History and development

Shandy Hall Gardens – history and development

Shandy Hall was built as a medieval long hall in about 1430. It would almost certainly have had some sort of garden then to supply the inhabitants with herbs and vegetables – which means the garden and grounds have evolved over nearly 600 years.

The first written evidence of gardening activity here is in a letter by Laurence Sterne, who was an enthusiastic gardener. He had ambitiously planted peaches and nectarines in the garden of his former home in the vicarage of Sutton-on-Forest. He continued his horticultural interests at ‘Shandy Hall’ as it then came to be known. The lightning-struck sweet chestnut tree at the entrance to the wild garden could well date to the 18th century and was probably the limit of the garden in his day.  Soon after Sterne came to live here in 1760 he wrote to a friend ‘if you honour me with a letter it will find me ether pruning or digging or trenching or weeding or hacking up old roots or wheeling away rubbish.’

After Sterne’s death there was a succession of inhabitants about whose gardening activities we know little, but in the later 19th century the house was divided into two dwellings and the east end became a farmhouse.

The development of the garden takes its next leap forward when the Laurence Sterne Trust was established in 1967 and Kenneth and Julia Monkman took up residence after a long programme of work on the building. While Kenneth devoted himself to his collection and the study of Sterne, Julia Monkman set about creating the gardens in their present form. She wrote “When I came to live here in 1970 I could have written a similar letter (to Laurence Sterne’s) for the garden was again a wilderness, and hacking and removing rubbish filled my days.

The old walled garden on the west side of the house was an entanglement of barbed wire and nettles. After clearing it was ploughed and a lawn was sown round an ancient plum, a lilac and a large yew tree, and into the small orchard at the bottom. A remnant of a raised bed at the foot of the lightning blasted sweet chestnut, in the South West corner gave rise to a plan to continue with similar beds along the foot of the stone boundary walls. They were extended to form two beds between the main lawn and the orchard.

The area behind the barn which had been used since 1900 as a stack-yard was ploughed and planted with potatoes. As time went on vegetables gave way to another lawn with a central sundial, bordered by beds of cottage garden perennials under-planted with tulips.

A tree fringed, long disused stone quarry adjoins the old garden. This was an impenetrable jungle. Gradually it has been cleared. Shrubs, bulbs and wild flowers have been planted and grass paths wind about its undulation leading to retired seats.”

This quarry garden was opened in the 1990s adding a further acre to the gardens. Much work on this and other projects was done by Simon Lloyd-Jones, who worked for 14 years as the Shandy Hall gardener. The garden became a popular and well known attraction in its own right.

When Julia Monkman retired in 2004, the Laurence Sterne Trust decided that what little money was left needed to be spent on its main purpose of promoting the works of Laurence Sterne, and the paid gardener was laid off.

Since then the continued existence of the garden is due solely to the work of volunteers.


Main garden areas

Front Garden

The appearance of the garden at the front of Shandy Hall has changed little since the very earliest illustrations of the house. Box-edged beds enclose roses and white violas following spring tulips and forget-me-nots. Two old variegated holly trees flank the front door, and New Dawn roses climb over the front walls.

Barn Garden

Behind the old granary (a former barn from the days when Shandy Hall was a farmhouse, now Wolfson Cottage and the Gallery)  is the Barn Garden, a square lawn with a central sundial, roses and cottage-garden perennials in wide borders.

Orchard and Walled Garden

Through a small apple orchard is a Walled Garden, where a major feature is the large sweet chestnut tree, probably dating from the 18th Century but killed by lightning in 1911, and now covered with a Clematis Montana.

Wild Garden

Next to this tree is the entrance to a further acre of woodland in a former stone quarry, known now as the Wild Garden.  Though all parts of the garden are managed for wildlife, this area has the most natural feel.  Meandering mown paths lead past meadow areas as well as some larger specimen plants, with many bulbs and hellebores in the spring. It is a good place for a picnic, a nature walk or for quietly sitting and listening to the birdsong.

Press article 2016

Shandy Hall Garden

Shandy Hall Garden: Through the seasons

Shandy Hall Garden:Wildlife