Bradenham Hall (earlier known as “West Bradenham Hall”) is an early Georgian house, more in the Queen Anne style and from its elevated position, faces almost due south.
For long periods of time, the house has been tenanted rather than lived in by the owners, and reputedly amongst these tenants was Lady Hamilton, who is said to have entertained Lord Nelson as a guest. Since the house was built in about 1740 by a Scottish solicitor, Thomas Smyth, it had been owned principally by the Smyth, Haggard (Rider’s dog ‘Spice’ is buried here) and Penrose families until 1951 when Dick & Jane Allhusen bought it, together with 1,500 acres of the surrounding land and woods.
In the 1940’s it was occupied by various army units, one of which left a legacy of numerous heaps of empty tins and literally thousands of broken glass medicine bottles in many parts of the garden, particularly on the west side. Several dozen concrete Nissen hut foundations were an unwanted additional burden. A number of local people thought that the house could never be properly renovated and lived in again, and Dick & Jane Allhusen had to start by taking the whole roof off, and under-pinning every outside wall of the house.
Other than the courtyard and walled garden areas, both of which were covered by a massive crop of long established deadly nightshade, there was no garden worthy of the name. The area to the north east was entirely occupied by a derelict canker-ridden apple orchard and the unused front drive ran through a fenced off grass pasture grazed by the dairy herd. There were also approximately 200 wasp and several hornet nests which had to be dealt with during their first summer.
The Garden’s Initial Development
Having no experience whatsoever or knowledge of gardening, Dick & Jane Allhusen were none the less determined to create a setting for their future family’s home which would provide interest at all times of the year. Perhaps riskily, they deliberately avoided garden designers. The lay-out is therefore entirely their own creation. They of course needed, and received, excellent planting advice in the early days.
The prevailing wind is south west, so that, reasonably protected by woods on the north and east sides, the first task was to plant the windbreak on the west side in 1953, which also saw the creation of the terrace and the sheltered children’s garden. Owing to the wind problem, they then had to create a series of rooms, surrounded by walls & yew hedges, for the flower and shrub areas.
It took them four years to accumulate enough knowledge, and confidence, to know what they wanted initially to plant in the arboretum. This was started in 1955 and then expanded westwards from the front drive in three stages until, in 1970, it occupied the whole of the Top Park. Naturalised Narcissi, in single variety clumps, mostly of about 200 bulbs, were planted in the grass flanking both sides of the curving front drive. The trees and most shrubs are all labeled, on either path or north side, and bear the date of their planting.
The 21st Century
Chris & Panda Allhusen moved into Bradenham Hall in 2000 and had to start by completely renovating the Hall itself. This took six years and included re-wiring, plumbing, decoration, carpets & curtains, plus a considerable amount of internal re-organisation. The final phase of this was in 2014 when we installed a 200 kW wood fuel boiler, fed by sustainable timber grown on the Estate and 50 kW of solar panels. Having done the house, in the last few years our attention has now turned to the garden. Under the tenure of Dick and Jane, the garden had the equivalent of six full time gardeners and grounds staff. In today’s economic climate, the decision was made to re-prioritise the areas within the garden, taking into consideration the staff we employ today.
The Herbaceous Border was completely replanted in 2010, and many of the shrubs in the Philosopher’s Walk, having grown too large, are now in the process of being replaced. The wonderful old Rose Garden had seen its day and the decision was taken in 2015 to remove it completely. We also removed the Woodland and Winter Borders, Long Lawn-bed Border and the Dogs’ Breakfast, since we felt we had too many mixed borders. The new Courtyard Garden, with its rill and pleached Limes, was planted in 2015 to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.
Chris & Panda Allhusen, March 2018