The Dell at Bucklebury Place

May 2021

Bucklebury Place near Upper Bucklebury was developed as a small late Victorian estate from a greenfield site by Arthur Warwick Sutton (1854 – 1925) who was a partner in Sutton Seeds.  Much of what we know about the history of the Bucklebury Place gardens comes from articles in a weekly magazine called Gardening World published between 1900 and 1902. 

Arthur Sutton created the gardens around the house between 1895 and 1902 as a showcase for Sutton Seeds who were located in Reading at that time.  In particular, there was a strong emphasis on wallflowers.  Alexander Wright, his Head Gardener, said “wallflowers constituted a specialty at Bucklebury Place”.[1]  The description of the planting in the Gardening World articles is very much in keeping with the Victorian fashion of bedding plants and the use of dramatic, contrasting colours – such as bright yellow sunflowers interspersed with the dark red leaves of the castor oil plant.

Arthur Sutton’s pride and joy was a part of the garden called the Dell.  A site of about five acres, it occupies a natural dip in the land with a natural spring line.  Arthur Sutton took advantage of this to create a woodland glade with two ponds and a cascade between them   The Dell was planted with a variety of shrubs and showy flowers within a shelter belt of trees and many spring bulbs.  

Dell Lower Pond 1900.jpg

Lower Pond, Bridge and Summerhouse in the Dell, Summer 1900

Arthur Sutton sold the property in 1915 due to ill health, and it was purchased by Dr. Carl Langer who owned Bucklebury Place until 1929.  The gardens were maintained during this period and a formal rose garden was added near to one of the Dell’s entrances.  In 1929, the entire estate was purchased by Captain John Duncan Macdonald (1880 – 1943).  He turned the lower pond into a natural swimming pool and erected a changing hut nearby.  He probably added shrubs to the Dell although there are no written records to confirm this.  Captain MacDonald put Bucklebury Place up for auction in 1951.

During the subsequent three years, the estate was subdivided into smaller and smaller lots and sold to multiple owners.  In particular, the main house was divided from its land, and split into separate apartments.  The majority of the estate’s gardens eventually became the property of Lindens, which probably was the gardener’s house originally.

The Dell is believed to be of considerable significance at the county level for its historical value, its association with Arthur Sutton and Sutton Seeds and for its considerable historical community value.  There are very few examples of late Victorian designed landscapes in West Berkshire. While it is not the complete landscape as originally designed, the Dell was intended to be a separate garden within the larger grounds of Bucklebury Place, and therefore, has considerable merit in its own right.  It also was the highlight of the garden, both then and now.  The layout and hard landscaping of the Dell is original as is the main summer house.  An added bonus is the photos published in Gardening World when it was first created and planted that allows a comparison with how it looks today.

Dell Lower Pond.jpg

Lower Pond, Spring 2020

The fact that the Dell has survived is remarkable.  It has developed into a beautiful woodland glade with many of its original features. The bulbs that were planted originally have been left to multiply and now produce a dazzling spring display.  The current owner has spent a massive amount of time conserving the Dell, and it has been a labour of love to retain and enhance the special spirit of the original garden. 

[1] Fraser, J. ed.  Gardening World.  V. XVII – No. 875, Saturday, 8 June, 1901,  p. 657.