The Newt in Somerset brings history to life

The Newt's Roman garden at Chelsea

This Spring 2024, The Newt in Somerset will bring a glimpse of the Roman Empire to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. In its third year as official headline sponsor, The Newt in Somerset’s team of architects and horticulturists have recreated a colonnaded courtyard garden inspired by the remains of those found in ancient Pompeii and the wider Naples region circa 78 CE. This peristyle colonnaded garden will be one of the most authentic reconstructions of a Roman garden ever created and the first of its type to appear at Chelsea in the show’s 111-year history.

Honouring gardening traditions in playful and innovative ways has always been at the heart of The Newt in Somerset experience. For RHS Chelsea 2024, the team at The Newt has taken inspiration from their recent reconstruction of a 4th Century AD Roman Villa found on the Somerset estate to create a peristyle courtyard garden, as would have been typical of a flourishing household at the height of the Roman Empire. An extension to a villa’s internal space, planted courtyards offered a contemplative garden room integral to the Roman home, providing light, colour, fresh air and natural fragrance.

Visitors at RHS Chelsea will be invited to step back in time and immerse themselves in the colours, fragrances and planting styles of this particular era. There will also be a true taste of Somerset hospitality on offer during the show, including a cyder stand and hospitality suite all sourced from the West Country working estate.

After the show, the planting of the Roman Courtyard Garden will be returned to Somerset while structural elements will create a temporary exhibit at Vignamaggio - a 14th century wine estate south of Florence with links to both Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa herself – the gardens of which are being restored by Patrice Taravella, the landscape architect behind The Newt’s own formal gardens.

THE ROMANS ARE COMING

Located in the main showground, The Newt in Somerset: A Roman Garden will follow the style of the 1st Century AD, maximising light and air within a compact space. Every inch will showcase the Romans’ careful eye for design and the interplay between nature and architecture. Aesthetic choices of colour, fragrance and ornamental planting will create a moment of joy and repose, whilst medicinal planting will highlight the Romans’ knowledge of plants’ health and wellbeing properties. This dual purpose still resonates today, with much to be learned by the modern gardener - knowledge that The Newt is keen to share.

The peristyle garden will feature 1,600 individual plants of 13 different varieties, informed by the popular choices of 1st Century AD. A mulberry tree will take centre stage, flanked by wild cherry and pomegranate trees on either side. Medicinal plants including chamomile and lavender have been chosen for their relaxing, soothing properties, whilst opium poppy has been selected for pain relief, thyme to relieve coughs, colds and infections and Madonna lily to treat ulcers and external burns.

From a decorative perspective, four Roman Herms (sculptures) will create a focal point with fountains placed at each corner of the garden and braziers positioned at each end. The central garden will be encircled by a water channel, effective for collecting rainwater and irrigating the plants. The walls enclosing the courtyard will be decorated with frescoes, which were typical of the period.

LEGACY OF THE GARDEN

After the show, the Roman Courtyard Garden will be transported to Tuscany as a temporary exhibit at Vignamaggio – a 14th Century wine estate south of Florence with links to both Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa herself. Following a decade-long restoration, this 65-acre estate will soon enter a new chapter, with the Renaissance villa at its centre becoming a luxury hotel, situated within a world-leading garden set to show the evolution of gardening techniques from antiquity to the Renaissance through to modern times.

GROWING A NEW GENERATION OF GARDENERS

The Newt in Somerset’s ongoing sponsorship of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show supports the work undertaken by the Royal Horticultural Society - an independent charity - including scientific research, education and community programmes that help safeguard the future of horticulture. The partnership is founded on strong mutual values which underpin both The Newt and the RHS, particularly a belief in the vital benefits and positive impact of access to nature.

Education and inspiration shape the guest experience at The Newt in Somerset - with a continued focus on inspiring the next generation of gardeners. Their garden apprenticeship programme, launched in 2020, is currently guiding three young apprentices through a two-year programme spending time in ornamental, edible, woodland and turf departments, learning the rhythm of horticulture in all its forms. One young member has just been recruited full-time into the Ornamentals team and will be part of the build team creating this year’s garden at Chelsea.

Chelsea will once again see The Newt co-host the ‘Young Horts’ Breakfast’ with the RHS. Some 200 young horticulturists from around the country are welcomed to The Newt’s hospitality suite with speeches by the RHS Director General, and The Newt’s CEO and Head Gardener. They are then taken on private tours of the show gardens, offering unique access and insight into growing a career in gardening.

Budding gardeners can access The Newt’s schools’ programme from an early age, now expanding into areas outside of the county. The estate has welcomed over 3000 children between September 2023 – September 2024 to its ‘Roman Villa Education Programme’ and is currently developing its ‘Outdoor Education Programme’, which will include a further 1100 children between September 2024 – September 2025. It hosts a Forest School and regular tours and workshops aimed at children, with under 17s visiting the gardens free with an adult member.

 A STORY OF GARDENING – FROM A BRITISH ROMAN VILLA TO MODERN TIMES

Alongside a vibrant educational programme, visitors can access an interactive history of gardens conveyed through three innovative permanent exhibits that appeal to all ages. The Roman Villa - Villa Ventorum, meaning ‘Palace of the Winds’ - opened in 2022 as a pioneering archaeological and educational experience. A life-size replica of the ruins of a Romano-British Villa dating back to 351 AD includes rooms, kitchens, a working complex of Roman baths and a vineyard garden spanning to an area of approximately 10.5 acres. The Roman Villa is located alongside an engaging, technology-led visitor centre and museum, carefully positioned over the original villa’s foundations and ruins.

Both the villa and museum offer a window into life in a Romano-British household – including the sounds, smells, and sights of daily rituals, staying true to archaeological evidence. This experience has inspired their garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024.

Also within the estate is The Story of Gardening – a subterranean centre using interactive displays, virtual reality and garden rooms to transport visitors to gardens throughout history; from the retreats of Islamic kings to Chinese philosophers, English landowners and the inhabitants of today’s living skyscrapers. Journey into the woods to discover the Beezantium, a honeyed jewel box that’s like stepping into a real life beehive. Honeycomb walls, audio guides and observation hives offer a unique insight into the fascinating life of bees.

For more about The Newt in Somerset, head over to www.thenewtinsomerset.com

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