Eaton Hall is the family home of the Duke and Duchess of Westminster. Each year, the Duchess allows a small number of selected charities access to the gardens. This year, our Society was fortunate enough to be allocated one of the coveted places.
On Sunday 19th July, the morning opened with overcast, wet weather but as the day progressed things improved and by lunchtime it had dried up and the sun made an appearance. At 1pm, 50 Members and friends/relatives arrived at the Eccleston Gate in 21 private vehicles to await permission to enter. (Prior to this, details of all vehicles and occupants were required to be submitted to the Estate Security.) When all were assembled the intercom was pressed and the imposing gates swung open to allow the convoy to enter.
As we drove up the driveway we were greeted by the wonderful sight of a herd of fallow deer grazing at the side of the road. As we passed they took fright and started galloping alongside the convoy, before bounding across the front of the lead vehicle and away into the parkland.
On arrival at the Courtyard we parked the vehicles and were shown into the Coach Room where we were given tea and biscuits prior to commencing the tour. Due to the large number attending we were split into two groups, led by the Head Gardener, Jan Lomas, and her assistant Anna Daniel.
The Tour itself took us around all parts of the garden, where we saw numerous borders with wonderful displays of plants in pastel shades, as this is the Duchess’ favourite type of colour. However, there is one vibrant “Hot Bed” near the Kitchen Garden, which we also visited. Nearby is the Camellia House—which is believed to be the longest in Britain—and, although there were no camellias in flower, it was easy to imagine what a wonderful sight it would be when they were.
We also saw the largest ever commissioned bronze of a Kudu and Lioness which is set in one of the many water features in the Gardens. The Garden itself covers 88 acres with 15 kilometres of yew hedging, which is clipped twice a year and the clippings go to various cancer research centres.
Further into the tour we saw the “Wendy House” which was originally erected for the Duke and Duchess’ children but is now used by their grandchildren. Nearby is the Pet Cemetery with miniature gravestones for much loved pets. We then went through the gates to the “Dutch Tea House” which overlooks an herb garden. The paths around the various herb beds are made up of thousands of tiles and are in the process of being re-laid; no easy task. The name of the Tea House is a misnomer as it is believed that it is not Dutch but is a shortened version of "Duchess’ Tea House", as one of the original Duchess’ use to take tea there and there is a cooking range still in there but it is not used now.
A short distance away was the Roman Temple and the nearby Parrot House. Although parrots were never housed in there, a monkey was occasionally brought over from the island in the lake.
Finally we visited the Kitchen Gardens with all types of fruit and vegetables plus cut flowers.
All too soon 2½ hours had passed and we headed for home with everyone in agreement that it had been a wonderful afternoon.