Chiswick House and Gardens: a dog’s dinner or a curate’s egg?

July 18, 2011

in Garden Reviews, Reviews

Barbara Taylor has recently discovered, Chiswick House & Gardens. In the interests of research, she decided to give it the once over and find out just what this 18th century building and its grounds had to offer. Here, she shares her findings with us

Anne Wareham, editor


MrB has had the joy of commuting to Slough for the past few months; he started off training it but reverted to the more reliable motor vehicle. During his many ‘I must find the best route’ diversions he ‘discovered’ Chiswick House & gardens which we recently decided to explore.

The house & grounds have had a chequered history. The house, a palladian villa, was completed in 1729 having been designed by the then Lord Burlington & never intended as a private residence but as a showcase. The gardens were designed by William Kent & began the ‘English Landscape Movement’. The house was home to various members of the Burlington family until the late 1800’s when it fell into decline being used as a mental institution at one point. The house was sold to Middlesex Council in 1929 & became a fire station! The gardens are currently in the care of the LB Hounslow & the house is in the guardianship of English Heritage. In order to unify the management of the site the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust was set up & took over management in 2010. There has been a major restoration project carried out on the grounds so what is the result?

It is a fine house & there is still much of the statuary & other physical features around the gardens. The latter have obviously had much money spent on them recently to restore many of the original features, some of which look superb.

I know that newly planted shrubs will always look sparse until they have matured a little. But whilst some protection may be necessary too much & poorly maintained just makes the place look a mess.

 

There were lots of ‘municipal’ fences, many of which were there to provide dog free areas for families to use. Ugly but extremely important in a park used incredibly heavily by dog owners….

…although the situation was extremely well regulated…

The other niggles were the renovated glass-house was all closed up & orange plastic fenced off for no apparent reason, a walled area was locked with no indication of what it was or why it was shut, the beautifully shaped flower beds were just sitting empty.

So all in all I would say that, just like this blog, the gardens were a total mish-mash, trying to re-create what was obviously a very important garden to something of its former glory whilst having to cope with dogs, children & dogs. There is no doubt it is an enormously valuable & popular local resource but if you are looking to bask in the history of the place, beware. It will improve as planting matures but I think the conflict between its historical importance & current usage will always result in a less than satisfactory situation.

Barbara Taylor

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