Adieu To A Great English Garden and The Creative Force Behind It – Nori and Sandra Pope

– Posted in: Garden Design


OK…so I’m a sentimentalist. I still find it hard to accept that gardens are often dismantled or allowed to rapidly dissipate when their owners die. Think about sculptures, paintings, choreography, musical compositions and on and on: gardening is the only art form that is not promised a legacy for future generations.

And yes, there are much needed organizations like the National Trust in Great Britain and The American Garden Conservancy. But by in large, garden makers are on their own in trying to secure posterity for their work of art.
Consequently, it should not have come as a surprise (but it did) a few weeks ago when I read in the International Herald Tribune that Nori and Sandra Pope, the creators of this magnificent garden (who did not own the property), had vacated Hadspen Garden and that the garden was allowed to run wild. By late 2006, it had been completely cleared.
Hadspen Garden was originally an early nineteenth kitchen century garden, set on a southwest sloping lot that encapsulates sunlight and warmth facilitating the growth of a plethora of Mediterranean specimens. It is situated in the midst of a private park of 300 acres. In the 1960s until 1978, Penelope Hobhouse designed an intense ornamental garden on this piece of property. That is when the Popes, from British Columbia, crossed the Mediterranean and began the process of creating, just the two of them, what would become a jewel of a garden.hadspen-reds-and-orange-resized.jpgHadspen Garden is a rarity in the world of gardening in that the entire garden was specifically designed with each border dedicated to a wide spectrum of hues of one color. For example, the red garden includes a multitude of hues of the red family from the fire engine red of Potentilla ‘Gibsons Scarlet’ to the burgundy red foliage of Prunus x cistena and the dark blackish leaves of Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ with its crisp red blossoms. Walls and borders of these colored themed gardens visually overwhelm the senses.

Nori and Sandra Pope are true masters in the use of colors and plant combinations. Vita Sackville-West of Sissinghurst fame did create her world famous white garden and a ‘knock your socks off’ purple walled garden. And Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote Garden is well known for his stately red garden (amongst others). But Hadspen Garden is different: the garden in its entirety is color themed. It is a complex, well thought out and executed symphony of color.

With the Pope’s departure, Niall Hobhouse, the owner of the property, decided that this would be the perfect time to re-make the garden. He developed a competition where formal plans could be submitted this summer. He also created a website for discussions about the future of Hadspen as well as a forum about gardens today and their contribution to the artistic, environmental and creative process in which we live.

This competition has caused much debate in Great Britain, a country steeped in the tradition of gardening. Not about the demise of a world class garden: rather about the layout and purpose of a garden as well as what constitutes a garden, plus several other issues.

It appears that the majority of people who have voiced their opinions feel that this is an unprecedented event for the next group or individual who wins the competition to ‘advance the concepts and practices of gardening’. So it seems that I am one of the few who laments the loss of Hadspen Garden as I know it: a garden that I fell in love with at first sight. A garden that was always on my ‘must see’ list when journeying to England. A garden that first introduced me to Romneya coulteri ‘White Cloud’ which I tried for years to grow in my garden with no success. A garden that I will sorely miss but always remember.

For those of you interested in joining the debate, click on The Hadspen Parabola.


Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
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Cynthia Eichengreen September 23, 2007, 12:32 am

Although I was saddened at hearing about the clearing of the garden at Hadspen House, it reminded me that gardens are ephemeral art and that makes them all the more special. Should we strive to save special gardens? Of course. What would the world be without Sissinghurst, Heligan, Stourhead. But the fact that they are ephemeral and can disappear within a short time makes them all the more precious.
One of my favorite Ephemeral Gardens was a small garden across the street from me. Susie was raising her 4 little girls by herself and wanted to turn her front yard into a garden, but she had no money for such things. So she asked me what she could do. I told her about the layering method of creating beds (cardboard, newspapers, leaves, grass clippings, etc). She went to the store and begged cardboard boxes. She collected all of the neighbor’s newspapers, mowed their lawns for the grass clippings, raked their gardens for their leaves. By spring she had a serpentine of raised beds snaking around what had been a weedy lawn with paths meandering among them. The soil in her beds was wonderful. So we threw her a “Flower Shower” and all of her friends brought her starts from their gardens. One neighbor brought her a tree to plant in the center. We helped her plant the assorted plants in the spaces she had designated and watched, mesmerized as her garden thrived through the seasons. Susie called it her Friendship Garden and the only money she ever spent on it was for a small birdbath. It was charming, but when Susie moved out, it changed and all of a sudden, it wasn’t there anymore. But it is in the heart of every neighbor and friend that Susie had while she lived there. It’s our secret, that once this little plot of ground held something very special, and although no one can see it anymore, the magic is still there.

FranSorin September 25, 2007, 8:56 am


What an incredibly moving and inspiring story. It almost felt like you were describing a fairy tale. What a good reminder to all of us that all living things are impermanent but that memories etched into our brains and souls are eternal. Thanks so much for sharing Susies’ s garden with us! Fran

Sue June 7, 2016, 3:40 pm

I was just searching for some photos of the Popes garden at Hadspen to show a friend. So when I read your article from mAny years ago I thought you should know that I and mAny others really mourned the loss of Hadspen. I used to go there many times as I live in bath Somerset, not far away. There hasn’t been a summer yet when I haven’t felt the loss of this beautiful garden and the popes who were such lovely people. I think of if still and regard what happened to it as an act of vandalism. And yes I know gardens are ephemeral but that doesn’t stop me missing this wonderful place. Sorry for the lack of capitals in this response, caps are not working on this site!

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