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Date(s) - 11/10/2019
7:30 pm

Kilmington Village Hall


Kingston Lacy is an impressive country house close to Wimborne in Dorset, set in the middle of 40 acres of formal gardens. Andrew Hunt has spent his 21 gardening years working there, from apprentice to Head Gardener, and for the past decade has supervised their transformation. When the Banks family offered the estate to the National Trust in 1981, the garden had been neglected and many of the outbuildings were crumbling. Fortunately, family archives contained plans and watercolours of the gardens in their heyday and these have been used as blueprints for the restoration. This has been a mammoth undertaking, employing eight full-time gardeners and eighty volunteers. Although increased numbers of annual visitors (from 70,000 to 420,000) and year-round opening made landscape changes inevitable to provide entrance drives and car parks, the layout of the main gardens has been faithfully replicated.

All the features of a classic English garden are there: vast lawns from the south front of the house, with an obelisk as a focal viewpoint; long herbaceous borders; parterre; kitchen garden; vinery; fernery and Japanese garden. Restoration is still on-going – the Japanese garden has been rescued and replanted over the past 12 years, and the vinery has just been rebuilt. One of the joys of this talk was having photographs from the early 1900s to compare with what has been achieved to date. Those of the parterre one hundred years apart show identical layout and very similar planting.

This is labour-intensive gardening on a grand scale, for example 80,000 bulbs are planted each year. Numbers when mentioned were huge – 60,000 snowdrops in 50 varieties have been planted in the Japanese garden, thousands of bedding dahlias follow tulips, and even the hanging baskets boasted 100 plants per basket. As part of the agreement with the Banks family, the National Trust is obliged to keep a herd of pedigree cattle, a useful asset for the garden, Andrew told us, as he has plenty of manure to feed the hundreds of roses that have been recently planted. The newest project is the vegetable garden, formerly leased to a plant nursery. Dating from 1895, its boundaries are not walls but hedges and trees.

The plans show orchards, glasshouses, palm house, vinery, with beds for cut flowers and vegetables, and its upkeep employed 15 gardeners. Retaining as much original structure as possible and introducing new varieties of traditional crops, the whole estate aims to be self-sufficient – apart from fish. No wonder this is one of the most popular areas of the garden for today’s visitors.