If you were to ask Lord and Lady Cavendish their secret for keeping the public coming back to the gardens at Holker Hall in Cumbria year after year, their answer would be simple: constant evolution. During their time at Holker Hall their aim has been to constantly question every aspect of the garden, working closely with their gardening team to ensure that the visitor experience continues to be both engaging and inspiring.
As part of this continual process an exciting new project, which has been in the planning stages for some time, is about to take shape. Pagan Grove has been designed by the renowned landscape architect, Kim Wilkie, and comprises the remodelling of part of this historic garden to form an oval amphitheatre bowl descending into the ground. The project, which is the largest scale earthworks project at Holker Hall since the construction of the Neptune Cascade in 1988 will begin in early August and is due to take three months to complete.
As a rule Lord and Lady Cavendish do not use designers, but will consider making an exception if they feel that someone challenges them or they come across particularly knowledgeable people who can offer something unique. Lord Cavendish explains; “Kim Wilkie asked us if we had ever considered why we have a motorway running through our garden. His comments were strong but very true and in no way meant to cause any offense. Kim simply challenged us to look at an area in the heart of the gardens that he feels has the potential to become a strong focal point. The long wide straight path, that Kim had referred to as a motorway, runs north through the garden has over time developed a rather arterial road feel to it which jars with the landscaping, and the area itself is lacking a focus. This was the beginning of the creative process for us.”
Lord Cavendish continues; “The development of the design has been a collaborative process. Only by being in the gardens can we appreciate and understand the space. By considering the wider picture, how the sun falls in different seasons, the changing directions of the wind, could we then develop a design that will not only add a new element to the landscape but will also complement the existing surroundings. The gardens work around near views, intermediate views and distant views and we are keen that Pagan Grove continues to deliver this. I envisage the amphitheatre design providing a natural seating area for reflection which can be used and enjoyed by our visitors.”
“Pagan Grove is a big idea; it will create a marvellous landform. Kim Wilkie has a reputation for using the heritage of a place to make something of our own time and this is something that resonates with us and our style of gardening. Kim once commented that he liked the paganism of our gardening. Paganism in this context is an ancient concept of growing and it seemed an appropriate inspiration for the name.”
“We see ourselves as custodians of the landscape. We have a duty to not only conserve what is here that needs protecting but to also keep inspiring new generations to come and enjoy the space. I once said to a group of young children; “My grandmother planted this tree, knowing that it would take 60 years to grow and that she would never see it fully grown.” They were astonished by this.”
There are restraints and considerations in the planning and implementation of a project within a garden of this age and a natural responsibility that comes with managing an estate like Holker. The biggest challenge is to protect the rare trees. A tree specialist has been involved and in conjunction with the local planning authority protective measures will be agreed upon and put in place before any work starts on site.
The engineering works are being managed by a local family practice of chartered quantity surveyors, Bushell Raven. During the three month project the contractors will be moving over 3000 tonnes of earth and over 2000 tonnes of stone. The engineering project will take around eight weeks to complete and the path will also be re-routed as part of the project to provide a more naturalistic route through the garden. The landscaping work which will by carried out under the supervision of Holker’s Head Gardener, Yvonne Cannon, will take a further month and will be completed by the end of October. The gardens will reopen to the public for the spring season in March 2012 when Pagan Grove will be open for viewing.