Old Alresford House
We were delighted to be invited to talk to the Society of Garden Designers about our approach towards Historic Garden Conservation. Garden conservation and restoration are becoming more and more popular and extremely relevant to the garden design process. There is even a new category in the SGD Awards for Garden Restoration.
The event was organised by the SGD South East at Old Alresford House, a Grade II* listed property that has been at the receiving end of extensive garden restoration and conservation work.
To kick-start the day current owner Mike Hall, who has painstakingly revived the gardens since 2004, commenced with an invigorating talk explaining the history of Old Alresford House and his own personal experience recreating a 1764 garden from an original Richard Woods drawing found in an attic.
To offer a brief history, Old Alresford originally belonged to Admiral Lord Rodney, a hedonistic rogue who rescued Gibraltar for the Nation but squandered his fortune at the gambling table. He acquired the land in 1749 and proceeded to commission Richard Woods, Capability Brown’s lesser known contemporary, to create a Ferme Ornée or ornamented farm which illustrates perfectly this style of the English Landscape movement.
Crippling financial troubles meant that Wood’s plan could not be fully implemented in 1766 leaving Mike Hall the chance to pick up the pieces and finish the job with a contemporary twist in 2004. With the help of Woods’ beautifully drawn plant and patient interpretation by his architect these works included the restoration of Wood’s original 540 yard ha-ha, pleasure ground and shrubberies, woodland walks and strategic viewpoints, and the addition of a modern Mediterranean flower garden and swimming pool area with modernist building by Haddow Partnership.
Pool house at Old Alresford House
Mike Hall ended his talk with a walk around the 24 acre grazed parkland and 13 acre garden, with thirty garden designers weaving their way through pleasure ground shrubberies and immaculately mown lawns, listening to Mike’s excitement at discoveries of overgrown 17th century perimeter walks and partly completed ha-has.
An intensive day followed with Marian offering a very brief recap of 2,000 years of garden history; followed by an understanding of how to approach an historic garden project; the Conservation Management Plan process; the planning and conservation process and writing a good Design and Access statement. We explained the process showing some of our work including the project we undertook in partnership with the University of Greenwich and the National Trust at Knole, on behalf of Lord Sackville-West. This was followed by group work implementing the days learning’s with a real life case study of a project one of the garden designer delegates is working on.
Creative conservation case study
After a full day exploring the process behind historic garden conservation, an invigorating and lively discussion ensued regarding the re-development of Old Alresford House.
There were some notable mixed reactions towards Mike Hall’s purist approach to mimicking Wood’s 1764 design, with additions of whimsical modern layers that some people felt contradicted his original design intent. The Haddow building is of course controversial and yet balances the architecture of the old house beautifully. One suggestion was that the implementation of a vineyard beyond the newly built ha-ha compromises the ha-ha effect by creating a living framework of vines that essentially bar the landscape.
Modern sculpture in the Pleasure Grounds at Old Alresford House
However no one could deny the energy and enthusiasm Mike Hall has invested in the project, with two years of painstaking research into the history of the estate and an enormous emotional and financial investment. Having restored the house and gardens and managed to secure planning permission for weddings after several years negotiation with the planners he is ready for another project. He has therefore sold up and will move out with his family nearly 10 years to the day he moved in this September.
Pool garden at Old Alresford House
The garden was open to the National Garden Scheme this June and we hope the new owners may continue to open to the public occasionally. Looking at restoration projects such as Old Alresford House forms an essential part of the historic garden conservation process. It is by evaluating and understanding precedent studies that one can form a strong backbone to any project.
Article: Alicia Savage
Photos: Alicia Savage and Rebecca Smith, Garden Designer and SGD organiser