The Newt hotel in Somerset: a new chapter in the life of Hadspen House
Originally designed by Penelope Hobhouse, the gardens at Hadspen House also once housed the Walled Garden of Canadian colourists Nori and Sandra Pope, and have now been given a new lease of life as the background to a boutique hotel. Photographs Jason Ingram
Hadspen House, in Somerset, is an attractive Georgian villa constructed of honeycomb-coloured stone. Built in 1687, it was enlarged and altered substantially a century later by its new owner, Henry Hobhouse. The estate remained in the Hobhouse family for some 230 years, gaining fame latterly as the home
and garden of designer Penelope Hobhouse and then, in the 2000s, for a celebrated experiment in colour-themed plantings in the Walled Garden by the Canadian couple Nori and Sandra Pope.
In 2013 the house was sold to South African businessman Koos Bekker and his wife, interior designer Karen Roos, who have turned Hadspen into a high-end boutique-style hotel, renaming it The Newt in Somerset (the site harbours a population of at least 3,000 of the amphibians).
The Newt is a garden surrounding a boutique hotel on an historic site in Somerset of 30 acres. It is marly but fertile soil and has a temperate climate in a hardiness zone of USDA 8.
Three single colour-themed gardens run along the edge of the Long Walk in honour of colourists Nori and Sandra Pope. Here in the White Garden, plants include Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Diane’, Achillea millefolium and the nodding flowerheads of Pennisetum villosum.
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In another of the three colour-themed gardens that run parallel to the sunken Long Walk, the fiery reds of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Lobelia tupa and Salvia microphylla are softened by textural grasses of fluffy Stipa tenuissima and tall Stipa gigantea, alongside structural plants, such as Melianthus major.
The Walled Garden, or Parabola, has been transformed into a maze of different apple varieties. The design is based on a Baroque parterre, with concentric circles defined by box hedges, stone paths and low-growing shrubs, such as silver-leaved santolinas.
In the Victorian Garden, low box hedges surround formal plantings of fragrant plants, punctuated by statuesque cannas and palms. In the foreground Ricinus communis is underplanted with red Salvia Ember’s Wish (= ‘Sal 0101’) and Salvia splendens Go-Go Scarlet (= ‘Insalgosca’).
Below the Walled Garden a semi-circular lawn surrounded by beech hedging extends the curve of the Parabola to form an egg shape. Fittingly, this area is home to The Newt’s ducks and chickens, and to a group of egg-shaped pod seats. In the background, beyond the wildflower meadow, is the potager.
Wide steps lead visitors down from the Victorian Garden, with its imposing cannas and Chamaerops humilis, through the Cascade Garden. Here lush ‘bog’ plantings, of primulas, sedges and in the foreground the purple-flowered pickerel weed, Pontederia cordata, surround a series of ponds.
This image Sitting alongside the formal Victorian Garden, the Gertrude Jekyll-themed Cottage Garden is far more relaxed. Here the softer, looser planting is made up of a mix cottage-garden stallwarts, such as Erigeron karvinskianus, Persicaria amplexicaulis, Stachys byzantina, Alchemilla mollis, echinops, lavender and hollyhocks.
There is a desire at The Newt to place horticulture at the centre of the hotel’s activities. But this is not a traditional garden experience – with its educational courses, multiple dining options and glamorous air – the offer at The Newt is rather wider. As a garden visit, it is more akin to Alnwick or the Eden Project, which are as much ‘visitor attractions’ as they are gardens. Judged on these terms there can be little doubt that The Newt will please many visitors in the years to come.
Garden critic and landscape historian, Tim Richardson is also founder-director of the Chelsea Fringe Festival.
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