Meet Adam Streeter, Estate Manager at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, he recalls here how the family stumbled upon the property and how work has progressed. He is the son of owner Penny Streeter OBE.
How did you come across Leonardslee?
My wife and I were about to buy a house around the corner and I decided to get my mother’s opinion. However, on the journey there, she disappeared, only to re-emerge an hour later. She had stopped at a ’For Sale’ sign on the edge of a piece of land and being the inquisitive type, she called the number on the board and asked to be sent the details. We’d never heard of Leonardslee before, so you can imagine our surprise as we went through the brochure - and promptly booked a viewing the following day! Needless to say my house hunting trip hadn’t ended the way I thought it would!
What were your first thoughts?
We were all blown away! I couldn’t believe I’d been living around the corner for the past two years and didn’t know that this place existed. Immediately, we started exploring the history and planning what we could do with the estate, should we take it on. It was clear the job was going to be a mammoth task, but it was impossible not to get giddy with excitement!
You initially hoped it would open at the start of Spring 2018?
We were tempted to open-up the gardens immediately and run guided tours. Many people expressed a desire to see the lakes and gardens in its wild state. It was like Jurassic Park, in that parts of the garden were completely overgrown and the lakes had become clogged with weeds and algae. W e needed to ensure that grounds are safe and accessible for visitors, so the opening date was pushed back. Due to the sheer amount of work required, to both the buildings and the gardens, we have decided to reopen in January 2019.
How wild had the estate become?
It’s only from photographs that I know that Leonardslee was once manicured within an inch of its life! It had been seven years since the gardens closing and in the intervening years, the rock garden became so overgrown that our gardening team was finding hidden pathways as they trimmed back the hedges.
Were you restricted in terms of what you could cut back or remove?
As a Grade 1 listed garden, we’ve needed to be careful and outlined a plan for improvements. We’ve been fortunate in that we spoke to gardeners who worked here in the past, one of whom provided us with a handwritten record of 1,600 plants, which has been very useful.
We have a team of 13 dedicated gardeners who have been carefully working in all kinds of weather, over a miserable winter, to catalogue the collection of nearly 10,000 trees and shrubs and trace their history. It’s been a challenge, as much of the flora is rare, and in some instances possibly unique. One such is the critically endangered Abies Nebrodensis (Sicilian Fir) and we are now sharing seedlings with Kew Gardens to preserve the species, as only 30 are left in the wild.