Xmera / Garden History / Gardens: Westonbirt


The grand Victorian house at Westonbirt was built for Robert Stayner Holford (1808-1892) between 1864 and 1874. It was surrounded by extensive pleasure grounds, which represented the culmination of several decades of alterations to the Westonbirt estate. Holford had begun the Westonbirt arboretum, which lies west of the house and grounds on the other side of the A433, in 1829. During the 1840s he extended the parkland surrounding the house to cover 550 acres, re-routing several roads and moving the village. It was at this time that the Italian garden with its Jacobethan pavilions was laid out. A review of the garden in the Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener(July 1873) regretted the lack of a river or lake within view of the house, particularly as the surrounding land being newly converted from agricultural use meant that there were no established large trees and hence a certain flatness in the park. Possibly in response to this criticism a brook was diverted and culverted to create a small lake to the west of the church. Today the lake is dry, but a photograph of ii in its glory showing the view back through the trees towards the house was published in W. Robinson, Garden Design (1902).

In 1873 perlargoniums (geraniums) predominated in the Italian garden accompanied by verbeans, tropaeolum, calceolaria, lobelia, ageratum and evening primrose. The rockery, made using Pulhamite fake stone, was then new and had a raw, unclothed appearance. The garden included extensive glasshouses. There was an azalea house 40' x 15' and 4 vineries occupying 150' in front of which was a run of 9 more glasshouses running north-south. In these a wide range of plants were grown, including various types of tropical orchid. In the centre of these was the camellia house (21' x 100'), which was the largest and most ornate. It had a domed centre and provided access into the Italian garden. The houses were heated by a boiler attached to 7,000' of pipe. There was also a palm house, where the gardener, Mr Lucas, kept his collection of around amaryllis,a cool orchid house, a buld house and early forcing houses.

The kitchen garden was 'not on a scale commensurate with the plant-growing department', being a mere 4 acres. Here there was more glass for growing peaches and hot-water pits for melons, cucumbers and forcing vegetables and violets.

Westonbirt was inherited by Sir George Lindsay Holford (1860-1926) in 1892, who continued his father's horticultural interests - particularly in the growing of orchids. Following his death the estate was sold and became a girls' school, as it remains today.

The Italian Garden at Westonbirt, May 2017