Recapturing the magic of the Water Garden

Cliveden Water Garden

Cliveden's oriental-inspired Water Garden generates year-round interest with spring blossom and autumn colour providing particular highlights. The centrepiece of the garden is the six-sided Chinese Pagoda which was recently restored to its original colour scheme: green with intricate gold patterns. 

Following this successful conservation project our focus now turns to restoring this much-loved garden.  In a project spanning two phases from 2019 until 2021, work will focus on the Water Garden, maintaining and improving the garden experience for our visitors by looking after what we’ve got, for everyone to enjoy.

The first phase will focus on enhancing the planting along Green Drive Path, a 200-year-old path used by generations of visitors to Cliveden that runs the length of the Water Garden from the bamboo gates to the entrance to the woodland.   The whole bed will be stripped back, removing all the ground cover and invasive Rhododendron ponticum.  The gardens team will add a layer of rich black compost made on the estate and, after an important rest period of several months to allow the earthworms to get to work on the nutrients, planting will begin. 

The planting scheme will draw its character from the Water Garden itself, creating seasonal interest, offering something to catch the eye at all times of the year, be it by smell, colour or texture.  The new scheme will include oak and hazel, important native species, which will be grown from acorns and hazelnuts collected from across the Cliveden estate.  Crucially, the species we have chosen will increase the biodiversity of the garden, attracting pollinators to the plants and helping to sustain wildlife and birds further up the food chain. 

The oriental planting scheme that was first created by the Astor family in the late 1890s and early 1900s is to be revived for Phase Two.  This phase will begin in 2020, starting with the ponds which are in urgent need of repair.  All the plants and living creatures will be sensitively removed and rehomed.  The ponds will then be dredged with large machinery to remove decades of silt and sludge.  The concrete lining will be repaired to prevent further leaks, and the ponds will be re-filled.  The water will then be replanted with vibrant aquatic plants including beautiful water lilies and oxygenating species.  

We plan to introduce a beautiful oriental planting palette for the banks and surrounding beds that is fit for purpose in the changing climate. We have chosen a variety of evergreens, deciduous shrubs and trees, perennials and bulbs, adding to the existing mature shrubs and tree planting that give the water garden its structure.  Examples include Japanese maples, ornamental cherries, Chinese dogwoods, Wedding Cake tree, Christmas box and many more.

Our gardeners have been busy researching historic information which will inform the project, helping us to restore the combined oriental and Edwardian character to the Water Garden.

History of the Water Garden

William Waldorf Astor first started to create Water Garden features in an area known as Captains Field shortly after purchasing the estate in 1893.  He enlarged the pond for skating and created the island by digging a canal around it.

The pond was enlarged again by the 2nd Lord Astor in 1905, and by 1910, the island could be reached by crossing the stepping stones, with a footbridge leading off the island to the bank.  The oriental-style Water Garden was then created: the pond with shrubs surrounding it, clumps of bamboo and irises, the hexagonal wooden pagoda and a rustic wooden bridge.