A ‘debate’ on the future of Hadspen House garden at the Museum of Garden History in London on June 27 was an interesting event. At long last, an event with some intelligent discussion about gardens, although it’s a shame that the gardeners in the audience felt at times somewhat overawed by the architects. Niall Hobhouse’s decision to start with a new garden at Hadspen following the departure of Nori and Sandra Pope with a dramatic ‘Year Zero’ has been congratulated and welcomed by many – the good turnout and richly textured discussion at the museum reflected this.
Niall Hobhouse is, and has been brave. It was also brave of him to have his mother on a panel discussing the project. And it was brave of him to end up the evening by having an email from Nori and Sandra read out; they supported him in his desire to begin again, but there was no disguising their dismay at the destruction of 20 years work and ‘300 years’ of garden history. The latter figure is of course hype – there is nothing extant within the walls older than a few decades.
The Popes pointed out how English gardens characteristically evolve, with one layer of history on top of another. They could also have pointed out how many great gardens have at least one period of neglect in their history. Quite so. All the more reason perhaps for the “now for something completely different” approach. Only the bulldozing of the garden could clean the slate. Whoever emerges from the design competition will be able to start afresh with their ideas. To not have bulldozed it, would have condemned the new gardener/designer to be shackled by the remnants of the Pope’s, and Penelope’s, work.
The delicious possibility was raised that perhaps other gardens could be bulldozed, in order to start again. It would have been interesting to have a straw poll of suggestions of targets from the audience.