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Gardens of Easton Lodge launches balustrade restoration appeal

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Green-fingered celebrity Christine Walkden is backing a new appeal to restore part of the historic Gardens of Easton Lodge.

The television presenter and broadcaster, best known for her appearances on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, The One Show on BBC and hosting her own series, Christine's Garden, has become a trustee of the Uttlesford landmark.

The gardens are Historic England Grade II registered after being rescued from ruin. The Countess of Warwick’s son left the gardens untended after the Second World War and he and his heirs split up and sold the house, gardens and estate.

TV gardener Christine Walkden (42701293)
TV gardener Christine Walkden (42701293)

The restoration of Warwick House, the remaining wing of Easton Lodge, and its gardens was started by the Creasey family in the 1970s after they fell in love with it despite its advanced state of decay.

They established The Gardens of Easton Lodge Preservation Trust in 2002 to conserve the grounds and open them to the public.

The current owners of Warwick House usually open their part of the Countess’ garden alongside the trust on nine open days a year – for snowdrops in February and then one open day a month through the season April to October. Following the easing of lockdown, the trust also opened to visitors on Thursdays.

Broken balustrade (42701329)
Broken balustrade (42701329)

But the gardens closed to the public on Sunday, October 11, with a final open day of the year and as well as enjoying the autumnal trees, dahlias in the kitchen garden and the yew sundial in the garden near Warwick House, visitors learned about the trust’s winter project.

The volunteers who tend the tourist attraction want to restore the balustrade or ornamental parapet around the Countess of Warwick’s lily pond.

The trust is asking supporters to fund a baluster, at a cost of £250 each, or to contribute whatever they can. Sponsors have the option of their names being included in a public display about the restoration project.

Chairman Angus Drever said: “It has been such a difficult season, with storms Ciara and Dennis in February, followed by the Covid lockdown.

Air force personnel enjoying the gardens (42701331)
Air force personnel enjoying the gardens (42701331)

“So, it was particularly special that our new trustees and volunteers were able to welcome so many people on Sunday. We made a great start to our fundraising, with our bumper jams and jellies tombola and donations”.

Christine, who lives in Sawbridgeworth, said: “The hard work of our volunteers really shows and I am looking forward to seeing this project completed, allowing everyone who uses and visits the gardens access to viewing the beautiful waterlilies growing in the lily pond, as they would have been seen by the Countess of Warwick in the past.”

The lily pond within the sunken Italian garden is a key part of the Harold Peto legacy at the gardens. The Countess commissioned him to do a garden makeover in 1902 when she was planning to spend more of her time at her estate, rather than at Warwick Castle, her husband’s ancestral home.

The garden has been a place of repose ever since - for the Countess’ visitors, who included trade unionists, Labourites and local socialists as well as aristocrats, and the American and RAF service personnel stationed at Great Dunmow airfield on the estate after her death.

Following its rediscovery, visitors have enjoyed seeing the borders brought back to life by the volunteer gardeners and the trust is now on track to restore the balustrade, so that visitors can once again pose by the pond for pictures.

The restoration project will involve the replacement of 91 of the 134 balusters so that they will be able to hold up the coping, most of which is still sound. The new spindles will be turned from Hamstone from Somerset to match the original.

Despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the trust has squirrelled away funds from previous good years and will be able to match the funding it raises and complete the project while maintaining some reserves to see it through the rest of the pandemic.

Information on the project and how to make a donation can be found on the trust’s website www.eastonlodge.co.uk and on its Facebook page.

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