The Formal Garden is a ‘mirrored’ area of lawns, tulip trees, footpaths and herbaceous beds. The central path leads down to the circular bed containing display beds and surrounded by yew hedges.
The architect who designed Clifton Hill House, Isaac Ware, is very likely to have considered landscaping for the garden. He believed that “A large house, where there is ground, was never designed without the thought of a garden at the same time”.
Sadly, no records of the design survive, but Ware was a known proponent of the ‘Arcadian Wilderness’ landscape popular at the time.
Built into one of the embankments is a WW2 Air Raid Shelter, which was used by the occupants of the house when it was a women’s hall of residence. Founded in 1876, as University College Bristol, the University of Bristol was the first higher education institute in England to admit women on an equal basis to men.
The Central Circle provides a space at the heart of the garden for people to gather and is ideally placed to provide the best views of the house above, and informal garden, woodland and turret below. The planting has been chosen to reflect the wildflower meadows that it borders but is given a ‘sense of place’ and importance by the encircling Yew hedge.
The informal garden reflects architect Isaac Ware’s passion for Arcadian Wilderness.
This passion was mirrored by later resident, the famous author John Addington Symonds. As a child, John Addington Symonds wrote at length of his first impression of the garden which so enchanted him, “Four great tulip trees, covered with golden blossoms, met our eyes…Between them rose two gigantic copper beeches, richly contrasted with the bright green…Birds were singing, as they only sing in old town gardens…The mingled perfume of musk and rose pervades my memory when I think of that day”.
Sent away to school at Harrow, Symonds would implore his sister to “send me some copper beech leaves” as a tangible memento of the garden he so loved.
The new garden features two sections of wildflower meadow planting. The meadows include many pollinator-friendly native plant species, and have given an increase in biodiversity. The seed mix is called ‘Purple Haze’ and is “predominantly white, with spikes and billows of mauve and blue and flashes of pink and purple for contrast. This meadow develops a very naturalistic look and if left uncut provides great late season seed heads for birds. It also responds really well to a late June mid-season cut which results in beautiful fresh flowering impact right up until late November.”
Water has been reintroduced to the garden in the form of a wildlife pond; and is home to newts, frogs and a host of invertebrates.
Hedgehog Friendly Campus
The University of Bristol gained a gold accreditation in the UK-wide Hedgehog Friendly Campus Awards for the year 2021-22. Students and staff at Clifton Hill House will showcase some examples of the work being done to help hedgehogs in the gardens owned and looked after by the University.
The Hedgehog Friendly Campus accreditation scheme, funded by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, recognises the large impact that Universities can have on hedgehog populations due to the large expanses of land they own and the pressure they exert on the natural environment.