Hare Hill Garden in Cheshire, Unforgettable Garden of the Month, nominated by Barbara Moth of Cheshire Gardens Trust
Created mainly by Francis Brocklehurst from 1879-1902 with mid-C20th planting by James Russell
Hare Hill is a magical place; it has an aura of the ‘secret garden’ and it is a garden you feel you could almost lose yourself in. There are areas which are wilder and more natural, balanced by glimpses of elegant planting restored to James Russell’s design.
The woodland encompasses the most beautiful, unusual and enormous rhododendrons which give the sense of wonder and awe that must have been felt by plant hunters when they first discovered them. The collection of evergreen and deciduous trees provides wonderful patterns and contrast on a large scale, while the recently restored rockery’s restrained planting is a tapestry of textures. Russell’s calm planting scheme in the walled garden helps make this a quiet place in which to enjoy the birdsong.
In the late 18th century, William Hibbert purchased an area of land between Alderley Edge and Macclesfield to develop Hare Hill as his country estate. The Hibbert family’s wealth came from slavery, a business in which William was directly involved as a slave factor and an employer of slaves on Jamaican plantations.
In 1879 William Hibbert’s son sold the estate to Francis Dicken Brocklehurst whose grandfather had established a successful silk manufacturing business in Macclesfield. Francis had travelled extensively before becoming a banker. His travels undoubtedly inspired his creation of the woodland garden, which surrounded a traditional Victorian walled kitchen garden, completed around 1902.
Hare Hill passed to Francis’s nephew Patrick, and then to his great nephew Charles Brocklehurst. Charles worked with James Russell to redesign the wooded garden, restored the walled garden, and commissioned statues representing him and his twin brother Patrick, who had been killed in a riding accident.
Charles Brocklehurst left the Hare Hill estate to the National Trust on condition that the house was sold and the money used to support the garden.
Restoration of the garden has included dredging ponds, clearing overgrown rhododendron ponticum, and removing species rhododendron suffering from phytophera. Head Gardener Emma Hill says: “we are entering the third and final year of the ‘Family Garden project’, so called because the Brocklehurst family developed what was previously woodland into an ornamental area surrounding the newly built walled garden. The area consists of paths, stone edged borders, benches, stone steps and an ornamental rockery. There were grass paths, which have not been accessible by visitors for years which we have reinstated as gravel paths for ease of access.
This is also where James Russell planted many plants during the 1960s-70s, many of which remain. Just as importantly, we have the Hare Hill file of letters from the Borthwick Institute in York, which details the full palette of plants Russell intended for Hare Hill. We are in the process of sourcing these plants to plant in the Family Garden. The NT’s specialist propagation centre is propagating Rosa Magenta so that the planting can be as authentic as possible. We are also lucky to have a border plan by Russell (he didn’t draw many, preferring to list and describe new plantings) so the current reinstatement will probably be the only example of Russell’s herbaceous planting design.
It’s really nice to see an herbaceous layer in the wooded garden again, as in Russell’s time. At the southern end there are plants associated with free draining soil such as cardoons and Romneya coulteri. Perhaps Russell hadn’t visited Hare Hill very often before he drew this plan as this border usually has very wet with heavy soil, though the last few years have seen it dry up – climate change?
The planting is predominantly pastel colours, blue at the southern end with some yellow mahonia and white Anaphalis , moving through pinks of peony, camellia and rhododendrons, roses and then at the gates to the walled garden, two distinct varieties of kniphofia and two of anemone. This two variety style of planting is a recurring theme at Hare Hill. I think it is something Brocklehurst was keen on, especially in the walled garden, where we assume it’s to commemorate his twin brother. It can also been seen in the planting in the wooded garden.”
Under National Trust custodianship the garden has been managed in sympathy with Charles Brocklehurst’s ideas. In common with other historic gardens, Hare Hill has had a challenging couple of years. The combination of the National Trust’s RESET programme, Covid, and lockdowns have resulted in reduced staff and volunteers. The focus now is to consolidate the work done and complete the restoration of the Russell herbaceous border.
Cheshire Gardens Trust
With thanks to Emma Hill for her help and research.
Visit Hare Hill (open from 19th February 2022)
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