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About Waterperry

The heritage of the horticultural school, run by the redoubtable Beatrix Havergal with her partner Avice Sanders, remains at the core of what we do at Waterperry with the sharing of knowledge of staff with visitors and apprentices alike.

The gardens themselves are evidence of Beatrix’ horticultural virtuosity, in particular the classical herbaceous border. This remains an object of admiration to visitors by virtue of the gardeners’ continuing faithfulness to its original conception. Although the teaching school left its mark on the gardens, these were principally established for educational purposes, including the striking ‘living catalogue’ of herbaceous plants. Yet, since the closure of the school, extensive developments have taken place in the gardens under the auspices of the present owners,  far beyond their scope when purchased in 1971.

The gardens now occupy 8 acres. Bernard Saunders and Mary Spiller were responsible for this development through their combination of artistic and horticultural expertise. This has resulted in a number of planted spaces that bring together geometrical and aesthetic principles with brilliant plant selection. The result is an uplifting and often surprising experience for visitors. These elements will remain uppermost in developments that are currently in the design stage and as the gardens continue to develop in the future.

We welcome you to Waterperry Gardens and hope that you will discover the spirit of Waterperry with us.

Beatrix Havergal, 1951, admiring a prize Royal Sovereign strawberry plant.

Beatrix Havergal & Waterperry

Beatrix Havergal and Avice Sanders became friends in the early 1920s whilst on the staff of Downe House School. With the headmistress’ blessing they departed in September 1927 to establish the gardening school that Beatrix had dreamed of running. They rented a small cottage and 2 acres of walled gardens in the grounds of Pusey House near Faringdon where they received their first students. Their prospectus stated that ‘the training will consist of a theoretical and thoroughly practical training in the various branches of horticulture, including soils and manures, glasshouse management, pruning and garden construction’.

In the early days before they established Waterperry Horticultural School, it was the willingness to surmount adversity with great fortitude and common sense that showed Miss Havergal to be a very singular woman of formidable determination.

Shovels at the ready, Beatrix and students select the right tools for the task. Pusey 1931

Waterperry And The War Years

The breakthrough came in the form of an enquiry made by a wealthy Swiss academic, Professor Reinhart. He prophesied a sound future for Miss H’s enterprise, telling her, “I see you in a large rectangular country house among trees, Miss Havergal. Look for it.” In 1931 came news that Magdalen College Oxford were looking for new tenants for Waterperry House, near Wheatley – the country house that the professor had prophesied. Miss H took over the Waterperry lease in September 1932 and spent the first five years preparing the land, felling and clearing trees, building glasshouses and improving the soil for production.

The Prophecy

With the outbreak of World War II Waterperry was turned by Miss H into a market gardening operation, producing much-needed food. The task was to keep the school operating as a going concern, whilst adding to the war effort by accommodating the arrival of the Women’s Land Army personnel. They were soon put to work ploughing and digging for victory.

Land Army girls joined the existing staff and students and gardening courses were held on the last Saturday of the month called ‘Dig For Victory Demonstrations’ to teach people how to grow their own food. By now Waterperry had become an established and well-respected school.

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