An incomplete history of Hadspen Garden

Some contextual history of Hadspen Garden, Castle Cary, Somerset, with relevant links


‘Hadspen has been a noted garden since the 17th century. A superb two hectare south-facing site built upon the original kitchen garden for the house and set against a backdrop of mature deciduous woodland. In the middle years of the 20th century, Penelope Hobhouse, one of our most distinguished garden writers and designers, lived there and made a garden that was the subject of her first book, The Country Garden.  The original nursery was established by Penelope Hobhouse and Eric Smith, (plantsman and breeder). A number of famous varieties including Anemone, Astrantia, Hellebores, Brunnera and Hostas were bred and many still bear the Hadspen name. The garden was opened to visitors in 1970.

A couple of decades later, two Canadian horticulturalists, Nori and Sandra Pope, explored and experimented with colour themes in the parabola‑shaped walled garden. From 1998 to 2005 many rare and unusual plants were used to create more than a kilometre of beautifully blended colour themed borders which resulted in an influential book called ‘Colour by Design’ and made Hadspen House one of the most talked-about gardens in Britain.’

‘In its last phase as an open garden, Hadspen was a garden and nursery run by Canadian horticulturalists and designers Nori and Sandra Pope who followed on from the famous founder and gardener Penelope Hobhouse (born 1929).  It drew visitors, horticulturalists and gardeners from across the world, and the Hadspen cultivars developed at the nursery (Smith and Hobhouse, and continued by the Popes) were highly sought after. The Popes were renowned garden designers, particularly for their contemporary approach to colour, and during their time Hadspen was one of the most visited and talked about gardens in the UK.

Quoted from:

A rather insubstantial entry for Hadspen House and Garden on Wikipedia


Nori and Sandra Pope retired in 2005, and just before the gardens closed, the owner Nial Hobhouse, invited people to take plants from the borders and nursery; Hadspen garden was ‘dispersed’ around Somerset and beyond.

The Popes returned to western Canada. Niall Hobhouse planned for a complete garden redesign at Hadspen, and announced a garden design competition, with the intention of creating a new contemporary garden at Hadspen House.  Architects designed a new path layout in the walled garden and all the planting in the parabola was bulldozed flat, to national outcry, with press articles about it even in the New York Times.  The competition drew some support and design entries, but it went unresolved, even after an eventual winner (Sarah Price) was announced.  Various work happened around 2009 in the garden in relation to architectural designs and features, and some gardening and planting.  In 2011, the house and garden went up for sale, with the garden redesign abandoned.  Various moves for an online archive for Hadspen have yet to come to fruition.

In June 2013, Hadspen House was sold, after more than two centuries of being in the Hobhouse family.

Some further information and internet resources:

Noel Kingsbury’s Garden Blog about Hadspen

Thoughts about Hadspen on the Gardening Gone Wild Blog

Mary Keen’s article about the Hadspen Garden redesign competition ‘The hearts vs the heads’ in the Telegraph in 2007

Mary Keen’s article in The Telegraph – Some gardens are not meant to last’ in July 2012.

Anne Wareham writing about the NGS and garden culture, with reference to Hadspen in her article in the Spectator

A fascinating and detailed blog about Lucy or Robert’s allotment at Hadspen from the planning and establishment of the plot, planting and design, and the overall context of Hadspen over the past few years. Their archives make great reading, as well as the pages on the history of Hadspen. And you can also venture out into other areas, including their significant work as graphic designers.

The Hadspen Parabola site detailing the competition has sadly, but probably understandably, been taken down – it was an interesting record of a complex time.  However a lot of information about the garden redesign competition can still be found via Lucy or Robert’s ‘a plot at Hadspen‘ site.

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