The story of RHS Garden Rosemoor
Lady Anne Berry
Rosemoor became home to Lady Anne Berry (1919–2019) and her mother following the death of her father, Sir Robert Horace Walpole, in 1931. Sir Robert had originally bought Rosemoor as a salmon fishing lodge. At that time the garden was, as Lady Anne described it, ‘dull and labour intensive, typically Victorian, with a great use of annuals in beds around the house.’ During the 1930s, Lady Anne’s mother created The Stone Garden, the first area of hard landscaping at Rosemoor, which still lies at the heart of the old garden.
Lady Anne lived with her mother at Rosemoor until the Second World War, when the house was used by the Red Cross as a refuge for evacuees from London’s Docklands and East End. After the war, Lady Anne returned to live permanently at Rosemoor with her husband Eric Palmer and young son, and for a number of years they ran the estate as a dairy farm.
Lady Anne’s interest in gardening began in 1959, when she met the noted plantsman Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram in Spain while recuperating from measles. He opened her eyes to the beauty of Spanish maquis shrubland and this became the first of many expeditions to observe plants in their natural environments. Ingram also invited Lady Anne to visit his garden in Kent and encouraged her to take some cuttings and young plants back to Rosemoor to start her own garden. She did just that and created what is known today at Rosemoor as Lady Anne’s Garden.
Over the following years, Lady Anne travelled widely to build her plant collection, visiting North and South America, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Japan, among other locations, whilst becoming a skilled and knowledgeable plantswoman. Such wide travels contributed to the great diversity of plants found at Rosemoor, some of which are now very rare.
During the 1960s Lady Anne joined the RHS and was soon invited to judge woody plants and new introductions in one of its committees. By the late 1970s she had helped found the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (now known as Plant Heritage), and had also set up a nursery at Rosemoor. When Lady Anne gifted Rosemoor to the RHS in 1988 it consisted of the house, the 3.2ha (8 acre) garden around the house and 13ha (32 acres) of pastureland.
Steep learning curve
In 1989, the RHS began work building the new visitor centre, named the Robin Herbert Visitor Centre after the RHS President at the time. This modern building incorporates a shop, plant centre, restaurant and lecture theatre. A new entrance road and car park were also needed, as well as drainage and water-supply systems, sewerage, electricity, gas and telephones.
Building a new national garden is not something that happens often, and the RHS has learned much from this project. The two biggest difficulties have been the heavy clay soil and the large amounts of rainfall at Rosemoor, which when combined creates a sticky mess.
Rosemoor's sloping site had to be regraded to smooth out its bumpy surface and achieve a gentle fall to the river. More than 13,000 tonnes of soil were removed from the new entrance area and car park, and redistributed in the new Formal Garden to level off the site. Attention then turned to a small seasonal stream that was diverted and dammed to form a series of pools and falls leading to a lake, which doubles as a reservoir containing all the water needed for the garden's irrigation. As much of the new garden would take time to establish, 2,000 roses were planted to create instant impact, while the pattern of the Formal Garden was outlined with more than 1,200 plants of hedging yew.
An underpass was excavated to link the new and old gardens, and Rosemoor opened to visitors on 1 June 1990. Bisected by the A3124, the garden consists of two very distinct areas. On one side is the original garden – Lady Anne’s Garden – which remains a diverse collection of plants in an informal setting. On the other side is the new garden – a formal, decorative area in a glorious woodland setting – its creation in such a relatively brief time is a truly astonishing achievement.