The garden we now know as Hyde Hall did not have the most auspicious of starts. When the original owners, Helen and Dick Robinson, moved to the Essex farm in 1955 it consisted of little more than six trees on top of a windswept hill and no garden. They were quoted as saying: “If we had known then what we have since learned we think that it is very doubtful that the garden would have been made.”
While its location is ideal in some ways – only 20 minutes from Chelmsford and offering wonderful far-reaching views of the Essex countryside – in gardening terms it sits in an exposed position on a hilltop, and has a heavy clay soil.
Hyde Hall was donated too the RHS by the Robinsons in 1993. The RHS President at the time, Robin Herbert, said: “We want to carry forward the Robinsons’ work into the next century and intend to give the garden as much loving care as they have.” Helen and Dick were made honorary fellows of the RHS to mark their achievement in creating this garden of national importance.
To mark the anniversary, June sees the opening of a new purpose-built learning space and restaurant. The Learning Centre will offer a varied programme of activities from the ever-popular Little Acorns gardening club for toddlers, to workshops on pruning and propagation for adults. At the heart of this learning space is an innovative teaching garden designed by RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal winner Adam Frost.
There’s also a new restaurant, called Gardeners’ Rest, looking out over the iconic Dry Garden. It is a great place to enjoy fresh, seasonal produce, much of which will be straight from the recently opened Global Growth Vegetable Garden showcasing vegetables from across the globe.
Hyde Hall careers
Two members of the current Hyde Hall staff worked at the garden before it was taken over by the RHS. Head of Site, Ian Le Gros, was a landscape surveyor, but when he was made redundant in 1992, he spotted an advert in his local job centre for an assistant gardener at Hyde Hall. Despite having no qualifications in gardening, Helen and Dick Robinson saw his potential and took him on. He said: “I came to Hyde Hall and just loved it. I developed a real passion for gardening, so I took the RHS qualifications and have been learning ever since.”
Over the past 26 years at the garden he has gone from being an unqualified gardener to Head of Site, and has been involved in a number of projects including the creation of the Wildwood and the Dry Garden.
“I never thought I’d be at Hyde Hall for as long as I have, but it kind of gets under your skin and seeing it constantly developing is immensely rewarding," says Ian. "Over the years it has been much maligned, but after humble beginnings as a farm, it has blossomed into a truly inspirational garden.”
Andrew Lodge started working at Hyde Hall in 1983 at just 16 and has never looked back. He says: “The Robinsons rather took me under their wing. I was keen to have a career in horticulture and Helen and Dick certainly helped me achieve that dream.”
Now, as Garden Manager, Andrew looks after the wider estate which encompasses woodlands and meadows. He says: “I recall planting out the first of the tree whips and now we’re going back through the woodland thinning out, so that shows you how long I’ve been here! But joking aside, to see the diverse mixture of flora and fauna we now have on site, and equally how much people enjoy visiting the garden makes it all worthwhile.”
In 1993, when the RHS took ownership of Hyde Hall, visitor numbers were around 42,000. At the time, the garden was open for only eight months of the year (March through until October).
In 2017, we received 314,000 visitors and we nowonlyclose on Christmas Day - that’s a 648% increase in footfall in 25 years.