Le Gros aims for 'wow factor' at Hyde Hall

Head of site Ian Le Gros says aim of ongoing improvement is to 'keep the vision rolling' as part of 20-year development plan.

Le Gros: head of site at Hyde Hall - image: © RHS/Jerry Harpur
Le Gros: head of site at Hyde Hall - image: © RHS/Jerry Harpur

Work is underway on a series of improvements at RHS Garden Hyde Hall near Chelmsford in Essex that will see a new perennial meadow, visitor centre and winter garden following the planting of 60 trees and half-a-million bulbs around the lake.

Head of site Ian Le Gros said the work "was to keep the vision rolling" as he aims to institute a 20-year plan to transform the former farm into his ideal garden.

This has involved a hub at the top on the site of the former farm buildings with a visitor centre and nursery, an intensively gardened ring around it, a natural perennial meadow around that, then a further ring with bulbs planted in the turf and finally a "wild verge" that blends into the surrounding landscape, he explained.

Gardeners sowed the first phase of the 7,000sq m perennial meadow in January and plans for irrigation are now in progress.

Le Gros said he wants to "generate a wow factor", adding: "You will be able to see it from the road and the idea is to encourage you to drive in. We want it to be captivating."

Work has started within the past few weeks on pathways and drainage for the new winter garden, which will connect the visitor garden and the lake. Willow and Cornus stem colour will grab visitors' attention. "We're going to use summer perennials that die gracefully and leave a nice structure, acting as a foil to the winter plants," said Le Gros.

Structural planting will follow this spring, with the main planting planned in October and the project due to finish in 2016.

Hyde Hall is tendering for landscape work to relocate the nursery, adding raised beds and irrigation. The garden is also spending just over £3m on a new learning centre, with planning permission secured last month.

Work will also take place on the Global Growth Vegetable Garden, sponsored by Witan Investment Trust, this year. The planting is due to be completed in 2016.

Gardeners are also planting more shrub roses to refresh the rose garden. This "will be relaxing and spread people out", said Le Gros.

Visitor interest - Numbers up by 41 per cent

Ian Le Gros joined RHS Garden Hyde Hall in 1992. He is now head of site and was joined on 7 April by Robert Brett as curator.

The garden has already seen an upsurge in visitor interest, with numbers up by 41 per cent in two years.

Le Gros said it is "pushing the boundary into Chelmsford" in terms of its catchment area. "It's been a phenomenal year," he added. "People are coming in and liking what they are experiencing. We know we've got the growth potential in visitors."

The majority of the 148ha site is farmed, with 69ha open to the public. The RHS has a policy of "slowly but surely", taking back packages of land to add to the garden.

These have most recently been made into a woodland walk with meadow views. Le Gros added: "Hyde Hall has made it now and become a much more important garden."

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