The Forgotten Garden: The Pergola

 
Copyright Kim Lightbody

Copyright Kim Lightbody

 

The Pergola is so frozen in time, so evocative of an era, you can almost hear the champagne fizzing into a tower of coupes amid the chattering hum of London’s Edwardian elite. The series of dramatic walkways, linked terraces, pavilions, balustrades, sweeping steps and bridges were once the playground of Lord Leverhulme, a summertime stage for his parties and entertaining. Having bought mansion house The Hill on the western edge of Hampstead Heath in London, the entrepreneur (who manufactured soap, his company going on much later to become the omnipresent Unilever) was struck by the idea of an extravagant raised garden. He enlisted landscape architect Thomas H Mawson to realise his whim and work began in 1905, using the soil excavated from the tunnelling of the Northern Line down the road.

Mawson – who designed gardens in Cumbria such as Belle Vue Park, Rydal Hall and Graythwaite Hall, as well as Dyffryn Gardens in Wales – came up with the Italianate structure that would continue to grow and morph over the following decade. Mawson’s vision was a romantic one: The Pergola seems to emerge from the landscape, like an enormous trellis intended to be consumed by the creeping climbers that have slowly sent out their tendrils. And at the same time, the structure is for people; it elevates its visitors, allowing them the most unexpected and spectacular vantage points across London. It’s now somewhat overgrown and timeworn; the ghosts of Lord Leverhulme’s parties have been joined by lost tourists, intrepid Londoners and curious garden hunters. You too should go, before the plants swallow it whole.

The Pergola and Hill Garden, Hampstead Heath, NW3 7EX

 
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The ghosts of Lord Leverhulme’s parties have been joined by lost tourists, intrepid Londoners and curious garden hunters

 
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