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Dating back to circa 1680, Gasper Cottage is a Grade II listed building in the hamlet of Gasper, located on the outskirts of the Stourhead estate. Having originally been the seat of the Stourton family, Stourhead was bought in 1717 by wealthy London banker, Henry Hoare, who demolished the manor house to build a Neo-Palladian mansion. His son, also Henry, nicknamed ‘Henry the Magnificent’, then famously created around it one of the first examples of a picturesque English landscape garden – now a popular National Trust attraction.  

The nearby hamlet of Gasper continued to be owned by the Stourton family until 1860, when this too was acquired by the Hoare family. Originally a ‘two up, two down’ dwelling, the straw-thatched Gasper Cottage underwent various improvements under its Georgian and Victorian custodians, then remained largely unaltered until the arrival of Bella Hoare in the late 1990s.

Having grown up in nearby Gasper Mill, Bella knew the cottage as the home of Estate Manager John Trussler and his family with whom she had occasionally gone to stay as a child. When John retired and moved to Mere in 1998, Bella’s father offered the cottage to her, knowing she was keen to return home after five years living in Russia and the birth of her son, Tom, the previous year.

Following lengthy renovations including a kitchen extension, repositioned driveway, new thatch, and complete rewiring and replumbing, the young family moved in in summer 2000. The effects of the building works meant there was little of the previous garden left and, with next to no gardening knowledge at that time, Bella commissioned a basic, low-maintenance solution made mostly of grass, paved areas, and some narrow, shrub-filled beds.

Over time, Bella became keener on the garden, and what started as dabbling with a few dahlias for the village flower show graduated to a full-blown horticultural obsession. A self-confessed ‘nerd’, Bella read as much on the subject as she could find, vowing to create something a ‘cut above’ the average garden. In a meeting of her meticulous banking background and artistic flair, Bella’s approach involved both Excel spreadsheets and a painterly instinct for colour and form. The arrival of a full-time, Kew trained gardener in 2019 helped achieve her ambitions for horticultural excellence, and the garden continues to evolve today – always with an eye on new trends and concepts.  

Bella's garden timeline

1998 to 2000 – extensive building work produces substantial amounts of spoil. This is used to create level terraces on the north side of the house, where previously the ground had fallen away with the landscape.

2000 – landscapers make a functional, family-friendly garden.

2001 to 2004 – a small greenhouse and some basic raised beds are added behind the barns.

2005 – family friend Sacha Langton-Gilks helps to enhance the space with the addition of windbreak yew hedges, new beds around the house, and planting pockets to soften the terraces. Bella and her husband Boris do much of the work themselves, with a succession of gardeners helping on a half to one day a week basis.

2008 – a car accident claims the life of Bella’s husband and badly injures their son. The National Trust’s Andy Mills ensures the garden remains cared for during this year.

2009 – Bella rents the field next to the garden to plant an apple orchard.

2010 – Bella’s new partner (and later, husband) Johnnie’s enthusiasm for cars results in the enlarging of a barn to make a double garage, creating an area dubbed the ‘Secret Garden’. Brick raised beds and a formal pond are added, and the area enclosed with yew hedges and a set of wrought iron ‘tree’ gates.

2016 – the garage is knocked down to make way for an art studio which is completed in early 2017, with a new garden (known as the Studio Garden) created to wrap around it.  The wrought iron "tree" gates are repositioned and an octagonal greenhouse replaces the old.

2018 – model railway enthusiast Johnnie installs a ‘scenic route’ O gauge train track where the garden meets the meadows beyond. The sloping area behind it is planted up in a Piet Oudolf-inspired style, and the Railway Garden is born. Bella and Johnnie do much of the work themselves, marking out a 1m grid with string to enable matrix planting.

2019 – Bella takes on a full-time gardener, Jack Clutterbuck. Major work is carried out on the front garden and border against the west wall. Landscaping details such as the pergola and a retaining wall on one of the terraces (now the Hot Bed) are improved.

2020 - under the COVID lockdown restrictions Bella starts to publish videos of the garden on YouTube, available through the link above.

2021 – a new section known as the New Ambition area is created, based loosely on the modern prairie design concepts of Michael King. Willow is incorporated to improve the poor drainage in the area – the hope being that its roots will break up the compacted layers left by the previous building work. Over in the meadow, the natural wildlife pond is significantly expanded.

2022 onwards – a forest garden is under development to soften the boundary of the orchard.

2023 - A new path and steps is constructed which connects the Railway and the Studio garden areas, completing the circular walk around the garden.

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