The story of RHS Garden Hyde Hall
In 1955 when Dr and Mrs Robinson came to Hyde Hall there were only six trees on the top of a windswept hill and no garden. If they had known then what they soon learned, it is very doubtful that the garden would have been made! The site was cold and windy, the top of the hill was covered in gravel and the soil on the slopes comprised a sticky clay with a pH of around neutral.
For centuries Hyde Hall had been a working farm and the area around the house was a dumping ground for all kinds of rubbish. Mrs Robinson started to garden as a reaction against this and as she cleared areas around the house they were planted with anything available. In this way she created herbaceous borders and a vegetable garden close to the house, and established the framework of the garden with some 60 young trees bought at an auction sale in Wickford Market.
The house, which dates back to the 18th century, is a typical Essex farmhouse of timber frame, lath and plaster. Records show the existence of a dwelling on this site at least as far back as Tudor times. At the back of the house Mrs Robinson discovered the Tudor brick floor of an old stable under a pile of old household rubbish and soil. This was excavated to become a natural pavement garden.
Cleaning the land around the house was arduous and time-consuming work but, with some assistance from the pigs, the refuse, brambles and scrub were eventually removed and the sticky, clay soil improved with quantities of animal manure and mushroom and bark compost.
Since the Robinsons turned the first spadeful of clay in the 1950s, Hyde Hall has always been a dynamic garden, constantly changing to meet the various challenges the site and soil have produced. The story of the development of this inspiring garden with its extraordinary diversity of plants is a fascinating one, a triumph over conditions that would have daunted less keen and dedicated gardeners.
RHS takes the reins
The Hyde Hall Gardens Trust was set up in 1976 and then in 1993 the garden became the responsibility of the Royal Horticultural Society, having been bequeathed by the Trust to ensure its future survival. Under ownership of the RHS a number of modifications were made to accommodate growing visitor numbers.
One of the first major garden projects was the installation of a 45-million litre (10 million gallon) reservoir to provide the garden with all its irrigation needs. To further promote its water-efficient ethos a Mediterranean styled Dry Garden was added to showcase a range of drought tolerant plants. The Dry Garden was completed in the spring of 2001 – following one of the wettest winters known.
In 2002 a complete renovation of the old Pig Park was undertaken. With the approval of Her Majesty The Queen, The Queen Mother’s Garden has been built as a lasting tribute to The Queen Mother who, as Patron of the RHS, had a long and deep interest in plants and gardening. Today this area has an informal, relaxing style throughout, with meandering paths and rambling roses.
Work then begun on an Australian and New Zealand Garden. Designed around mature eucalyptus trees, the area has an authentic Antipodean feel with many native plants such as kangaroo paws, and tree ferns.
Project work continued with the redevelopment of Hermione’s Garden which is now a true plantsman’s garden with many detailed and unusual species. As a lasting tribute to Hyde Hall’s original owners, the area was renamed to The Robinson Garden.
The RHS has also embarked upon an extensive tree planting programme with around 50,000 trees having already been planted. The programme will continue until 2017. Visitors can now enjoy a stroll through the woodland and explore the rich flora and fauna - especially those who donated to the two highly successful ‘Wild Wood’ fundraising appeals.
A major turning point came in 2008 with the construction of a visitor centre comprising a café, shop and plant centre. The building was officially opened in March 2010 by Alan Titchmarsh.
Work at this Essex garden continues at a monumental pace and the ever-changing landscape ensures visitors have plenty to draw inspiration from. Forthcoming projects include a new Winter Garden, Global Vegetable Garden and Big Sky Meadows.