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Newly renamed, The Newt boasts one of the most fascinating histories in all gardening, and though the 23 bedrooms here reopen next month, the remarkable grounds are ready to visit now Words by Nick Woodhouse Photos by The Newt


he gates have recently reopened on the famed walled gardens of the Hadspen Parabola, part of the much-loved country estate of the same name. With a vibrant history that inspired garden books by famous residents, an infamous garden design competition and the allegiance of many faithful followers, the Hadspen estate now has new owners, a new vision and a very new name: The Newt. Nestled between Bruton and Castle Cary, Hadpsen House itself was built around 1690 and then remodelled in the Georgian era to

approach to colour was fully evidenced in the kilometre-long collection of themed borders that attracted visitors from far and wide. In 2005, the couple retired and owner Niall Hobhouse controversially brought in the bulldozers, razing the gardens to the ground. A competition was announced to a great fanfare, offering the opportunity for a bold new approach to garden design, and soon 15 anonymous finalists were shortlisted and put before a panel of 50 jurors. Unofficially, the winner was Sarah Price, who has since gone on to become a gold medal winner at RHS Chelsea. No design was ever implemented, though; Hobhouse had apparently become disillusioned with the project and decided instead to let out individual plots within the garden, primarily for the growing of fruit and vegetables. When the house went on sale in 2012, the glory days of the gardens had seemingly passed forever. But not so. The following year, the house was bought by a husband and wife team, Koos Bekker and Karen Roos. In 2007 the couple had purchased a working farm in the South African wine region, close to Stellenbosch, and under the creative guidance of Roos, the farm was transformed into Babylonstoren, considered by many as South Africa’s go-to boutique hotel destination. Its appeal goes way beyond the rooms themselves, though; for instance, its eight acres of gardens are the only ones in Africa to boast RHS partnership. These gardens were designed by French architect Patrice Taravella, appointed later to create the same magic at The Newt. He is unlikely to disappoint. While we must wait until late August for the opening of the estate’s 23 bedrooms, the gardens themselves are already open to the public, with tours running daily. A collection of individual spaces combine to narrate the very history of gardens themselves, through a Baroque maze, a

“A collection of individual spaces combine to narrate the very history of gardens” take on its current form. In 1785 it was sold to archivist and civil servant Henry Hobhouse, whose family continued to reside there for over two centuries. Well-known family members include garden writer and designer Penelope Hobhouse, who lived there in the latter half of the twentieth century and wrote her first book, The Country Garden, on those very grounds. Over time, she undertook an extensive restoration project of the space, creating an arts and crafts garden within the parabola-shaped walled garden that continues to take centre-stage in the estate today. As well as opening an on-site nursery (famed notably for its collections of hostas and hellebores), Hobhouse also opened the gardens to the public for the first time. Later, when Canadian horticulturalists Nori and Sandra Pope took over the lease of the gardens in 1987, they gained an even greater following. The couple’s ground-breaking


Victorian fragrance garden and contemporary water gardens. Plant choices also reflect the garden’s history, including varieties named after the estate itself; think Astrantia ‘Hadspen Blood’ and Anemone ‘Hadspen Abundance’. The walled Parabola continues, however, to be the beating heart of the space. Enclosing some 3,000 square metres, it’s home to 460 trained apple trees and a kitchen garden that offers over 350 vegetable and salad varieties. Each plant selection is integral to the gardento-table ethos of their restaurants; every plate served there is touched by something grown in, or foraged on, the estate. The garden team is headed up by director of horticulture Iain Davies, who formally held the same role at Cornwall’s famed Lost Gardens of Heligan. The 18-strong team aims to celebrate all that Somerset has to offer, underlined by a deep-rooted respect for the land and its sustainability. This extends beyond the walls of the Parabola to the estate’s woodlands and 60 acres of orchards, home to around 3,000 apple trees. All 70 varieties of cider apple are pressed on-site under the supervision of the cellar master, Greg Carnell. The new name given to the estate took its inspiration from the large population of newts discovered on site, including the protected Great Crested variety. Perhaps there is poetic parallel here too; just as these amphibians can regenerate lost limbs, so too can a garden that once was all but destroyed. The Newt in Somerset, Bruton BA7 7NG;

Nick Woodhouse is the co-director of interior and garden design company Woodhouse & Law on 4 George’s Place, Bathwick Hill, Bath; 01225 428072;

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Bath Life – Issue 395  

Bath Life – Issue 395