I’ve always been interested in the Dutch style gardens that became fashionable between the late 17th and early 18th century when Britain and Holland shared the same king, William III.
Typically rectangular in shape, classical Dutch style gardens relied on a strong use of symmetry and geometrical form. They were designed to highlight the art and craft of horticulture, and were an expression of wealth for the owner.
But the Dutch style had a short life in Britain. The gardens were incredibly expensive and labour intensive to maintain. Many notable examples were destroyed less than 50 years after being built in favour of the more economical naturalistic landscapes, made fashionable by designers such as Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton.
One example a Dutch style water garden survives today at Westbury Court Garden.
In the 18th century the Dutch style, formal garden at Westbury Court had a fortunate escape. At a time when fashions were changing, similar formal gardens were being removed in favour of naturalistic landscapes.
Westbury Court would have followed suit if the owners, the Colchester’s, had the money. But instead a small team of gardeners were employed to maintain the garden. This continued during the 19th century, even though the Colchester family relocated to their other house at Mitcheldean in the Forest of Dean.
In 1895 the Colchester’s returned, building a new house on a site adjoining the garden. But in 1960 the garden was once more under threat when Mrs Colchester-Wemyss sold the house and land to a speculator. The house was subsequently demolished but the garden managed to survive, albeit in a very poor state, by the local council’s refusal to grant planning permission.
In 1967 the National Trust accepted control of the ruined garden and a period of restoration began. With the aid of the Kip’s engraving and the fastidious record keeping of Maynard Colchester I, the National Trust has been able to recreate most of the original features of the garden.
One of the first features to be built at Westbury Court garden was the Long Canal. Maynard Colchester I began building the 450 feet long and 22 feet wide canal in 1696.
The yew hedge that now flanks the canal develops a sense of enclosure that was typical of the Dutch style, while emphasising the linear structure of the garden. Yew and holly topiary are reflected in the still canal water.
The T-canal (see below) was added later, probably by Maynard Colchester II. At the top of the canal stands a stone statue of Neptune astride a dolphin. Rumour has it this statute was discovered at low tide in the mud of the River Severn and moved to its present location by Maynard II.
The Walls and Clairvoyées
Westbury Court was built by a main road. Brick walls were used to enclose the garden- an ostentatious display to passing travellers of the owner’s wealth as brick was a very expensive material in the 17th century.
Clairvoyées, gaps in the wall with ornate iron railings, offered the passer-by a tantalising glimpse of what lay behind the imposing brick walls. But their sharpened spikes emphasised the inaccessibility of the garden.
The first clairvoyée built by Maynard Colchester I at the far end of the Long Canal serves another purpose of visually linking the garden to the outside landscape. An avenue of Oak trees could be seen through the iron railings extending the perspective beyond the confines of the enclosed garden. A second clairvoyée, built in the north wall by Maynard Colchester’s nephew, balances the garden’s design.
The warmth of the south facing wall enables less hardy climbers to be grown, as well as roses and herbaceous plants that could have been used for medicinal purposes. Espaliered fruit trees grown on the west wall were all in cultivation before 1700 and may well have been the varieties chosen by Maynard Colchester I.
The border in front of the wall is planted with tulip bulbs, annuals and biennial flowers. Sweet bays are clipped against the wall to look like buttresses.
The parterres at Westbury Court are a typical Dutch style. Geometrically shaped flower borders are built in a symmetrical design and edged with dwarf box. Alternate topiary pyramids and box standards surround the area.
The fashion in the early 17th century was for well spaced planting. Each plant was treated like a specimen, to be appreciated and admired on its own.
The Tall Pavilion
The Tall Pavilion is a familiar feature of Dutch gardens. By being high above the enclosed walls of the garden it enables wonderful views of the surrounding countryside, across the water meadows and the River Seven. A spectator can also view the garden from above, admiring its linear design.
The Tall Pavilion at Westbury remained standing on its own until 1895 when the Colchester family attached it to the end of their new house. The house was demolished in 1960 and the Tall Pavilion was damaged beyond repair. After the discovery of a small painting and architectural examinations of the ruin, the National Trust had enough information to rebuild the building to Maynard Colchester I’s original design.
The Walled Garden and Summerhouse
The north-east corner of the garden was developed by Maynard Colchester II and he constructed a summerhouse and walled garden.
The summerhouse has baroque features including a pyramid roof, shaped parapet and French channelled strips in the interior. The style of the wrought ironwork used on its steps suggests the summerhouse was built shortly after Maynard II’s inheritance in 1715 and not in 1745 when the new Westbury Court house was built.
Currently the walled garden is planted with nearly a hundred different species of plants grown in England before 1700, including forty varieties of old roses.
If you are interested in visiting Westbury Court Gardens then check out the National Trust website for opening times and directions.