The gardens of Westonbirt School

Ahead of the Gardens Illustrated Festival 25-26 March, we take a look at the history behind the gardens of Westonbirt School, where our weekend of events is located. Head gardener Alixandra Chalk gives us an insight into what to expect in the gardens in spring. 


Robert Stayner Holford (1808-1892) was 31 when he inherited the Westonbirt estate from his father in 1839. He set out to develop the pleasure grounds and started by creating the Italian Garden. However, he was particularly keen on trees and he laid the foundations of the tree collection that is now Westonbirt Arboretum, as well as the wide variety of rare and interesting trees that can be found in the gardens surrounding the house. After Robert died, his son, Sir George Lindsay Holford (1860-1926), who was an enthusiastic and accomplished horticulturist, continued to develop his father’s work.

The house is now occupied by a girl’s school and the gardens are managed by head gardener Alixandra Chalk, who helps to continue the work of The Holfords of Westonbirt Trust, which was set up to look after the historical site of Westonbirt house and gardens. Ahead of the Gardens Illustrated Festival, 25-26 March we asked Alix to give us an insight into what the gardens look like in spring and what visitors can expect to find as they tour the gardens.

“The grounds of Westonbirt School are just coming to life at the end of March. If you follow the self-guided trail through the gardens you will see how Holford planted things as a series of views framed by towering groups of trees - their bare branches giving a more open vista than when the trees are in full leaf. Beyond the church, down one of the smaller paths, you will come across a sea of the dainty pale blue Anemone blanda, and a peek in the grotto area will reveal a peaceful secluded spot perfect for quiet contemplation.

Back in the Italianate part of the garden, the fernery will be coming to life with the last of the snowdrops still showing and a range of ferns unfurling among the pulhamite rocks. While the main borders of the Italianate Garden are full of mainly summer-flowering plants, the architecture is beautiful, as is the camellia house, which contains a range of fine specimens in bloom, with the ones at the back being originals planted when the house was first constructed.” 

The Holdfords of Westonbirt Trust will be selling leaflets for the self-guided tours for £1 in the Great Hall over the weekend of the Festival. The guide includes a map of the trail and highlights key features of the gardens.

Book your tickets to the Gardens Illustrated Festival now at


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