Our guide for this summer event, Alistair Gunn, has been the head gardener at Hatfield House for the last three years. Given that the gardens date from the early seventeenth century when Robert Cecil employed John Tradescent, three years seems like a tiny fragment of time. However it transpires that part of the charm of these gardens is the personal touch which has been left by each family in residence and their gardening teams over the years.
From the very formal clipped topiary of decades gone by, which whilst beautiful is hugely labour intensive and quite a challenge for 6 gardeners and a small group of 4-5 volunteers, the gardens are currently going through a period of “looser”, formality. The previous French chateau style is morphing into more of a country house look, which reflects the style of Lady Salisbury and her family and this evolution is very much a part of the history of the garden. Our attention was drawn by Alistair to some topiary which has recently taken the shape of chess pieces – their granddaughter is a keen fan of the game, so it was a natural decision to put a personal “stamp”, on this area of the garden.
The walled kitchen garden has an Alitex greenhouse which replaces previous polytunnels. It was very positive to hear Alistair eulogising about the difference the greenhouse makes; it must save on labour – the house relies on the food from the gardens.
A new gardens apprentice is learning all about how to combat greenfly in the greenhouse. The most essential greenhouse uses are for propagation during the Spring and then serving as a kind of houseplant rest home in between bursts of being brilliant in the main house. Orchid and pelargoniums form part of a collection also housed in the greenhouse.
Our exclusive tour included the East garden which is usually only open on a Wednesday (best day to visit). Yellow rattle throughout the area suppressed grass growth which in turn allowed space for wild flowers which thrive on the clay soil. This year 350 shrubs and trees have been planted throughout the 45 acres of garden proper. In addition there are areas of forestry and parkland surrounding the gardens.
Queen Elizabeth II took a tour of Hatfield and its gardens in 2012 and the gardens even welcome non-royal visitors each year.
A huge thanks to Alistair Gunn for a personal and engaging tour, full of anecdotes and memories which made our tour unique and special.