A winter garden at Red House

The vegetable patch at Red House, Bexleyheath

Red House is a building of international significance and is often cited as the pre-cursor of the Arts & Crafts movement. Deserving an equal share in the limelight is Red House’s 2 acre garden.

An integral part of the design William Morris and his architect Philip Webb spent as much time planning the garden as they did the house. Recorded in Webb’s notebooks are annotations of plant suggestions in order to ‘clothe’ the house in greenery.

Like the house, the gardens here are an antecedent to the Arts & Crafts style made famous by garden designers such as Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson. In the Red House garden we see many of the features now associated with the Arts & Crafts style. For instance Morris would have had wattle fences separating the garden into little arbours or ‘garden rooms’. There remains an area for edible produce to be grown, as well as a favour towards native British plants.

The garden today has evolved from its Pre-Raphaelite beginnings. Successive owners have put their stamp on the gardens with additions including the 100 year old Strawberry tree, a hot house (now removed) and a number of herbaceous borders.

Some remnants of Morris’ garden remain, espalier pears climb up the walls and an old apple tree, now on the ancient tree register, stands at the back of the well courtyard.

Through the garden gate at Red House, Bexleyheath
Through the garden gate at Red House, Bexleyheath
Through the garden gate at Red House, Bexleyheath

The house and gardens close for the winter in December and remain closed until March 2018, this in an important time for the garden team to get to work preparing the garden for next season. Tree surgeons are brought in to pollard the limes and the laurel and yew is cut back. Paths are re-laid with chippings and the greenhouse gets a fresh lick of paint.

When the gardens re-open on 3rd March the garden will re-awaken with daffodils and bluebells and will build up to its late spring spectacular with wisteria and roses galore.