A REP­TON RE­STORED

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Gardening -

Coun­try ho­tels of­ten have spe­cial gar­dens, but the gar­dens at Ho­tel End­sleigh near Mil­ton Ab­bot, Devon, are ex­cep­tional. This was one of the last gar­dens that the cel­e­brated land­scape de­signer Sir Humphry Rep­ton (17521818) worked on, and it has been vir­tu­ally un­al­tered since 1814. End­sleigh House, for­merly known as End­sleigh Cot­tage, was built in the cot­tage orné style, de­signed as a group of build­ings so that the ar­chi­tec­ture did not dom­i­nate the land­scape and eclipse the spec­tac­u­lar set­ting. The lo­ca­tion is breath­tak­ing – it is south-fac­ing with stun­ning views over the Ta­mar Val­ley. And the care­fully ex­e­cuted land­scap­ing that Rep­ton de­signed ex­actly 200 years ago looks like na­ture work­ing on her own, at her very best. It was the fi­nal stages of Rep­ton’s il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer, when he needed a sedan chair or wheel­chair due to a se­vere car­riage ac­ci­dent, his style soft­ened. At End­sleigh, his de­sign in­cluded a chil­dren’s parterre and raised beds for the el­derly. Olga Polizzi first viewed the prop­erty nine years ago. The ho­tel de­signer and daugh­ter of the late Lord Forte, was bowled over, but thought it was just too much to take on. In its hey­day, the 108 acres were tended by more than 18 gar­den­ers. Its his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance, with the rock­ery and grotto listed as Grade I struc­tures, were a daunt­ing prospect. Then she read an ar­ti­cle in Coun­try Life mag­a­zine, re­port­ing that the prop­erty was threat­ened and must be saved for the na­tion. She de­cided to buy it and cre­ate a ho­tel. From a young age, Olga tells me, she wanted to be a gar­dener; the de­sign as­pect fas­ci­nated her. As her tal­ents and ca­reer grew, the fo­cus went on her hugely suc­cess­ful in­te­ri­ors, but, she says, she loves “be­ing out­side, see­ing the sea­sons change, im­prov­ing out­side spa­ces and en­joy­ing the fresh air and ex­er­cise – all part of gar­den­ing”. At End­sleigh, where the gar­den re­lates so strongly to the house, Olga is in her el­e­ment: she has de­signed the in­te­rior and im­ple­mented var­i­ous tweaks to the ex­te­rior. The in­side and out work in har­mony and re­in­force the pic­turesque style of the ar­chi­tec­ture as de­signed by Sir Jef­fry Wy­atville. The ab­sence of change to the gar­dens from the orig­i­nal de­sign is em­pha­sised by leaf­ing through Rep­ton’s Red Book for End­sleigh. True to form: from the parterre to the view from the ho­tel, owned by Olga Polizzi and her daugh­ters, End­sleigh’s gar­dens re­flect Rep­ton’s style You can see his wa­ter­colours of the orig­i­nal land­scape with the over­lays of his pro­pos­als which look re­mark­ably true to to­day’s views. Rep­ton did much work for the Duke of Bed­ford, es­pe­cially at Woburn, and End­sleigh (a glo­ri­fied hol­i­day cot­tage) was main­tained, but the de­sign was left pretty much un­touched. It stayed with the fam­ily un­til 1955 when it was taken over by rel­a­tives of the late duke’s, in­clud­ing sons and grand­sons. They to­gether formed the Fish­ing Friends and shared the prop­erty. The gar­den be­came rather ne­glected, but the hur­ri­cane of 1987 brought mas­sive tree loss. This event, cou­pled with a re­al­i­sa­tion of the im­por­tance of the land­scape, gal­vanised the fish­ing club into ac­tion. Mem­bers’ wives joined their hus­bands and in­stead of fish­ing, they were out weed­ing and restor­ing. Olga Polizzi and her daugh­ters bought End­sleigh eight years ago. The head gar­dener, Si­mon Wood, had been work­ing there for 14 years and is now in day-to­day charge of the restora­tion. About half of the 60-acres of wood­land has be­come walk­a­ble and are full of stun­ning spec­i­mens – acers, cher­ries, cedars and more – in­clud­ing fine cham­pion trees. His pro­gramme in­cludes restor­ing paths and re­mov­ing much of the self­sown ash and sy­camore that has taken over. Si­mon’s favourite part is the Dairy Dell, a steep-sided val­ley of more than 40 acres, ex­posed bedrock and many fine trees. There is a stream run­ning through it. The tiny

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