Waterperry Gardens – Everything you need to know

This summer we’ve been staycationing and as many of the local National Trust places have been fully booked by the time we’ve thought about organising ourselves, we’ve finally ticked off a number of well known horticultural gems in Oxfordshire instead. And that has included Waterperry Gardens, near Oxford. 

This is a complete guide to visiting Waterperry Gardens, Oxfordshire. From the history to the present day.

Waterperry Gardens – History

Waterperry Gardens was the brainchild of Beatrix Havergal and her partner, Avice Sanders. The pair met whilst they were staff at Downe House School during the twenties and in 1927, they left to start a gardening school at Pusey House near Faringdon. The school was founded on just £250 and the school supplemented its income by growing produce. 

Waterperry Gardens - The Weekend Tourist

In 1931, Magdalen College Oxford started looking for new tenants for Waterperry House near Wheatley and in 1932 Havergal and Sanders moved in and would later buy the garden. The pair spent five years prepping the land, felling trees, building glasshouses and improving the soil before opening the site as a school. 

Just as WWII broke out, Waterperry was turned into a market garden, growing as much food as possible – a leader in the Dig For Victory movement. The Women’s Land Army were soon stationed at the gardens and Dig For Victory Demonstrations took place on the last Saturday of every month, teaching people how to grow their food. 

Beatrix Havergal is a horticultural icon. At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, she won countless gold medals for her Royal Sovereign strawberries and Waterperry’s herbaceous borders are some of the longest and prestigious in the country. 

Havergal and Sanders continued to run the school until 1970s. Avice died aged 75 in 1970, and Beatrix decided to put the estate up for sale in 1971, hoping to secure a buyer who would continue with the school. The School of Philosophy and Economic Science bought the estate in August 1971. Havergal later died in 1980 and is buried at church near Waterperry. 

The School of Philosophy and Economic Science was founded by Leon MacLaren who was inspired by 19th economist, Henry George, who believed that nature belongs equally to all humanity, in 1930s. It continues to teach courses across a wide variety of philosophical and economic subjects through retreats held at the gardens.

What you can expect to find today at Waterperry Gardens 

There’s now over eight acres to explore, bringing together several different planting areas. 

Rock Gardens – Known as Sebbs after Miss Ebbs who originally planted this area with lilies, it’s now a haven for bulbs. 

Herbaceous Border – The herbaceous border is the everlasting stamp of Beatrix Havergal who inspired by the planting of Gertrude Jekyll created these large swathes of perennials which use different colours to create form and impact without using shrubs.  The display looks at its best between May and October. 

Island Beds – Created by Alan Bloom in 1968, these island beds bucked the trend for long borders viewed from one side – but these could be viewed all the way around. 

Waterlily Canal and Miranda’s Border – At the top of this calm and reflective lily-filled pond, stands Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (ironic I suppose.) 

The Formal Garden – This was one of our favourite areas and was designed by Saunders and Spiller in 1986.  The garden includes a Tudor knot garden surrounded by striking topiary pyramids and a sculpture of girl holding a lamp at the centre. 

Riverside Walk – walk by River Thame.

Walled Garden 

Rose Garden 

Other need to knows 

  • Open 10am – 5.30pm April to October / 10am – 5pm November to March 
  • Adults £8.50 / Children £6.00 
  • Tearoom – during Covid, there’s plenty of outdoor seating. Tables inside need to be booked in advance. 
  • Parking onsite  
  • Address: Waterperry Gardens, Near Wheatley, Oxfordshire, England. OX33 1JZ

Do check out the website to plan your visit: https://www.waterperrygardens.co.uk/

If you’re looking for other places to visit, why not read three places to visit post-lockdown.

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