The manor house at Gravetye was built in 1598 during the last few years of the rein of Queen Elizabeth I and has hosted a long list of custodians over the years. William Robinson was certainly the most well known, who first created this beautiful garden in the late 19th century. But probably the one of the most influential owners of the manor was Peter Herbert.
He bought the manor in 1958, only 25 years after Robinson’s death, and set about turning Gravetye into one of the finest hotels and restaurants in the world. Very little had been done to the garden during and immediately after the Second World War, and so the mess which Mr. Herbert inherited must have been quite intimidating.
He would often tell the story of how much he loved using a scythe and soon after his exiting purchase of the manor he went out in to the surrounding jungle to start clearing. After a few hours’ work, his scythe hit a solid lump and after further investigations he discovered Robinson’s sundial, which had been buried by brambles and ash trees for nearly two decades.
I remember him telling this story several times and the twinkle of excitement in his eye as he told it was the best part. He spent the next 45 years rediscovering and restoring Robinson’s garden, and much of the structure we see the garden in today, we owe to Mr. Herbert.
Over recent years, his passion and knowledge of Gravetye was invaluable and his generosity with that knowledge was immense. I was lucky enough to enjoy many long conversations with him which have helped us greatly to progress with the gardens in the most sensitive way possible.
Last week was this great man’s funeral and his presence is sadly missed around the whole estate. It was a privilege to have briefly known such a charming and charismatic man and it is so special for us all at Gravetye to continue working on his legacy. This was a man who had perfected the art of enjoying the finest things life had to offer and the spirit of what he created at Gravetye lives on for all to enjoy.
Words by Tom, photographs by Martin