A Jewel in the Undercliff Crown

Haddon Lake House built on what was formerly part of the pleasure grounds of the Victorian mansion, Old Park, is a contemporary house and extensive garden, that has been restored to glory by award winning garden designer Phillippa Lambert and her husband Stephen and is a testament to great design and sympathetic landscaping and planting.

The site that Haddon Lake House stands on has always had gardens at its heart. From its earliest days in the 1820s when it was a ‘picturesque garden’ developed by Thomas Haddon, the builder of Old Park and the still standing walled gardens, then subsequently improved by later owner William Spindler who established fountains and cascades, brought fresh water to the surrounding villages, as well as planting a million trees on his Undercliff lands. The ‘subtropical’ site bloomed until it fell into dereliction on the death of Spindler in 1898, remaining neglected until 1947 when the Thornton family redeveloped the site into a hotel. In 1975 the lake site transformed into the Tropical Bird Park until 1996, when the attraction closed, leaving it once again to become overgrown.

Phillippa and Stephen first saw the very neglected site in 2001 and with the help of local architects, Rainey Petrie, proposed a new build of architectural significance as a way forward for a development in this ‘no build’ zone. Planning permission was granted in 2002 with the proviso that the lake was dredged, the water features worked again, original paths and planting areas were reinstated and all the bird cages were removed. The landscape restoration was completed in the next two years and the house followed in 2005.

Phillippa says, “Haddon Lake House goes back to the philosophy of ancient gardens in sustaining the body as well as the soul. It’s a magical place in situation and structure that is more than the sum of its parts. The garden is able to lift the spirit and offers a haven in an increasingly hectic and oppressive world.” As well as the lake, full of rudd and roach, lit at night, and with a restored Victorian gravity fed fountain, there is the walled garden where fruits and vegetables are grown organically. Annual plants are grown there too for their nectar to lure beneficial insects into the garden, creating abundant planting within the structure of the paths. Phillippa goes on, “The site has good green credentials, the walled garden is run on organic lines and rainwater is harvested for irrigation. The food that we grow keeps us virtually self-sufficient for most of the year and keeps the air miles down!”

There is also an ‘ungardened’ part of the site in the wild woods which boast old original trees dating back to the Victorian scheme and dark, damp, sloped secret areas. In contrast to this there is the contemporary courtyard with its Japanese influences, carried through into the house, which not only acts as an extension of the house, but is as well a contrast to the richness of the walled garden.  Phillippa has a maintenance philosophy for the whole of the garden that would suit even the amateurs amongst us. She explains, “HLH is not an ‘expert’ garden and doesn’t try for technical perfection in any sense. It’s only as good as two busy people can make it in their spare time and we have no regular outside help except for tree surgery and other specialist work. ‘Make do and mend’ is the keynote and most plants are grown from seeds and cuttings.”

The garden is open during the summer, by arrangement, for group guided tours of ten or more visitors, with donations accepted in aid of the Earl Mountbatten Hospice and with Phillippa’s clients ranging from the Daily Telegraph and Shalfleet Manor to Ningwood Manor, you can be sure of a treat if you visit this hidden gem.