The Great Restoration 2013/2014

Over the past couple of years, the Swiss Garden has undergone a transformation. After careful planning, forensic analysis and on-site restoration, no stone has gone unturned and no shrubbery untouched.

Thanks to grants and donations from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Shuttleworth Trust, Central Bedfordshire Council and other donors totalling £3.5million, this once-forlorn garden is now a joy to behold.

The restoration covered almost every aspect of the garden, from renewing paths to repairing decorative features. It included conservation and refurbishment of all the buildings and structures, removal of damaged trees and overgrown shrubs plus new planting using species that Lord Ongley and Shuttleworth would recognise. Even the lake that feeds the garden’s ponds was restored, making the water as clear and sparkling as possible.

In just 18 months, the garden has been taken back 134 years, to the moment when Shuttleworth completed his restoration of Lord Ongley’s garden

The 1880 Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentlemen, sums it up:

“…The Swiss Garden has been ‘brought round’ and a more picturesque and thoroughly enjoyable enclosure… can be scarcely imagined. It may be described as the life work of Lord Ongley… and unquestionably a vast amount of labour and great taste have been employed in its formation… It has been thoroughly renovated and improved.”

The challenge

Working conditions were challenging: the garden is a relatively small space with restricted access and, as well as ponds and narrow paths, there are buildings, structures and ornaments at every turn.

Everyone working on restoring the garden had their own special problems to deal with – the Pulhamite team was working in ponds that filled up as soon as it rained and the tree surgeons had to fell and lop mature trees which stood high above the listed buildings.

Add in six weeks of heavy rain and bats turning up on a regular basis meant it wasn’t an easy 18 months. But the way the garden looks now proves it was worth every minute…

Restoration highlights

  • Ornate rustic timberwork has been painstakingly conserved and thatch replaced.
  • Intended sight lines and vistas have been opened up, restoring balance and scale to beds, banks and borders for the first time in more than 100 years.
  • Formerly murky brown ponds now sparkle with clean silt-free water.
  • Crumbling stonework, statues and sculptures have been lovingly restored.
  • Broken and rusting ironwork stand solid once again and have been freshly painted an eye-catching bright green.

browse the Highlights

The Landscape

Lord Ongley’s layout of paths and flowerbeds has somehow survived, with only two small changes – the Broadwalk and the Terrace – being made by Shuttleworth.

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The Broadwalk

The landscape team therefore had the challenge of refurbishing everything without changing anything. They meticulously reinstated the curving path network and cleared overgrown beds before replanting them with either the Lord Ongley mix (mostly structural evergreens) or the Shuttleworth mix (mostly flowering shrubs, herbaceous and ground cover plants).

Although last winter’s heavy rain caused a few problems elsewhere on the project, it helped the new planting get off to a great start.

Pulhamite

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Pulhamite stonework under the bridge has been revealed

Invasive roots had done a lot of damage to the Pulhamite – a type of artificial stonework very fashionable in the Victorian era – letting in the rain and frost, which in turn caused even more problems.

The first job was to remove all the loose material to get back to a sound base. Once that was done, reconstruction of each structure could begin.

Finally several layers of Pulhamite were added, all of them carefully colour-matched to make the finished “rock” indistinguishable from the real thing.

In some areas, previous repairs had completely failed and so major rebuilding was needed.

The Gate Screens

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The new entrance to the Swiss Garden

The Woodland Gate Screen had hung on determinedly for 180 years but was beginning to show its age – it was rusting and leaning at an odd angle and even had a tree growing through it!

After being checked for traces of historic paint, the screen was carefully dismantled and taken to a specialist workshop where it was stripped back to bare metal ready for repairs; this involved renewing rusted or missing sections and pinning and welding small cracks.

A matching Gate Screen was made for Pond Gate – the new visitor entrance next to the visitor centre – and both were painted using modern paints to ensure they are protected long into the future (sometimes the very latest technology is the best way to conserve very old things).

The restoration of the Swiss Garden was made possible thanks to a total of £3.5m million of grants and donations awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Shuttleworth Trust, Central Bedfordshire Council and other donors.

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