“ Address: Rettendon / Chelmsford / Essex / CM3 8ET / Telephone: 01245 400256 „
Hyde Hall Estate is a beautiful Royal Horticultural Society garden in the middle of the Essex countryside.
A bit of history
The garden was started in 1955 when Dr & Mrs Robinson came to live in Hyde Hall. When they arrived there was no garden just old farmland and a house on top of a windswept hill. They decided to create a garden and after much hard work improving the soil and putting in plants that would survive in these dry, windy conditions they gradually produced a beautiful garden which has gone from strength to strength.
Where it is
Hyde Hall is located just 20 minutes from the centre of Chelmsford and is sign posted from the A130 (southbound) and from the M25 (junction 29 A127 Southend) if coming from other directions.
About the garden
I have been visiting Hyde Hall over many years and I have seen it change from a small, well designed garden surrounding a home to a much larger garden since the RHS became involved with it. I must admit to being worried when the RHS first took over that they would spoil the intimacy of the garden by making it too large. However, they have made an excellent job, taking things slowly and keeping many of the existing features and incorporating new ones in a complementary way.
All my old favourite parts of the garden are still there. Such as the lovely fish pond with its enormous carp and pretty waterlillies. The Rose Walk at the bottom of the original garden is still as pretty as ever and the herbaceous boarders are spectacular. The dry garden always attracts me because my own garden also suffers from lack of moisture, so I try and take heart that it is possible to grow plants with very little water! The woodland garden is always pretty and cool on a summer's day.
The Robinson garden is one of the new features and has many unusual plants. The Millennium Avenue with its lovely Ash Trees is due to be planted with a selection of wild flowers which should be stunning when completed.
There have been significant changes since I visited the garden earlier this year. A new visitor entrance has been created with better sign posting from the main roads. The car parking area has been moved and made more attractive. Just this week a brand new visitor centre has been opened incorporating a much bigger shop offering many plant related books for the enthusiasts together with plenty of gift ideas, such has pretty mugs, fancy jams and chutneys, ornaments etc. Within this building is also a tearoom with seats inside and out offering a good selection of refreshments to revive you following a good walk around the garden. There is also the existing tearoom in the old barn area where cakes and tea can be enjoyed but also a light lunch such as quiche or jacket potato.
Throughout the garden are colourful signs explaining things to children. To capture their interest they have taken a number of different plants and explained how they were used to make magic potions in the Harry Potter films. My daughter is now a teenager but I can imagine that when she was younger she would have identified with this and found it fun to look out for the signs. In addition there are also various events on during the year for children to take part in and so encourage them to like plants and gardening.
If you want to find out more about any of the plants in the garden there is a library near the house where you can go and browse to your heart's content.
The vegetable garden is also of interest, showing how easy it is to grow a variety of vegetables in a small space.
The garden has hard gravel paths throughout so easily accessible for wheelchairs or pushchairs. However, the garden is on a hill so some inclines are inevitable. There is also an open vehicle which drives around the garden for those unable to walk very far.
On the way out don't forget to visit the excellent plant centre and buy one (or more) or those plants that you have just admired in the garden!
Opening & Cost
This garden is open all year except Christmas Day so it can be seen during every season giving an idea which plants are at their best at any given time.
RHS members: FREE
Children (6 to 16 years): £2.00
Under 6 years: FREE
Groups of more than 10 *: £4.50
Many other events are held at Hyde Hall throughout the year such as plant sales, talks by experts on plants and gardening in general and practical teaching days. More information can be found on the website - http://www.rhs.org.uk/WhatsOn/Gardens/hydehall/
Hyde Hall Gardens are in Essex close to where I live, and are one of the Royal Horticultural Society gardens which are open to the public. Entry to the gardens is free if you are a member, but non members have to pay £5.50 to enter per person. Children are £2 each. Currently it is possible to visit by using a buy one ticket get one free offer, which is currently being offered through Rachel's Organic Milk which we buy on a weekly basis.
Located in the small village of Rettendon the opening times are
Open every day except Christmas Day
November to December 10am-4pm
In all cases last admission is an hour before closing time
As I have a severely disabled mum I have been much more aware of this when visiting places, because it is clear to me that some venues are just not suitable to push anyone in a wheelchair and enjoy it.
The gardens are steep in places and they do have some wheelchairs for borrowing, but you must call them in advance if you want to borrow one. Any carer who is with a disabled wheelchair user is admitted free, which is a nice gesture, and I have found the disabled toilets which are adjacent to the main toilets to be clean and well maintained.
It is possible to enter all the main areas if you are a wheelchair user, such as the café in the barn, and the shop, but in my opinion the steep paths together with the small shop area mean that someone like my father would find this a bit of a struggle. Having said that it is possible to push the chair to some beautiful viewing points, and as long as you allow plenty of time you will be rewarded with some beautiful sights of wildlife, plants and panoramic vistas over the undulating meadows which surround the gardens.
My advice would be not to choose busy times such as bank holidays and Sunday afternoons if you have a disabled person in your group, but to actually go towards the end of the day when the solitude and the peace will envelope you, and offer some freedom from having to manoeuvre a chair around crowds
How To Get There
As mentioned earlier this garden is in Rettendon and the sign posts are copious especially on the A130 southbound which is near to the gardens. This is about 8 miles from the town of Chelmsford and is a 20 minute drive from here.
The directions as supplied by the website are
From the M25:
Leave the M25 at junction 29 for A127 (signed Southend). From the A127 exit onto the A132 (signed Wickford/South Woodham Ferrers).
Or leave the A12 at junction 17, then at the roundabout take the second exit for the A130 (signed Southend/Basildon)
From the A130 Rettendon Turnpike roundabout follow the tourist attraction flower symbols towards South Woodham Ferrers on the A132. At the Shaw Farm roundabout turn into Willow Grove/Creephedge Lane.
The address of the gardens is
Essex CM3 8AT
Tel 01245 400256.
Sadly public transport access is somewhat of a let down with the nearest bus stop a mile away, and the railway stations of Wickford and Chelmsford being 5 and 8 miles away respectively. If using this route you would have to get a taxi to complete the journey.
At the gardens parking is clearly laid out and there is adequate space on normal days, I have my doubts about busy times but I would avoid these anyway if you want to experience the garden at its best. The approach road to the gardens is gravel and very noisy as the car types scrape over it.
The History Of The Gardens
You have to bear in mind with these gardens that they are in their infancy in terms of maturity and what they have to offer. This is because it was only in 1955 when Dr and Mrs Robinson bought the place and then all it had to offer were 6 trees growing on the top of a windswept hill, and so everything you see has developed on from these days when there was literally nothing there.
The site was dry cold and windy and this area gets very little annual rainfall so the entire site was, and still is, a challenge to gardening. The site had prior to this been a farm over many centuries, so it had become a dumping ground for all sorts of agricultural rubbish, and was at the time an almost impossible task to make anything of it.
The house on the site dates back to Tudor times and Mrs Robinson discovered the remnants of an old Tudor stable floor, and this was subsequently excavated to become a natural pavement garden.
The site was donated to the RHS in 1993 and by then Mrs Robinson had certainly made strides into creating a superb garden, with herbaceous borders, and vegetable plots, and so it was a framework which in recent years has become a treasure for the RHS.
They inherited 320 acres of which about 25 acres were cultivated, and their aim is to increase the cultivated areas to at least 60. Essex has very little prime land like this so it is now an extremely valuable asset, both in monetary terms, but also in terms of providing the public with an escape from the built up areas, which are creeping ever closer to the fields and meadows in the county, as the demand for housing gets greater and greater.
The shop and entrance hut are manned by volunteers who are devoted to the gardens and to the preservation of them for all to enjoy.
Work is currently underway to create a new visitor centre due to open in July 2009.
Walking through the gardens is easier if you ask in the information centre for a free little guide, which shows you several routes which you can pick out depending on your stamina and time available. There is a recycling box for these as you leave, so they can be handed out again, meaning that you are allowed to have these free of charge.
Nothing is too strenuous but the paths do meander through some gradients and through some spectacular little gardens which have been thoughtfully planted to be of interest through all the seasons. This is reflected in some of the events they hold such as the rose weekend which will celebrate a time when all the roses are in full bloom in June.
Everything has been planted with wildlife in mind, and this is the thing which appeals to me more than anything. The bird boxes and bird feeders sit in little nooks, and are helping to support these in their breeding seasons. There are ladybird houses and squirrel feeders, as well as bee hives, and certainly there are areas which have been purposely left to be on the wild side allowing natural plants to flourish so you won't see formality everywhere you look.
There are beautiful ponds with ducks and carp on which giant water lilies float, and the refection of these on a sunny days is absolutely beautiful. There are wooden bridges and hidden nooks in which an abundance of plants grow which are all clearly labelled so that if you see something you like you can possibly identify it, and buy a plant of the same group from the shop which is a very pleasant finale to your stay.
There is a very well respected barn eatery on the premises which fills up for lunch very quickly, so again if you are planning to eat there then arrive early. Meals are very good indeed with main courses between £6 to £8 and a lovely selection of cakes and drinks which you can buy from the servery. I particularly like the choice here and the use of local businesses to supply their needs. There is local beer and rose petal and blackberry wine, as well as many fair trade products. You really can have a lovely meal here and the quality is excellent. It is also possible to sit outside on sunny days on tables provided.
A special note here. They ask that you do not eat picnics around the garden but only in the car park area, I think this is really important as it keeps the garden clear from rubbish and preserves their natural ambience, without the crisp packets and ice cream wrappers.
A Place Of Reflection
Having walked all around the gardens it is possible to sit for a while and take in the scenery and the views which are very beautiful especially so in early summer. We saw hares scampering across the horizon and the yellows and greens of the undulating meadows which cocoon these gardens were a pleasant place to sit and rest for a while. The day was a mixture of sunshine and clouds so the colours were ever changing as the light reflected on the fields, sometimes illuminating them, bathing them in a golden glow. The views are reminiscent of a landcape painting from a bygone era, as the landscape is bereft of houses but rich in meadows, pastures, and natural beauty everywhere you look.
I think that although this is probably not the most spectacular open garden in terms of plants I have been to, it is an oasis of peace and the marriage they have made between careful planting in tandem with nature, together with a concern for the environment means that this will continue to be a place of beauty and solace in an agitated world.
This review is also published in Ciao by myself under the user name Violet1278.
I am a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, and as I live near RHS Hyde Hall in Essex, I have seen it in all seasons.
I am a member because I like gardens, not because I am an expert, but you don't have to be an expert to enjoy it.
*** History of the Estate ***
For centuries this estate was a working farm, so the 18th century Hall was a farmhouse, but the area around it had been used for dumping rubbish. Then in the 1950s, Helen and Dick Robinson started to tidy it up.
The clay soil on this cold and windy site on the top of a hill was gradually improved, with the help of the pigs by adding manure, and compost. Then flowers, a vegetable patch and young trees were planted near to their home.
The estate was donated to the RHS in 1993, which has continued to develop and improve the area.
Of the 320 acres they took over, about 25 acres were cultivated. They aim to gradually increase this to at least 60 acres. Improvements I have seen since then include improved paths making it more accessible, a new visitor centre and garden library (in the old farmhouse) that is manned by a team of trained volunteers.
*** The Gardens ***
You will be on RHS land on the approach road to the entrance of the garden and car park. Here look out for the large log statue, designed to look like a wood cutter.
Next to the free car park is the entry kiosk, usually manned by a volunteer.
If you are a first time visitor ask for a garden map, which will show different types of routes. The one I got was free, but they ask visitors to leave them for others to use on the way out. Sometimes they don't have any maps here, in which case they should direct you to the Visitor Centre, where they will almost certainly supply one.
Guide books are also available. They make interesting souvenirs, but I don't think they are essential. There are notice boards on the estate explaining things of interest from both a gardening and wildlife point of view. (As the last guide book I saw has been reduced from £3.50 to £2, I suspect an updated one is due soon.)
The gardens vary from formal to woodland, and include the Rose Garden, the Queen Mother's Garden, an Australian Garden, a Mediterranean style Dry Garden, Water Gardens, a Wildlife Garden and the Woodland Robinson Garden.
The garden that visitors like best will at least partially depend on the time of year. The woodland is most colourful in spring. Summer is the best time for roses and other traditional flowers. Autumn provides different sorts of foliage colour, and winter brought to few surprises to me. The first time I saw the exotic palm trees in their "winter coats", I giggled. Having had time to think about it, I don't know why I was surprised though, as I was dressed warmly too. Any plants that don't like the cold will need appropriate special care in winter of course. I just hadn't seen anything like the outdoor protection given to the palm trees before.
I like to finish my visits by sitting quietly in the garden specially designed to attract wildlife, after most of the other visitors have gone home. That's when you are more likely to see other forms of life, especially birds.
As well as wildlife friendly plants, there are bird feeders and nest boxes, squirrel feeders, a ladybird house, bee nesting cylinders, bumble bee nest box and log piles for other insects.
I have also regularly seen hares on the edges of the cultivated areas when arriving soon after opening, or just before dusk.
The RHS consults local Wildlife Trusts with the aim of bringing the worlds of gardening and conservation together. It is hoped that visitors will be inspired to improve the attractiveness of their gardens to wildlife, and use environmentally friendly ways of dealing with gardening problems.
*** Facilities ***
There is a licensed restaurant in the Old Thatched Barn, where visitors can eat inside or, in warm weather, in the sheltered tea garden. They regularly serve light refreshments, and at peak times, also hot home made meals, when mouth-watering smells accost anyone passing. Meal prices are about £6-8 for the main course. I have enjoyed some good meals there.
If you bring a picnic, you are requested to eat it in the car park area.
On the way out, I am usually tempted by something from the plant shop, which also stocks other gifts and souvenirs. I always think the best souvenir from a place like this is a plant, provided you can get it home safely, and you chose one suitable for the location you have planned for it.
*** Disabled Visitors ***
For disabled visitors they have some wheelchairs to borrow, but phone ahead to make sure one will be available, if this is important to you.
Although it is a hillside garden with sloping areas, most is accessible by wheelchair, and a suggested route is available. One companion is admitted free with each wheelchair user. All buildings are accessible.
Braille and large print guides are available.
Assistant dogs are welcome, but no other dogs will be admitted.
The toilets adjacent to The Barn Restaurant, which I have found to be well maintained, include one for disabled visitors.
** How to Get There **
If travelling by car, the road links in this part of Essex are good. The gardens are well sign-posted by brown tourist flower signs from the A130 at Rettenden, which is about 8 miles south of Chelmsford.
It is a popular destination for coach day trippers, so for those without cars, I would recommend checking out your local operator.
Nearest train stations are on the London (Liverpool Street) line. Wickford is 5 miles, and Chelmsford 8 miles away. The gardens recommend getting a taxi to and from the stations.
** Prices and Opening Times for 2009 **
RHS Members Free
Children 6-16 £2.00
Under 6 years Free
It is open every day except Christmas Day, 10am-6pm March-September, but closes earlier in the winter months.
*** Special Events and the RHS ***
There are lots of special events throughout the year that would appeal to wildlife as well as gardening enthusiasts. Some incur extra charges but the ones I like best, the birds of prey displays, have been free. They usually have something to especially attract families during the summer holidays. For example, looking for plants relevant to the Harry Potter stories. This included plants used for the making of Potions by the wizards and witches at Hogwarts, after attending specialist classes with Prof Snipe. It was stressed though that visitors shouldn't try this, as some plants are poisonous.
Their web site tries to keep visitors informed of forthcoming attraction, but it hasn't always been right up-to-date, www.rhs.org.uk/WhatsOn/Gardens/hydehall
So I recommend that you contact the friendly Hyde Hall staff direct if you want detailed information, tel: 01245 400256.
As a member of the RHS I have found the benefits great value for money. As well as free admission for the member plus a guest to their four gardens (in Surrey, Essex, Devon and N Yorkshire), and reduced prices to affiliated gardens, members get a monthly magazine, which includes an events diary which has been better than that on the website. Individual annual membership for 2009 costs £48. Details of this and other rates available are on the RHS website. www.rhs.org.uk
*** Recommendation ***
I have enjoyed many visits and appreciate the delights of all the seasons, although the hill top site can be especially cold in winter.
The cultivated part of Hyde Hall Garden, which is surrounded by farmland, is at present smaller, but happily a lot quieter, than the RHS Wisley Garden at their headquarters in Surrey. (Sadly some woodland parts of Wisley are spoilt for me by being adjacent to the extremely busy A3, which feeds the nearby M25.)
Good gardens, like this one, will attract visitors of all sorts, from human to wildlife, so I think that it is best to visit when the human visitor numbers are likely to be lowest. I have enjoyed it best on warm midweek days, outside of the school holidays.
RHS Garden Hyde Hall
Essex CM3 8ET
Tel: 01245 400256
The Royal Horticulture Society demonstrates their passion for horticulture and gardening. Take time to relax and stroll through the beautiful gardens.