Watlington House, Reading; a garden for the future with a link to the past

The Geoff Hill Memorial Garden at Watlington House in Reading, Berkshire is an attractive walled garden belonging to the oldest residential Grade II* house in Reading. Using archival research, the Watlington House Trust led by Trustee and garden designer Gaila Adair worked to bring the garden back to life. Borrowing from the past to create a garden fit for purpose in the 21st century they have transformed the rather uninspiring car park into a peaceful space for workers at the house, the community and for visitors. While it will not open for the National Garden Scheme in 2020 you can enjoy a virtual visit with us now:

A closer look


This lovely garden is set behind the historic Watlington House. The rear, garden facing part of the house was built in 1688 for Samuel and Anne Watlington, while the street facing part dates from 1763. Samuel Watlington served as mayor of Reading in 1695 and 1711. Since it’s completion the house and gardens have served many purposes including between 1877 and 1927 as the first home for Kendrick Girls School.

The house and garden were acquired in 1931 by a group of individuals to save the house from demolition and the garden being built on. Since then it has been run for the benefit of local charities and community groups and is now run by the Watlington House Trust.  Over the decades its users have included the Berkshire Federation of the WI, a TocH chapel, and the Girl Guides. Today there are five tenants of the house, mainly charities including the international Mills Archive (holder of the Queens Award for Voluntary Service 2019) while the community hall in the garden is used for dance groups, yoga, meetings, the University, wedding celebrations and parties.

All users have the benefit of access to the garden. However by 2010 it was little more than a muddy car park. So in 2012 the Trustees, working with the Berkshire Gardens Trust, and led by Trustee and Garden Designer Gaila Adair, decided to commission a garden which reflected the architectural heritage of the site.  The new garden was unveiled in summer 2015.

This lovely town oasis has clipped panel-pleached hornbeam, box hedging and pruned fruit trees giving it formal structure within a quadrangle design. There’s a shade walk, knot garden, and colourful herbaceous planting.

Speaking about the garden Gaila Adair says “Many plants chosen for the garden are herbs or cultivars of herbs. This gives a visual link to the apothecary heritage of the Watlington family. Many gardens of the William and Mary genre would have also been fruit producing, hence the pear espaliers, vines, quince and apple half standards. Augmented with tulips, agapanthus and irises that give all year round colour. The panel of pleached hornbeam provides symmetry and screening of the garden hall and allows light to flood between them to the quadrant seating areas.”

“The overall effect is a year round clock of production, a visual timepiece of Watlington House.”

For more about the garden click here

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