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History

History of Hyde Hall

Haye Hall garden. Image: Jerry Harpur

In 1955 when Dr and Mrs Robinson came to Hyde Hall there were only six trees on the top of a windswept hill and no garden. If they had known then what they soon learned, it is very doubtful that the garden would have been made! The site was cold and windy, the top of the hill was covered in gravel and the soil on the slopes comprised a sticky clay with a pH of around neutral.

For centuries Hyde Hall had been a working farm and the area around the house was a dumping ground for all kinds of rubbish. Mrs Robinson started to garden as a reaction against this and as she cleared areas around the house they were planted with anything available. In this way she created herbaceous borders and a vegetable garden close to the house, and established the framework of the garden with some 60 young trees bought at an auction sale in Wickford Market.

The house, which dates back to the 18th century, is a typical Essex farmhouse of timber frame, lath and plaster. Records show the existence of a dwelling on this site at least as far back as Tudor times. At the back of the house Mrs Robinson discovered the Tudor brick floor of an old stable under a pile of old household rubbish and soil. This was excavated to become a natural pavement garden.

Cleaning the land around the house was arduous and time-consuming work but, with some assistance from the pigs, the refuse, brambles and scrub were eventually removed and the sticky, clay soil improved with quantities of animal manure and mushroom and bark compost.

Since the Robinsons turned the first spadeful of clay in the 1950s, Hyde Hall has always been a dynamic garden, constantly changing to meet the various challenges the site and soil have produced. The story of the development of this inspiring garden with its extraordinary diversity of plants is a fascinating one, a triumph over conditions that would have daunted less keen and dedicated gardeners.

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