James Masters

Head Gardener, Standen House & Garden

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James Masters - Head Gardener

The discovery of some hidden stone steps was the moment that Head Gardener James Masters knew it was his vocation to make Standen’s lost garden shine again. 15 years and half a million pounds later Standen’s Arts and Crafts Garden is complete and one of the finest in the South East. Visit this spring and summer to see the gardens resplendent with a tulip festival, new exhibition and Midsummer events.

In the autumn of 2003 a spot of routine clearing work by volunteers in the Bamboo Garden led to what became one of the biggest garden restoration projects the Trust has ever undertaken.

I had come to Standen a couple of years earlier, and taken on, what was well known as a low maintenance garden – 12 acres looked after by just one person. However, a bit of poking around in the undergrowth here and there began to make me realise that there was far more to the place than met the eye; lost walls, rock garden, rare and unusual plants all overgrown by vigorous modern planting.

So it was that on that October day, cutting back some collapsed bamboo, that we found a series of what looked like steps leading down a slope. Further investigation revealed these to be an old water cascade. A year later and with the help of a large excavator we revealed a swimming pond and the family’s original Rose Garden – the Rosery. Phyllis Wager – the grand-daughter of James and Margaret Beale, visited and sent us a series of photographs of herself, her brothers and cousins swimming in the pond.

The Beale grandchildren taking a dip in the garden pond
The Beale grandchildren swimming in the garden pond

From the parts of garden shown in these photos we began to piece together the outdoor history of Standen and eventually after much more research, in 2012, we were granted £1/2 million to restore the gardens: both the layout and the plant collection.

Over the last five years a team of staff and volunteers, together with a small amount of help from specialist contractors, have recreated the garden to be at its best since the 1920s. From muddy, rain soaked days in the bottom of drainage trenches through to detailed planting of rare bulbs and everything in between, the garden has been transformed.

" I have to look back at photographs to remind myself of the changes we have made, they really are so significant and not only do I think we are doing justice to that lovely lost garden by making it shine again."
- James Masters, Head Gardener at Standen

I am immensely proud of all the work the team have put into this project – we have all learned new skills, tackled things we never thought we would be a match for and made new friends. All this whilst developing a deeper understanding of what Margaret Beale created here and a real sense of her immense passion for plants from all around the world.

I have to look back at photographs to remind myself of the changes we have made, they really are so significant and not only do I think we are doing justice to that lovely lost garden by making it shine again. The new and innovative ways we have carried out the work mean that, I hope, we have become an inspiration to modern gardens as well.