The Gardens of Easton Lodge comprise formal gardens and a tree glade designed by Harold Peto, the Edwardian garden designer, for the Countess of Warwick; a walled kitchen garden dating back to the 18th century; and areas where flowers grow wild, in particular magnificent carpets of snowdrops and aconites in early spring, then daffodils and foxgloves.
Harold Peto’s gardens
The Gardens of Easton Lodge are the only example in East Anglia of the work of the Edwardian garden designer, Harold Peto. Peto originally trained as an architect and brought to Easton Lodge his passion for Italianate, French and Japanese designs, including many architectural features. Peto’s 1902 designs for the Countess of Warwick included formal lawns, a sunken Italian garden, a yew walk, a treehouse, a glade and a Japanese garden. Today, they continue to form the outline of the Gardens, which the Trust is restoring as funds allow.
Some of Peto’s iconic work sits within the garden and surrounds of Warwick House, but with the permission of the owners can be seen by visitors to the Gardens on Open Days. These include a cobbled courtyard and fountain; and formal square stone beds with columns on the back-front lawn.
Others of Peto’s features reverted to nature or were lost after World War II when the Gardens were left untended. The Glade has filled out, with some walnut trees probably planted by squirrels. The limes in lime wood, which were pleached, now tower and enclose the gardens, providing good foraging for bats and bees. The Japanese Garden has largely been lost. The Trust is working to build on Peto's legacy with new planting.
Most of Peto’s other garden designs are in the West Country although he also designed gardens at Garinish Island, County Cork and in some privately owned villas on the French Riviera. His own garden, Iford Manor near Bradford-on-Avon, is privately owned but open to the public on a regular basis.
The Italian Garden
Peto’s Italian garden was the centrepiece in his garden design. It includes a 30m long water lily pond, surrounded by stone balustrades, and is set within flower beds and borders. Its wide gracious steps and its paving were from honey coloured Ham Hall stone. The Edwardian planting in the garden provided both structure and colour. The Trust’s volunteers work to ensure that the Italian garden is colourful throughout the seasons. Landsec funded the restoration of the one set of stone steps in use in 2019; and the Trust fundraised and completed the restoration of the balustrade around the lilypond in 2021. The Trust will prioritise further replacement of stonework in the Italian garden as funds permit.
The Peto treehouse
The Trust has recreated Peto’s treehouse, so visitors can climb up and appreciate the Gardens from above. Peto designed the treehouse to give the Countess her own tree-top entertaining space taking inspiration from the 19th century Parisian fashion for treehouse restaurants. The treehouse sits on stilts around the original oak tree, and has views down the lime avenue with its swathes of daffodils in the springtime, sweet smelling lime blossom beloved of bees, in the summer, and autumn colour.
The Walled Kitchen Garden
In its heyday, Easton Lodge’s large 1.2 acre walled kitchen garden supported the Countess of Warwick’s many weekend house parties, from its wealth of fruit and vegetables. It had greenhouses and fruit trees trained against the walls, in glass structures heated by the sun and by boilers.
The Trust has restored its shape, with its old Bulmer tile-edged paths; peaches, nectarines, apricots and pears growing against the walls; and apples and pears in great variety lining the paths and walls. The walled garden is once again producing soft fruit and vegetables and cut flowers and the Trust sells its seasonal produce at Open Days and uses it in its delicious homemade cakes and soup.
The walled garden is also a riot of colour through the seasons from its fruit tree blossom, herbs and border flowers (including a lovely dahlia border) and pumpkins in the autumn.
The Glade and Stirling walk
Peto’s Glade, originally lined with pine, lime and poplar trees and with areas laid out as Japanese gardens, leads down to a large lily covered fishing lake, now used by Dunmow Fishing Club. Over the years many additional trees have been added, turning it into a colourful and varied arboretum. The Glade includes the Stirling Memorial Walk which commemorates the RAF servicemen and women who lost their lives in World War II, flying from Great Dunmow Airfield, which abutted the gardens. The USAAF 386th Bomb Group were stationed in the estate around the Gardens and used the airfield until they moved into France on D-Day. Thereafter the RAF 620 and 190 Squadrons took over the estate and airfield. The RAF Stirling Memorial Walk, contains tree varieties which commemorate the nations of the servicemen and women.
The tall trees shimmer with new leaves in the Spring and display a full pallet of Autumn colours. The Glade is also home to a wide range of wild flora and fauna, including wildflowers, fungi, birds, bats and hares.
A Peto rill and rill pond has been made into more of a feature, with a stumpery and Japanese planting in the area. Near Peto's original Japanese tea-house beside the lake, a new Japanese garden is taking shape.