Restoration and conservation

In 1999 Shortmead House stood in five acres of wooded overgrown land. A matted undergrowth of bramble, thistle, ivy, snowberry, and ground elder choked any previous domestic planting. The half acre lake was a muddy puddle filled with debris and the orchard and kitchen garden were very neglected. But beneath the undergrowth there was evidence of former care.

The plan

Presented with the daunting prospect of the vastly overgrown grounds and just one pair of hands initially. Work started slowly but surely, one small area at a time, rather like a collage, with ideas for developing other areas sparked by social activity and habitat potential.

The lake before and after it was restored.

The lake

Jess West, arboriculture tutor at Shuttleworth College was instrumental in transforming the landscape, especially around the lake and with local knowledge of the sites history from neighbours the lake and it’s surrounding areas are now fully developed and restored.

The approach to the house before and after.

The approach to the house

The approach to the house has been enhanced by removing fencing, invasive plants such as snowberry and Tree of Heaven along with other scrappy tree specimens, cut back copper beech hedges and removed the growing along the front. It felt very bare and rather exposed but fitted in with our aim to open up and link in with the local setting, rather than stand apart as the house had clearly done for a very long time.

The drive before and after.

View from the house

The drive is now more exposed than before and fits with our aim to open up and link in with the local setting, rather than stand apart as the house had clearly done for a very long time.

Progress and completion of a parterre on the drive.


Taking the sites natural shape and elevation as a basis and using a well thumbed book of Indian batik designs the parterre emerged. The yellow Indian brick was chosen to reflect and enhance the Cambridge Gaunts at the front of the house with the blue engineering edging as contrast. The box planting took a whole weekend to complete and the hedging thrives, with mixed success with other planting.

Significant pruning of the orchard to improve the whole site.

The orchard

The trees needed significant pruning to improve their health and yield. There are several types of apple, pear and plum with plans to extend these by including some Bedfordshire native species plus some nut trees. The foxes, muntjac and badgers clear up any windfalls.

The courtyard before and after it was renovated.

The courtyard

Used as a dumping ground for many years this was the first area tackled. With a lot of ground work and carefully picked materials this once plain area has been transformed into a lovely outdoor dining space. The aged wisteria survived the renovation and continues to offer the courtyard its heady perfume twice a year.

The meadow was transformed over several years.

The meadow

Once a well-clipped lawn in the 1960s the whole area was covered in bramble, thistles, sycamore and fallen trees. Excavation of the lake prompted a change here as we needed to dump the slurry somewhere. However we soon developed the area as an ideal working space with firepit, vegetable plot, composting area as well as formal beds and a decked area made from cut yew tree that makes an ideal place to sit in the summer.

A complete change of use for the east end of the hospitality area.

The east end

The plans for the owners to marry at Shortmead and the removal of eleven horse chestnut trees stricken with phytothera was the catalyst for this major development. The pergola columns came from an old Victorian hospital, the thatch, a recent addition, was needed for more under cover area and makes a splendid bar. The whole site proves to be a fantastic hospitality area with a range of activity for both formal and informal functions.

The future

Shortmead now covers 24 acres with the owners having systematically cleared, restored and developed the grounds into an amalgam of formal gardens to enhance the house. Alongside this there are informal areas which provide an environmental habitat ideal for public access and a valuable educational resource.

There are plans to

  • erect an acoustic bund alongside the railway boundary which will be planted with a mix of native trees of local provenance,
  • establish a tree nursery to replenish stock
  • plant an osiery bed, and
  • plant further hedging.

The intention is to extend the environmental corridor for wildlife and secure the estate planting for future generations.