Cobham Conservation and Heritage Trust

Newsletter Extras - 30 Years of Planting at Painshill (May 2012)

30 Years of Planting

By Kath Clark, Joint Principal Gardener, Painshill

Painshill 1982When the restoration of Painshill started back in 1982, 30 years ago this year, the team found themselves faced with a complete wilderness of trees, scrub and weeds; a few glimpses of decaying garden buildings, and the remains of a crystal grotto with no roof. The lake was barely visible and the remains of the planting were almost lost.

30 years later and with a lot of hard work from a dedicated team of staff, volunteers, and generous donors, Painshill is now well on the way to full restoration and renewal. Throughout this time, an enormous amount of research and horticultural expertise has gone into re-creating the landscape and garden features which Charles Hamilton designed and his gardeners executed in the mid-18th century.

The 18th century was a time of discovery, trade and expansion, with new plants arriving from all parts of the known world. These were enthusiastically planted by the aristocracy and gentry, with a passion for plants and visions of landscapes inspired by travels in Italy or paintings by Claude, Poussin and Salvator Rosa.

The detective work at Painshill has taken us around the great estates and gardens of England, to archive offices in search of dusty deeds and account books, to North America to John Bartram's garden in Philadelphia, and to nurserymen, garden writers and designers of the period.

Nolin Box, Chironia and gourdsSome of Hamilton's plantings are tantalisingly vague, with only brief accounts from contemporary visitors to go on. Other connections are more tangible, with written evidence; the Bartram/Collinson North American seed exchange, and the correspondence with Abbé Nolin, gardens adviser to the Kings of France.

Painshill gardensFrom all this material, Mark Laird, Painshill's planting consultant, was able to weave the threads together to create plans to restore the plantings as closely as possible to Hamilton's original concept, using only plants which would have been available to him. Teams of gardeners and estate workers, working under the direction of Estate Manager, Mark Ebdon, who also celebrates his 30th anniversary this year!, have been able to re-create and maintain the parkland and gardens in the style of its creator. The challenges of holding a garden in 'a moment of time' keep us on our toes, together with the weather, possible climate change, rabbits and anything else nature can throw at us.

The core of the current garden team has been at Painshill for 12 years a piece now, and with Mark, we are all working towards the vision for the next 30 years. This will involve reflecting once again on the original concept and vision for Painshill, looking at historical records and contemporary (and later) accounts, and continuing with research into appropriate plants for the period and for the situation.

Annual Perennials Looking West

As part of the exercise in reviewing and re-visiting the past, Painshill has launched a 'Living Memories' project, and we are inviting anyone who has any memories of Painshill, from long ago or more recent times, to share them with us. No matter how small or large, whether you visited yourself or you had relatives who lived or worked at Painshill, we want to hear from you. Our aim is collect these memories for our archives, with an exhibition planned for next Easter (2013), to which visitors will be encouraged to get involved themselves, add their own memories and find out what has happened at Painshill in years gone by.

If you have a memory you'd like to share, please send details to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and let us know how you'd like to be involved. You can write a letter, send a poem or picture, but we'd also like to interview as many of you as possible (audio or on film) as a way of capturing these precious memories for generations to come.

For more information visit

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The Cobham Conservation and Heritage Trust is a local charity which relies on vounteers to help run the Trust, promote local history and conservation issues and organise fund raising events such as our annual Cobham Heritage Day. If you think you might like to join us, visit our Volunteer Vacancies page to find out which roles you might like to get involved with. We always try to make it fun.

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