In 1926 Springhead was acquired by Harold Squire, a painter from the London Group. He took on a place that was run down and wildly overgrown. Old photographs show a garden bleak and windswept with few trees. Squire recruited a talented gardener, Harold Woolridge, whom he found gathering moss on the downs for a local florist. Springhead was so overgrown Woolridge had to cut his way in with a billhook when he first arrived for work. The two Harolds got on famously. With joint imagination and energy they laid down the ‘bones’ of today’s garden, terracing the sloping banks to reflect the iron age lynchets above in sympathy with the surrounding landscape and sculpting the area which now circles the springs at the head of the garden to contain the clearest water bubbling out from under the chalk within combes of local greenstone. Many trees were planted and long borders constructed. These tasks were accomplished over four short years- until Squire met with sudden financial disaster and was obliged to leave broken hearted.
In 1933 Rolf and Marabel Gardiner came to live at Springhead. While Rolf ran the estate and planted woodlands, Marabel, together with Woolridge, took up the task where Squire had left off, creating a magical garden in a sublime setting. Theirs was an inspired partnership. They succeeded despite having few mechanical tools to assist them – but were fortunate in the help of two under gardeners. And they could summon abundant muck and hazel sticks from the Farm. Marabel used the garden for imaginative celebrations, festivals, masques, opera, children’s plays all of which she designed and directed. Sadly a second period of decline set in with Marabel’s old age and the garden became once more completely overrun with paths collapsed.
In 1997 Rosalind Richards (Rolf and Marabel’s daughter) returned to the family home to take on the tasks of restoring the spirit and the design of the garden and of adapting it to the aims and needs of the Springhead Trust. After ten years of work, the challenge to make the garden interesting all year round has been met. A rich variety of plantings and landscaping provide variety, colour and form for every season.
Many trees and shrubs and bulbs have been planted, borders restored and new ones created, vistas have been opened up, paths widened, new walkways constructed and bridges replaced, secret places discovered and made inviting. Although work on the garden continues in order to fit it for use by groups of all ages, the essential atmosphere and magic have been preserved, especially the sense of mystery at the springs. Since the garden is built around the lake, water is the dominant theme of Springhead – for drinking, for wonderful views and reflections in changing light, the sound of the great millrace and the small fall below the silt trap, bird life on the water, childrens’ voices, their sound amplified as it crosses the lake.