Dan Pearson's restoration of Folly Farm Garden

A collaboration between Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll is a wonderful legacy and the current owners of Folly Farm in Berkshire have fully embraced the restoration of their Arts and Crafts garden

A decade ago, Folly Farm in Berkshire had fallen from view; its once-renowned garden had begun to fade and decline. But after intense restoration instigated by its current owners, the gardens have been brought back to life for future generations to enjoy.

Designed in 1912, Folly Farm was one of the most complex and interesting of the garden collaborations between architect Edwin Lutyens and plantswoman Gertrude Jekyll, created in the later stages of their partnership (described by Jane Brown in her book Gardens of a Golden Afternoon as 'the vintage years of creation'). In 1906, Lutyens had been commissioned to extend the existing seventeenth-century farmhouse, which he did with typical aplomb by adding a large new wing in formal William and Mary style. Six years later, the house changed hands and Lutyens was employed to extend the house again, this time in the Arts and Crafts style that was so fashionable at the time. It was at this stage that the main gardens were laid out - a collection of contrasting garden rooms divided by crisp yew hedges and linked by herringbone brick paths; a garden irrefutably linked with the house thanks to Lutyens' dual role of architect and landscape designer.

In tune with the Arts and Crafts principles that defined it - attention to detail, fine craftsmanship and quality materials - the garden has stood the test of time, with many of the original features still intact, although much of it was in need of repair when the current owners arrived in 2007. 

After extensive historical research, they took apart brickwork paths and meticulously put them back together again, rebuilt glasshouses using original fittings and reinstated features that had disappeared under concrete or grass. Then, in 2009, they approached the garden designer Dan Pearson and commissioned him to develop further parts of the garden, bringing a new, contemporary layer to this historical landscape. 'The owners and I decided that the original garden shouldn't be preserved in aspic,' explains Dan. 'Our approach has been very much in the spirit of Jekyll and Lutyens, taking inspiration from the principles of the Arts and Crafts era, but we also wanted to move the garden forward, rejuvenating rather than restoring it.'

The Lutyens garden rooms retain their original character, with the tall yew hedges clipped as in Lutyens' day to the same level throughout to mask the slope. There are three main garden rooms near the house: the Dutch Canal Garden to mirror the gable end of the William and Mary wing, the Flower Parterre in front of the Arts and Crafts wing and the Sunken Pool Garden, which was originally planted with roses and lavender. The Flower Parterre was Jekyll's chance to shine - a broad, enclosed space with large square beds in which she could plant her characteristic colour-themed sweeps of perennials. When Dan arrived, the beds had been laid to lawn, so the original layout was reinstated and a new planting scheme devised. Having studied old Country Life photographs of the garden, as well as Jekyll's writings on colour theory, he was able to recognise many of the plants used by Jekyll, but felt he didn't want to simply recreate a slice of history. 

'The new borders are very much in the Jekyll spirit, particularly in terms of the colours we've used,' says Dan. 'But there are so many new and better plants available now that it made sense to move it on. We met Jekyll halfway.' Crambes, bergenias and lavender were all used by her, and are incorporated here, as well as miscanthus, which she loved, and modern forms of perennials in mauves, silvers and whites. Similarly, the Sunken Pool Garden has had a new planting scheme with borders of tall, diaphanous perennials that soften Lutyens' architectural paths, the iconic semi-circular steps and ornate octagonal pool.

The generous square beds of the Flower Parterre, originally planted by Jekyll, had been laid to lawn when the current owners arrived. Now the garden has been replanted in a scheme that echoes her original style, including Aster x frikartii 'Monch', Miscanthus sinensis 'Sarabande', Eupatorium maculatum 'Orchard Dene' and Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire'.

It is in the outer reaches of the property that Dan has brought his own naturalistic style to the garden, successfully managing to expand and integrate the original garden areas into the wider landscape, like a modern-day Capability Brown. 'We always felt it was important for what was essentially an inward-looking garden to be balanced by an outward-looking landscape,' he explains. Previously, the inner garden had been surrounded by a flat field, so Dan and the owners created a meadow that wraps around the whole property, digging a new pond and completely recontouring the land. The undulating meadow, carpeted with ox-eye daisies, wild carrot and scabious, cradles the pond in a very natural way, and for those unaware of these interventions, it truly looks as if it has always been there.

Running off from the pond, a new rilled watercourse divides the formal garden from the meadow, with a simple bridge linking one area to another. Coming across this bridge back towards the house is an area that had become known as the 'weak chin' of the garden. There had been sketches for a croquet lawn and a tennis court here from Lutyens, which had been removed by subsequent owners, leaving the garden to peter out into lawn at this point. Dan has used this area as a transitional stepping stone to the meadow. 

'We've brought some of the meadow into the garden, so there's a crossover, but here it's an enhanced meadow, with camassias, narcissus, bluebells and snowdrops. We put in a path to frame the space, so you have these layers: the inner garden, the outer garden and then the landscape beyond the watercourse, like ripples spreading outwards.'

And there is more. Lutyens designed a walled garden that was never formally laid out in his time, an 'autonomous space' that Dan was given free rein to develop as he thought fit. The owners wanted a kitchen garden of sorts, but not a garden that over-produced, so, within the walls, Dan has created a wonderfully uncluttered, airy space with steel-edged beds and wide Breedon gravel paths converging on a central oak pergola. Fruit and vegetables are confined to roughly a quarter of the garden, with the remaining space taken up with Provençal-style rows of lavender and beds for herbs and cutting flowers, all in a fresh, contemporary style. 

These new additions to Folly Farm have re-energised the gardens, bringing them into a new era and expanding what was a rather concentrated, inward-facing garden into a spacious 11 acres. The jewel that was Lutyens' and Jekyll's creation is there in essence, but the crown that surrounds it has been polished and augmented, so the garden is now so much more than the sum of its original parts.     

Dan Pearson Studio: 020-7928 3800; 

Taken from the February 2016 issue of House & Garden.

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