In 1926, Springhead was acquired by the painter Harold Squire, a member of 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 came across gathering moss on the downs for a local florist. Springhead was so overgrown that Woolridge had to cut his way in with a billhook when he first arrived for work.
The two Harolds got on famously. With a shared vision and energy, they created the structure of today’s garden: enlarging the mill pond to form a lake; terracing its sloping banks to reflect the iron age lynchets of Coombe Barrow to the south; and sculpting the area encircling the springs with grotto-like banks. 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 farmed and planted woodlands, Marabel, together with Woolridge, took up the task where Squire had left off, creating a magical garden in a sublime setting. Marabel also used the garden, and the Mill Room, for imaginative theatrical and musical productions: seasonal celebrations, mimes, masques, operas and children’s plays, all of which she designed and directed. Sadly, as Marabel grew older the garden again went into decline.
In 1997, Rosalind Richards, Rolf and Marabel’s daughter, returned to the family home to take on the task of restoring the garden, the spirit of the place, and adapting it to the needs of the Springhead Trust. Many trees shrubs and bulbs have been planted, borders restored and new ones created. Vistas have been opened up, paths widened, new walkways constructed and bridges have been replaced. After ten years of work, the challenge to make the garden visually interesting all year round has been met. Today, rich planting and landscaping provide variety, colour and form for every season.
Although work on the garden continues in order to make it attractive for 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 the changing light; for the noisy rush of the great millrace and the gentle ripple below the silt trap; for bird life on the water, especially the swans with their cygnets; and for children’s voices, their sound amplified across the lake.