Help save the Secret Garden: why a nostalgic trip to Iford Manor is more important than ever

Filming took place on one of the Georgian terraces and in the Oriental garden. The crew shipped in more than 1,000 extra plants to recreate the garden’s lush and romantic qualities as depicted by a watercolour hanging up in the Cartwright-Hignetts’ hallway. The watercolour was painted in 1907 by Beatrice Parsons, a friend of Peto.

Marianne and William were invited on set, and in between takes relaxed with the cast. The skill involved in filming was an eye-opener for them, admits William, 37. “I used to think this sort of thing was all a bit trite, but having watched them at work, I’m now full of admiration for their sheer professionalism.”

The filming was followed by another big coup for the couple. In 2019 they persuaded Troy Scott Smith, one of Britain’s best-known head gardeners, to leave the exalted Sissinghurst Castle garden for Iford.

“We were delighted because we ‘get’ Troy and he gets us and our plans for the garden and we feel lucky to have someone here with such expertise,” says Marianne, 37. “Though I suspect Troy was as surprised as anyone when he decided to apply for the job as Iford’s head gardener.”

Up until Scott Smith’s arrival, William’s father, John, 81, had managed Iford’s garden, which encompasses 2.5 acres of formal area and 7.5 acres of orchards and walled gardens, all sitting inside a 900-acre estate.

John had taken on the task when he married William’s mother, Elizabeth, who bought Iford in 1965, aged 25, because, as William puts it, “she was in need of somewhere to put the family furniture she had inherited”. The garden had been badly neglected for years, partly because of a shortage of gardeners and also because preserving historic houses was not high on 1960s society’s list of priorities.

Elizabeth, now 80, set about restoring the garden. In 2016, William and Marianne, who have a toddler son Horatio, took on the task to continue to restore, conserve and enhance the garden.

It is not an easy mission because Peto was a well-travelled plantsman as well as an architect. In between designing gardens for royalty and aristocrats, he brought back plenty of plants and ancient artefacts for Iford, where he enhanced the Georgian terraces, the foundation for his design, with sets of stairs and walls built in the local Westwood stone.

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