The organically-certified gardens of Dowdeswell Court
Around the Neoclassical home of Jade and Julian Dunkerton, Urquhart & Hunt has designed a garden that works in harmony with a variety of wildlife.
Just 15 minutes drive from the fashionable Georgian spa town of Cheltenham is the restored Grade II-listed house and gardens of Dowdeswell Court, the family home of Julian Dunkerton, co-founder of clothing brand Superdry, and Jade Holland Cooper, founder of British heritage brand Holland Cooper. Hidden from view below the entrance gates, the elegant Bath stone house, built in the Neoclassical style in the 1830s, is cut into the side of a steep hill that drops down to a brook and two lakes. This allows for stunning views across to pastures and woodlands on the other side of the valley.
When Julian invited design duo Lulu Urquhart and Adam Hunt to create new gardens for the 80-acre parkland, all that remained of the original plantings were a collection of specimen trees, including lime, beech, holm oak, chestnut, yew and Western red cedar, the remnants of an Italian pleasure garden and rolling expanses of grass. “We have a fierce passion for sustainability and wanted to preserve and nurture not only the historic plants but also the wildlife,” says Julian. “Key throughout is the organic certification.”
Learn how to invite wildlife into your garden.
An ecological survey revealed that the grounds were home to five species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – three species of bat, great crested newts and, in the lakes, white-clawed crayfish – so the masterplan needed to make provisions for all of these, as well as addressing the remaining historical elements, which included a balustrade around the entrance forecourt and an ornamental pool. “We wanted to create something visually pleasing, definitely not formal, but relaxed and contemporary to match our vision for the house,” says Julian.
The designers realised they needed to enlarge the narrow terraces that abutted the house. “It was important to make the proportion of the house meaningful to the garden,” says Lulu, “and to deliver really spacious garden areas that had an elegance to complement the beautiful house.”
Seven years later, the forecourt is transformed into a celebration of naturalistic planting, dancing above a matrix of rosemary and lavender, and connected to the landscape beyond by a line of multi-stem Osmanthus x burkwoodii. “We felt the forecourt needed some constant evergreen forms,” says Adam, “and we like the looseness of Osmanthus and their scented flowers. They nod towards topiary but are not that formal.” A gap in the stone balustrade here opens up a breathtaking view down to one of the two lakes.
Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement’s use of natural materials, Lulu and Adam chose Cotswold stone for the retaining dry-stone walls throughout the garden and for the generous terraces on the south and west sides of the house, which offer different views across the valley. Below the forecourt is a south-facing Orangery, which adjoins a 10m-wide oak pergola, covered in wisteria and framed with two Magnolia grandiflora, creating a Mediterranean-style space for entertainment. At the back of the house, another terrace provides an alfresco dining area, which overlooks a circular lawn surrounded by beds that billow with traditional summer flowers, such as delphiniums, lilies and nepetas. The large lily pond at the centre was created to replace a smaller original pool.
New sets of steps, hand cut from Forest of Dean stone, are an elegant solution to navigating the garden’s steep slopes, and form a network of links between the various spaces close to the house. Further down the slope, more rugged steps made from oak sleepers create a route past two ponds created for newts, and planted with a range of lush marginal species where these amphibians can hide.
The diversity of the garden’s spaces, and of their planting, is a particular delight to owner Jade. She has added an avenue of lime trees – gifts from guests at her wedding to Julian in 2018 – which leads to the entrance forecourt. The Orangery terrace and the swimming pool garden, surrounded by olive trees in pots and beds of cistus, santolina and myrtles, both create a Mediterranean feel that she loves. “When it is sunny it transports you out of the Cotswolds to the Med,” she says. Beyond the swimming pool, further down the slope, is a new orchard that has been established around a few existing apple trees and is underplanted with carpets of spring and early summer organic bulbs. “This has more of a wilderness feel, as does the woodland area behind the lake and at the top of the property,” explains Jade. “I really like how the flower gardens blend into the wilder landscape.”
Since 2018, Jade’s mother, landscape and garden designer Miranda Holland, has taken on management of the garden, which employs four gardeners. They have developed a series of spring walks, planted with thousands of bulbs and hellebores, which create delightful new routes through the grounds. The next project is to transform a sloping walled kitchen garden into a cutting garden. The handsome oakframed glasshouse houses not only organically grown vines, pleached peaches and salads for the table but also a sandpit for the couple’s children. “It’s important for me to instil in the children a passion for gardening,” says Jade. “To show them the journey from seed to eating.”
Find out more about Urquhart & Hunt at urquharthunt.com
Jade Holland Cooper: www.hollandcooper.com
Annie Gatti is an award-winning garden writer and co-author of the RHS Your Wellbeing Garden
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