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A Garden Worth the Wait: Heckfield Place in Hampshire, England

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A Garden Worth the Wait: Heckfield Place in Hampshire, England

August 22, 2018

The UK’s latest country house hotel, Heckfield Place in Hampshire, welcomes guests this September, a full six years behind its scheduled launch date (see our previous post from way back in 2014). Whilst the delay has confounded the press and irked many members of staff (general managers, head chefs, and interior designers have come and gone), it has only served to benefit the sprawling 400-acre estate.

Photography by Helen Cathcart

Heckfield Place is ready to welcome visitors.
Above: Heckfield Place is ready to welcome visitors.

Says head gardener, Philip Bailey: “A team of twenty-four gardeners and arborists have spent the last five years restoring the gardens, the pleasure grounds, and the trees,” a luxury not afforded to most new openings.

The landscape offers no hint now that when gardener Bailey first arrived he found the gardens in “a sorry state.”
Above: The landscape offers no hint now that when gardener Bailey first arrived he found the gardens in “a sorry state.”

The house was acquired 16 years ago by the Chan family (founders of The Morningside Group, who opened Spring restaurant with chef Skye Gyngell in London’s Somerset House in 2014).

The house was being used as a corporate training center when the property was taken on; the walled garden was being used as a football pitch.
Above: The house was being used as a corporate training center when the property was taken on; the walled garden was being used as a football pitch.
The arboretum—which includes many rare trees, such as the Lebanese cedar and a Monterey pine —had been left untended for years. “Many trees had died or were being swallowed up by rhododendron,” says Bailey.
Above: The arboretum—which includes many rare trees, such as the Lebanese cedar and a Monterey pine —had been left untended for years. “Many trees had died or were being swallowed up by rhododendron,” says Bailey.
A gazebo beckons.
Above: A gazebo beckons.

The team has meticulously restored William Wildsmith’s late-19th-century iteration of the grounds, which includes the lakes, Italian terrace, the pleasure grounds, the walled gardens (upper and lower, both reconceived by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan), and the arboretum.

William Wildsmith’s pleasure grounds were commissioned by the Shaw-Lefevres, the first occupants of Heckfield Place.
Above: William Wildsmith’s pleasure grounds were commissioned by the Shaw-Lefevres, the first occupants of Heckfield Place.

Wildsmith’s glasshouses have not survived, but new structures—including a sun house in the walled garden that is available for private dinners—have taken their place.

White agapanthus is grown in one of the greenhouses on the estate.
Above: White agapanthus is grown in one of the greenhouses on the estate.

The emphasis on self-sustainability has been key to the reimagining of the estate. (“Here it begins with the soil” is another marketing message.) The kitchen garden, greenhouses, orchard (its 700 fruit trees now heavy with apples and plums), and the five-acre farm will supply vegetables, milk, cheese, fruit, honey, and flowers to two on-site restaurants, Marle and Hearth.

The farm has a herd of 50 Suffolk sheep, as well as 200 Rhode Island Red chickens, which are used exclusively for egg laying, and a herd of Jersey cows for dairy.
Above: The farm has a herd of 50 Suffolk sheep, as well as 200 Rhode Island Red chickens, which are used exclusively for egg laying, and a herd of Jersey cows for dairy.

Culinary director Skye Gyngell has been involved in the project since its inception, launching Spring in the intervening years. The farm practices biodynamic principles and is overseen by Jane Scotter of Fern Verrow. “The farm and the kitchen have a very close relationship,” says Bailey  “planning menus by season, and planting accordingly.”

The produce grown here is served exclusively at Heckfield Place and Spring (although until the official opening, surplus stock has found its way into a few lucky local farm shops).
Above: The produce grown here is served exclusively at Heckfield Place and Spring (although until the official opening, surplus stock has found its way into a few lucky local farm shops).

At the main restaurant, Marle, Gyngell devises a menu of just five daily-changing main dishes. In late summer, for example, heirloom tomatoes, raspberries, and fig leaves are delivered to the kitchen and transformed into heirloom tomato salad with raspberries and fig leaf oil; waxed beans, Datterini tomatoes and purple basil are served with guinea fowl; the leaves of lemon verbena are steeped in cream and served as lemon verbena panna cotta with Heckfield black currants.

Fennel is grown in abundance at Heckfield Place. The pollen, harvested just before the plant goes to seed, is churned into fennel pollen ice cream.
Above: Fennel is grown in abundance at Heckfield Place. The pollen, harvested just before the plant goes to seed, is churned into fennel pollen ice cream.

It’s a model that has revived country house hotels and their vast estates across the UK in recent years (see Robin Hutson’s collection of boutique hotels, for example). Only here—with the involvement of names such as Gyngell and Scotter—there’s a sense that Heckfield Place has taken this model to its apotheosis.

Looking for a lodging with a landscape where you can stroll? See more of our favorite hotels with a garden:

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