Canals and hedges – the formality and beauty of an Anglo-Dutch water garden

At the beginning of September, we headed some 48 miles southwest of where we live in Worcestershire to Westbury Court Garden, a National Trust property in Gloucestershire, on the banks of the River Severn estuary. It was a typical early September day when high pressure dominates the weather scene – somewhat misty and murky, overcast, and the sun taking until mid-afternoon to burn away the worst of the low cloud.

Maynard Colchester commenced excavation of the garden in 1696, with the digging of the first canal, and layout of the garden in the formal Dutch style, shown in Johannes Kip’s 1712 engraving below of the house and garden. You have to remember that Dutchman William III was King at the time.

And until today, Westbury Court Garden remains the only surviving garden in this Anglo-Dutch style. There is no longer a house on the site.

There are impressive north-facing views over the garden and canals from the Tall Pavilion.

Along the canals are planted espaliered fruits, mainly heritage apple varieties (some dating back to the 1500s), but also some pears and plums. There is one area of formal gardens, but the gardeners are having to grub out the box hedges due to box blight. The yews lining the canals are apparently being affected by a fungal disease (a Phytophthora attack) and unless this can be brought under control the yew hedges might be lost as well.

The gardens are not large, but in the contrast between the canals (full – even choked – with water lilies) and the formal beds, they are a delight to the eye, and a haven of peace (even though a rather busy road does pass by at the north end). Among the features worthy of special mention are a glorious tulip tree (Liriodendron sp.) that must be at least 100 feet tall, and an impressive 400 year old evergreen oak (Quercus ilex).

You can easily take in all that Westbury Court Garden has to offer in 60-90 minutes, but as a stopover on the way to another destination (we were headed for the Forest of Dean, and The Kymin), it is certainly worth a visit. After all, it is a unique remnant of a by-gone era of gardening in this country before the fad for open landscapes (championed by the likes of Capability Brown) took hold later on in the eighteenth century.

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