Photographs, unless otherwise specified, by Robert Freidus. Formatting, perspective correction, and caption material by George P. Landow, with text by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.

The formal gardens of Hestercombe House, with the house in the background. Photograph © Roger Cornfoot, originally posted on the Geograph website, and available for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Licence.

Hestercombe Gardens in Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset TA2 8LG, designed by architect Edwin Lutyens with planting schemes by Gertrude Jekyll, 1904-06. [Click on this image and those below to enlarge them.]

Hestercombe House is a Grade II* listed country house that dates from the sixteenth century. In 1873 it passed from the ownership of the Warre family to Edward Portman, 1st Viscount Portman. According to the house's listing text, Coplestone Warre Bamfylde (1720–91) had been a "gentleman architect." But the new owner quickly set about placing his own stamp on the house, enlarging it and covering or removing earlier modifications. His grandson, the Hon. Edward Portman, completed his work by commissioning Lutyens to update the landscaping of Bamfylde's Georgian gardens along Arts and Crafts lines. Working with Jekyll, Lutyens produced exceptional results. After a period of neglect and restoration, the Grade I listed Hestercombe Gardens, run by the private Hestercombe Gardens Trust, were opened to the public. The first visitors came though its reception centre, created from seventeenth-century farm buildings, in May 2005 (see the Trust's own website for more details).

Two views of the Great Plat behind the house, the one at right showing the stone-pillared pergola in the distance.

In 1904-08 Lutyens provided the "hard" landscaping — the layout — for the gardens to the south of the house, while Jekyll planned for the planting, successfully "enhancing, enriching and complementing his 'hard' landscaping and his intended views" ("Gertrude Jekyll and Hestercombe"). As the same source explains, the 125-foot square of the Great Plat, shown above, was to be the main feature. This is

a large, sunken garden with stone quadrant steps at each corner leading down into the garden. Geometric-shaped panels of lawn enclosed by stone flags extend diagonally across the garden from each corner, meeting at a central sundial. Beds are planted with gladioli and delphiniums. On either side of the lawns are stone-lined rills with three pairs of small circular pools planted around with white calla lilies. The pools are of varied depths to accommodate different water plant species. The rills discharge down small stepped cascades into tanks adorned with erigeron.

The long stone-flagged pergola, shown in the distance, was planted with roses and clematis, and encloses the Great Plat to the south, giving views both across the gardens to the house itself, and over the park beyond the pergola, into the lovely Somerset countryside. Lawrence Weaver explains that Lutyens took every advantage "of the natural disposition of the site," noting how the ground "fully and beautifully timbered, rises behind the house" (88), while falling away in front.

Left: Looking toward Hestercombe House across one of the geometric areas. (A view from the opposite direction appears in the line of images below.) Right: The raised terraces have brick and stone water channels.

Talking of the east garden, Richard Bisgrove says that the geometry of the layout shows Lutyens "at his most playful" (90). In this part, however, he is at his boldest. The complex water features make a vital and dramatic contribution to the scheme's success, and there is more than a touch of genius in the way the Great Plat is used to provide them:

There is a drop of about four feet from the old terrace to the rose garden, itself standing eight feet above the long water-terrace directly below, which is reached by a double flight of steps at the side. These two east and west water-gardens are identical in plan, and each begins with a little walled enclosure, on the south side of which the walls ramp down and leave the centre open.... The north end of each has a water-jet playing from the keystone of an arch into a round pool below. The overflows of the pools are carried down the centres of the water-gardens for one hundred and forty feet in canals ... filled with water plants, edged with paving-stones and ending in oblong tanks abutting on to the pergola which runs from end to end of the southern boundary of this garden. [Weaver 88-91]

Left to right: (a) A stone-lined channel leading water into a decorative pool. (b) Opposite view of the Great Plat. (c) A closer view of the decorative stone urn seen in the photo in the series directly above this one.

As Bisgrove says, the "marriage" between formality and informality here is a wonderful one (90). There is another kind of "marriage" too, as care has been taken in recent years to represent gardening through the three different centuries during which the gardens evolved. Still, it is undoubtedly the Edwardian landscaping provided by the dream team of Lutyens and Jekyll that makes the greatest impression.

Related Material


Bisgrove, Richard. The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll. Pbk ed. Berkley: University of California Press, 2000.

"Gertrude Jekyll and Hestercombe." Historic England. Web. 25 October 2018.

Hestercombe: Paradise Regained. (the Hestercombe Trust's own website). Web. 25 October 2018.

Hestercombe House. Historic England. Web. 25 October 2018.

Weaver, Lawrence. Lutyens Houses and Gardens. London: Offices of Country Life, 1921 (first published 1913). Internet Archive. Contributed by the Getty Research Institute. Web. 25 October 2018.

Last modified 26 October 2018