Hyde Hall RHS Garden in Essex

Hyde Hall RHS Essex Planting

Hyde Hall RHS Essex Planting

The Hyde Hall garden was begun by Dr Robinson in 1955 and given to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1993. Dr Robinson was no designer and the RHS has been struggling with his legacy. They employed good consultants (Colvin and Moggridge) but the place is still disappointing. The planting is much improved but the underlying spatial structure is, as it always was, dreary. This summer I made my third visit since the RHS took over and the really surprising thing was how popular it has become. So the design is a success from this point of view, just as McDonalds is a very¬† successful restaurant chain. But, from my standpoint, McDonalds needs a plenipotentary Chief¬† Chef and Hyde Hall needs a plenipotentary Resident Designer. My strong impression is that good design consultants are not enough. The garden manager needs to be a trained designer, as well as a manager. This is how most of history’s great gardens were made: by owne- designers or by patrons who worked hand-in-glove with a designer, as Louis XIV did with Le Notre. Making a good garden is a hands-on job. You need drawings but you cannot do the job with drawings alone. You have to live in the garden, to see it every day of the year and to have the requisite authority to change the layout and the planting.


In Britain, most gardens open to the public are now managed by managers who are not designers. This is a great mistake. To create or maintain a good garden, or park, you must be a designer. A formal training is not essential, though it is a great advantage. But design talent is essential. It must guide every decision, from the smallest to the largest. Committees cannot possibly undertake this role and it is rare for someone with only a horticultural training to have the necessary skill-set.

Hyde Hall RHS Essex spatial and construction design

Hyde Hall RHS Essex spatial and construction design


7 thoughts on “Hyde Hall RHS Garden in Essex

  1. Marian

    I couldn’t agree more about owner-designers doing the best work. I visited 7 Kent gardens open for charity last week and could easily spot the ‘briefly helicoptered in designer-designed’ ones with repeat planting along a border followed as a military mantra. The last garden I visited, Boyton Court in Sutton Valence Kent, was a privately owned and privately gardened one – the owners have designed and built it over the last 23 years and have gardened it alone for the last 6. It was refreshing in its variety and inner vibrancy. The borders were balanced but not blandly repetitive. The owners are also glad to share their knowledge and their mistakes, which is a whole different learning experience to the National Trust information boards.

    The National Garden Scheme has lots of these wonderful gardens opened by public spirited owners and there is a real public thirst for them. The owners of Boyton Court had nearly 300 visitors on their last open day – with all proceeds to charity.
    http://www.ngs.org.uk/

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  2. Tom Turner Post author

    The alternative to an owner-designer managing a garden is of course to have gardens and parks managed by designers. Unless the owner happens to be a designer, the normal practice is to have the garden managed by the outdoor equivalent of handyman – normally someone from a horticultural background. Of course you need these skills, just as you need a decorator to apply paint and wallpaper to your front room, but to achieve a high quality result you MUST have someone with design judgement and design ability. You might think such a person would cost more, but they are often cheaper – because they know exactly what to do. Similarly, if you want an expert opinion on the law, it is much cheaper to ask a barrister than to ask a general lawyer, I think.

    Similarly, all public parks should be run by people with design ability.

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  3. Andrew Smith

    Yes but the roses at this time of year are marvellous.

    My wife is a keen amateur gardener and RHS member. We enjoy our occasional visits to Hyde Hall and see it evolving with the present construction of the new Visitors Centre. RHS Harlow Carr is the lesson to amateurs in garden design – Gardens Through Time – but, to be fair, do these gardens operate at a different level of landscape design to that of the great gardens of the National Trust?

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  4. Tom Turner Post author

    I agree: the planting design at Hyde Hall gets better every year and in my view it is better than the ‘average’ standard in National Trust gardens. But the whole place could be a great deal better than it is if they had a talented garden designer in charge of the project. This is how great gardens were originally made: either by owners who were also designers (like Hidcote) or by owners who were willing to put their trust in a talented designer (like Chatsworth). You can’t have a good design without a good designer – or a good meal without a good chef.

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  5. Marian

    Yes Tom I agree that you can’t have a good design without a good designer. My criticism of the use of a ‘briefly helicoptered in designer’ was really bemoaning the prevalence of poor, or perhaps lazy design which produces the seried ranks of repeated layouts along a border, when it begins to look like a wallpaper pattern repeat rather than a carefully balanced planting plan. The balanced plan (eg at Dixter) usually comes with more time and tinkering. The RHS advanced horticulture and diploma courses do teach design principles and some history as part of the curriculum, in the same way as a landscape architecture degree teaches some plant knowledge. As you know from my path I believe you need both.

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  6. Marta Ratajszczak

    I believe Hyde Hall has great potential – with proper planning it can become a truly beautiful place in the upcoming years. It still needs plenty of design work, and it is much more difficult to re-design an existing garden than designing the area from scratch. Moreover, each designer will have his own views on the way the space should look like. However, given time and commitment, Hyde Hall might develop into a true gem.

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  7. Tom Turner Post author

    Architects often seem to do a better job when converting old buildings than when creating new buildings – and I think the same is often true for landscape and garden designers.

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