A grand restoration
PUBLISHED: 08:45 30 March 2015
The restored historic gardens at Easton Lodge near Great Dunmow are looked after by an enthusiastic team of volunteers. Philippa Pearson finds out more and also helps out with the digging
‘There is something magical about the gardens,’ says Helen Carter, trust administrator at Easton Lodge. ‘It’s a very special place.’
Situated just outside Great Dunmow, during Edwardian times the gardens were designed by eminent landscape architect Harold Peto, who was commissioned by Easton Lodge’s owner Daisy, Countess of Warwick.
Peto designed 23 acres in a sumptuous style which included a cobbled courtyard, a Japanese Garden (now the Glade) with a teahouse overlooking the lakes, formal lawns and terraces. Inspired by grand Renaissance gardens in Italy, Peto also created a stunning Italian Garden complete with a ballustraded pool and romantic planting schemes. Daisy regularly entertained society guests at Easton Lodge, including the Prince of Wales before he became King Edward VII, and no doubt a grand tour of the gardens was a highlight of these events. After Daisy died in 1938, the gardens sadly fell into decline but began a new lease of life in 1971 when the Creasey family moved into the west wing of the lodge, naming it Warwick House, and gradually began restoring the gardens.
After Brian and Diana Creasey moved away in 2010, the Gardens of Easton Lodge Preservation Trust took over the day-to-day running of the gardens. ‘There was a big push to get volunteers to come and help look after the garden,’ remembers Helen, who originally joined as a volunteer and now looks after all the volunteers and organises work in the garden.
The scale and amount of work volunteers carry out is quite simply inspirational. The garden is open to the public, although the volunteer team still have many more features and borders to uncover and reclaim, but tantalising glimpses of Peto’s design are emerging and visitors can now see the Italian Sunken Garden with replanted borders and the herringbone and cobble courtyard. Volunteers do not work in the area that belongs to Warwick House, but the trust are grateful to the owners for allowing access in this area on public open days.
The gardens open one day a month from April to October and also for special events and courses during the year. In February, thousands of snowdrops in drifts in the woodlands bring visitors from afar for special open days.
‘We usually have several hundred people at each of our two Snowdrop Sunday open days,’ says Helen, ‘although it does of course depend on the weather!’
As well as guided tours during this event, there are plenty of warming bacon rolls on offer and other refreshments.
A new tea pavilion called Daisy’s was added in 2011, bought with money from garden open days in 2010, and serves a tempting range of delicious homemade light refreshments during open days and courses held during the year.
Working to a schedule of planned projects, volunteers, who come from far and wide, have three options each week to come and be involved with the restoration of the gardens. On Mondays the maintenance team carry out a lot of clearing work across the whole garden area, including scrub management, fence repairs and brush cutting.
‘It is quite physical work,’ Helen explains, ‘but very rewarding as this team is often the first to uncover some of the original features of the garden.’
On Thursdays volunteers work mainly in the Grade II listed Peto-designed gardens and weeding, digging, planting and general care of the flower beds is done. A new group meets on Saturdays to clear the Victorian walled garden.
‘We’re very much in the early stages of restoring this neglected area,’ says Helen, ‘but already, we’ve uncovered some of the original pathways and the foundations of the glasshouses. It’s very exciting.’
Plans for the walled garden include turning one area into an orchard under-planted with grass and wildflowers. In addition, volunteers help on open days and with refreshments, meeting and greeting visitors and craft days: there are always refreshments and homemade cake provided at all gardening sessions and also for those helping at open days.
‘We have a wide range of volunteering duties available in the garden,’ explains Helen, ‘to suit everybody’s fitness and gardening level. We also need people behind the scenes to help with research, design and other things, so it’s not just about physical work, and we welcome anyone who would like to help.’
The hidden gardens of Easton Lodge are gradually being restored and it is very clear from this exciting project that this wouldn’t be happening or the garden wouldn’t be opening without the help and enthusiasm of the volunteers. It’s an interesting and fun project to be involved with.
Open Days and Events at Easton Lodge Gardens
Main season opening times for open days are 11.30am to 5pm with last entry at 4pm. Courses need to be booked in advance and the gardens are not open when courses are running.
18th April Willow Weaving course
19th April Open Day with Dunmow Rock Choir
17th May Open Day with Dunmow Wind Band
30th May Willow Weaving course
14th June Open Day with Saffron Walden Town Band
27th June Willow Weaving course
19th July Open Day with World War Two themes
25th July Willow Weaving course
16th August Open Day
29th August Willow Weaving course
9th-11th September Traditional Building Skills course
20th September Open Day
26th September Willow Weaving course
18th October Open Day and Halloween fun
Easton Lodge Gardens
Essex CM6 2BB
Entrance to the garden on open days is £3.50, children free. Car parking available, refreshments served, plants for sale except in July and August. Good disabled and wheelchair access if ground not too wet. Guided tours take place on open days, book on day. Courses and workshops must be booked in advance and are an additional cost. Do contact the gardens if you would to volunteer.