted to nature. Paving stones had been removed, topiary hedges had lost their shape and elm suckers sprouted to 20 feet high. We restored the garden in the 1980s to contain small hedges of lavender running along the tops of low walls. Smaller perennial plants, such as geraniums and nepeta, and shrubs like autumn glory, fuchsias and thyme, were planted along the borders.

The Dutch Garden in its full glory as created by William Hillier, the 4th Earl of Onslow
The Dutch Garden at Clandon Park, Surrey in the time of the 4th Earl of Onslow
The Dutch Garden in its full glory as created by William Hillier, the 4th Earl of Onslow

Another restoration

This hidden gem had become engulfed by Portuguese laurel during the years in which it was neglected. Despite our efforts in the 1980s it remained hard to find and was often overlooked completely by visitors, hidden and surrounded by the 10 foot yew hedge. This was never meant to be the plan. It was conceived to be seen from the house with a pergola walk leading across the daffodil meadow.  

After the completion of a conservation plan in 2015, we decided to recreate the original intent behind the Dutch garden, reinstating large herbaceous borders full of flowers and hedges capped with inspiring topiary. We have great photographic evidence of the garden in its prime as well as detailed planting records in a gardening diary kept by the 4th Earl.

Work begins

Two years ago we started work on removing all the laurel surrounding the garden exposing the bank on which the garden sits. In the planting records it shows that primroses and mascari covered this area. We’ve been using these in our spring parterre bedding schemes over recent years and transplanting them here once they’ve finished flowering.  

Central to the garden’s original design were the topiary armchairs and peacocks. To recreate the garden faithfully we've commissioned new topiary frames, the first of which were installed in spring 2015. Two armchairs and two female peacocks atop obelisks now take pride of place as the yew hedging begins to grow up and around them.

Proud as a peacock; the first of our new topiary frames installed in 2015
Topiary frame in the shape of a peacock at Clandon Park, Surrey
Proud as a peacock; the first of our new topiary frames installed in 2015

Continuing the theme

More work took place in the winter of 2017. The huge yew hedge was significantly reduced in height, restoring views of the house from the Dutch garden and views into the Dutch garden from the rest of the garden. We’ve left some sections of hedge standing higher so that more topiary frames can be installed in the future. 

These topiary sculptures have a strong bird theme and the shapes are inspired by ‘The book of Topiary’, a 1904 publication by Charles H. Curtis that also includes the armchair designs.

More new frames will be installed in summer 2017. Urns, a male peacock, an owl, a parrot, a swan, cones and globes will all feature at intervals along the tops of the hedges, just as they did in the 4th Earl’s original garden. We're looking forward to having these installed and to see new growth continue to fill the frames with each new season.