Once part of the estate for Brook House, the gardens include the three acres of garden around the original house; Little Brook’s garden that has many lovely specimen plants and the brook running through it, and Walden’s, which has some of the Victorian ponds that formed part of the original water features of the gardens.
Brook House and most of the village of Brook were purchased by Mr. Charles Seely, a wealthy Nottinghamshire coal mine owner, in 1859, and it was he who began the building of the expansive gardens that are now shared by the properties that have been built on the estate.
The Georgian residence was built in 1720 upon the site of the old manor house where the first Tudor king was entertained in 1499 by Dame Joan Bowerman, whose family (the Clamorgans) were the lords of the manor here until the 18th century. Henry VII gave his hostess his silver drinking horn as well as a promise of a buck each year from the royal forest at Carisbrooke.
A radical in politics, Charles Seely defended the Chartists from his seat in the House of Commons. In 1864 he gave much displeasure to Queen Victoria by inviting Garibaldi to England and entertaining him at Brook House. The popular Italian hero not only planted a ‘Tree of Liberty’ at Farringford, but also one still to be seen in the gardens of Brook House.
Charles Seely made considerable improvements to Brook House with its tiled roof guarded by ornamental parapets and walls partially covered with Virginia creeper. Today the Virginia creeper covers much of the eastern wing, but the tiled roof is no more, along with the top floor and a substantial section of the house.
Nowadays the house is an L shape with a deceptive ‘false’ frontage as you approach from the drive. Walk through the archway that was once the front door and you can see that buttresses now hold up the front wall, and a wood store is within their recesses. The windows you see to the right of the entrance are just filled with glass on black painted walls.
The remainder of the house had been divided into three separate dwellings when the current owners bought it thirteen years ago, but they have now purchased all three and converted it back into one house. The same applies to the garden of Brook House, and the three gardens can be easily distinguished. The largest garden skirts the Virginia creeper covered ‘Eastbrook’ and has large beds of yellow roses and purple lavender with an attractive summerhouse in one corner.
“Chris Barnes did the design for the garden here,” said Belinda Walters who owns the house with husband Geoff. “He made the beds big and sweeping and this garden is now more in keeping with the scale of the house – it looks less like a football field,” she laughed.
Next to this is the former garden of Southbrook, again laid to large colourful flower beds and around these two gardens runs the stunning sunken rose walk that forms a ‘C’ shape. Overhung by foliage and full of luxurious planting, you can just imagine the Seely family and their friends promenading in the shade in their finery on summer afternoons.
Further to the west is the latest garden acquired by the family, left mainly to wild meadow with climbing roses planted over the stumps of the trees that used to overshadow it. And to the south of the gardens and rose walk is the woodland walk.
To the east of the rose walk is the well-stocked orchard, which along with lots of different apple trees has pear trees, currants, a fig and an olive tree.
“I make a lot of apple juice and apple chilli jelly and Geoff makes cider. ‘Grumpy’s Scrumpy’, as we call it,” said Belinda.
“We’ve also put in native hedging with help from Tony Ridd that is just beginning to look wonderful,” she enthused. “And we’re going to put in an asparagus bed.”
Next to the kitchen is the vegetable garden, under a spreading plum tree. “It produces very dark black little plums that make wonderful chutneys,” said Belinda.
“This is the bit I fiddle in mostly. I grow cannelloni and broad beans, that I love to use fresh in dishes.” Rhubarb, horseradish, gooseberries, lots of tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, celery, herbs, squash, courgettes and ‘salad stuff’, jostle for space in beds and growing sacks and chillis and aubergines grow in the greenhouse.
If you would like to see the gardens for yourself - book a stay at Brook House on the Isle of Wight, which offers a range of self-catering accommodation.