We have been carrying out a great deal of work on our island here at Chartwell recently. The island and the lake in which it can be found are very important features for us because they were created by Sir Winston Churchill himself. Although the Churchills employed an architect called Phillip Tilden to work on the house when they moved in, Winston turned down all offers from landscape designers as he wanted to oversee and carry out as much of the work as possible. Arriving at Chartwell coincided with a spell of 6 years out of Government office, giving him plenty of time to sculpt the Chartwell landscape. He was born at Blenheim Palace and had a great desire to try and recreate elements of that Capability Brown landscape. As part of this wish for a more Blenheim-like view, Churchill decided that he wanted a much grander water feature at the bottom of the Parkland and spent much of 1924 and 1925 expanding the lower lake and creating an upper lake, complete with the island. His major motive for enlarging the existing expanse of water was to “remove it from the category of ponds”! The fantastic picture from our archives below shows Sir Winston hard at work…
Last year we were given an old, vintage postcard showing a large stone urn sat on the island. That urn was at that time to be found in The Urn Garden above the Orchard but we have since returned it to its original place. In the picture below, you can see the Urn on the left as our team works around it.
The island itself had become a tad overgrown recently, so earlier on this month, Ben Brady (our new-ish Estate Gardener) and a team of volunteers consisting of Chris Sutcliffe, Len Williams and Ryan Lawrence, cleared the overgrown banks by cutting back some of the Alders (Alnus sp.) and many of the Rhododendrons, as well as removing brambles and the invasive Rhododendron ponticum. Many trailer loads of debris were removed from the site. In accordance with our composting policy, the Alder branches were placed in the woody material bay for chipping, while the brambles, perennial and annual weeds and R. ponticum material were placed either in the green bay for shredding or in the central area for burning.
The whole day was a great team effort, resulting in the job being completed quickly (despite Len taking a tumble or two into the drink as shown in the picture above!), and the island looking as it should both from the island and the shore, with improved vistas across the lake.
Incidentally, the day this work was carried out was also a record day for volunteer attendance here at Chartwell. We had 16 garden volunteers, including a selection from the Kitchen Garden, plus two volunteer Garden Stewards, making 18 in total. Here is what Chris, one of our long standing ‘vols’ had to say about it:
“This wonderfully demonstrates the strong commitment and enthusiasm which the garden volunteers have for being at Chartwell. They are drawn by the team spirit and the knowledge that they will have a rewarding and interesting day, as well as a great time too. This rubs off on to our visitors, as we all do our best to ensure that they have a great time as well.”
I wonder if any other National Trust gardens can better this total of 18 volunteers in a single day? If you can, please let us know…