Those who follow me on Instagram will know that I recently visited the Hill Garden and Pergola near Hampstead Heath.
Pergolas have been around for hundreds of years combining both utilitarian and aesthetic functions. They provide support for climbing plants, shade from the sun, vertical height, and are a way of joining two areas together.
Often used in France and Italy, they did not become popular in Britain until the nineteenth century. Gertrude Jekyll in Garden Ornament, 1916, was surprised: ‘It need not have taken centuries for us to perceive how conveniently pergolas could be suited to every degree and kind of gardening from the highest expression of architectural refinement as shown in the work of Harold Peto to the smallest erection of posts or even poles in a cottage garden.’
Harold Peto ran a successful London architectural practice with Ernest George until ill-health forced him to retire. He moved to the South of France where he became a garden designer – where better to discover the versatility of the pergola.
On returning to England, Peto designed a Pergola for his old schoolfriend, Willie James, at West Dean near Chichester.
At over 30 meters long, it is made of stone pillars linked by wooden struts and is smothered by clematis and roses in summer.
But perhaps Peto’s greatest pergola was the one he built for himself at Iford Manor in Wiltshire. It was made by local masons from Westwood stone.
Another great garden designer of the Edwardian age was Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens had spent a year at Peto’s architectural practice in London before opening his own office – he also stayed with Peto at Iford. But unlike Peto’s preference for classical stone pillars for a pergola, Lutyens chose the vernacular style.
The wooden pergola at Hestercombe was designed by Lutyens in 1904 and provides a boundary to the Great Plat as well as linking the garden to the countryside beyond.
And now to The Hill Garden and Pergola on the edge of Hampstead Heath.
William Lever bought The Hill in 1904. A year later he commissioned the garden designer, Thomas Mawson, to lay out the garden.
Mawson added a terrace to the front of the house but this created two problems. Not only were the greenhouses now visible at the bottom of the slope but even worse, the general public could peer into the garden from the right of way. Mawson’s brilliant solution was to raise the level of the gardens and build the magnificent Pergola.
After Lever was made a baronet in 1911, he bought the adjacent Heath Lodge. With no direct link between the two gardens, Mawson extended the pergola and built a stone bridge over the right of way.
And in 1914, another neighbouring property came up for sale, Cedar Lodge. It, too, was bought by Lord Leverhulme – again the house was demolished and the Pergola extended. The Pergola now stretched to over 230 meters.
After Lord Leverhulme’s death, the property was sold to Lord Inverforth. Inverforth bequeathed the house to Manor House Hospital but the gardens fell into decline.
After a long period of neglect, London County Council bought the Pergola and the land which had once belonged to Heath Lodge.
In 1986, the City of London became responsible for the site and with great vision, they restored the gardens and pergola.
There are two other gardens near Hampstead Heath that could be combined with a visit to The Hill Garden:
Kenwood House which is free to visit and belongs to English Heritage
Fenton House which belongs to the National Trust but is not open every day.