I went to visit Borde Hill Garden in Sussex last Saturday. Since my last visit, it has acquired a so-called Italian Garden. It was funded by the UK Heritage Lottery Fund. Regrettably, it is of poor quality and cannot possibly, by any indecent stretch of the imagination be regarded as part of England’s Heritage. So why did the HLF pay for it?
The Borde Hill Garden Map calls it an “Italian Garden” and the signboard at Borde Hill states : “Italian Terraces. The Lower Terrace centred around the formal pool, started life as the family tennis court until it was converted by Robert Stephenson Clarke in 1982. From 1997 to 1999, and with financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, this part of the Garden was renovated and replanted following a design by award winner Robin Williams’…. We are endeavouring to improve the more formal atmosphere of the area.”
It is a dull rectangle of water with a small fountain, cheapish terracotta tubs, precast concrete slabs, good quality English park seats, a rough stone wall and a badly maintained box hedge. The rill which flows down the steps and through the slabs looks faintly Islamic. This raises several questions:
- Why should the garden be described as ‘Italian’? I have seen anything like it in Italy.
- Why should the Heritage Lottery Fund be paying for poor quality unhistorical garden designs?
- Why not adopt the historical solution and make the space into a tennis court, asking players to wear white flannels and eat cucumber sandwiches?
- Or why not go for a genuinely modern garden design?
The What We Do page on the HLF Heritage Lottery Fund Website states that ‘The Heritage Lottery Fund is the UK’s leading funder of our diverse heritage and the only heritage organisation that operates both across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and funds the entire spread of heritage – including buildings, museums, natural heritage and the heritage of cultural traditions and language…We help groups and organisations of all sizes with projects that: conserve the UK’s diverse heritage for present and future generations to experience and enjoy;”. I was pleased that I could find no mention of Borde Hill in the HLF website and assume they are ashamed of having funded the work. In fact I would like to find a What We Regret Having Done page on the HLF website. They would earn Brownie Points for transparency, open government etc. We all make mistakes.
The design is dire!
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I was working for Borde hill at the time of this article. Borde hill had been on a downward trajectory since 2005. The garden had excellent management but unfortunately there was a large disagreement with how the estate and garden should progress. This lead to legal proceedings between the resident Stephenson-Clarke family and the estate manager. The estate manager won but had no choice but to leave of course. This lead to the head gardener leaving as we’ll. the estate has continued under a radically different management style and minimal staff. Economy & discipline seemed to be the only watch words up until I left. The so called Italian garden was only one of the huge problems that were horribly neglected. I hope it improves but until they get a positive vision and are prepared to put their money where their mouth is Borde hill garden will only get worse and worse. Kews Wakehurst Place is only 5 miles away. National Trusts Nymans garden and Sheffield Park are close by. Go to any of those gardens until things improve…
Thank you for the information. I share your hope that the garden management at Borde Hill is improved.
Would anyone else like to comment?