Case Study: The Garden House, Devon

The Garden House is a truly marvellous garden established from the 1940s by Lionel and Katherine Fortescue, on the ancient site of a post-dissolution parsonage. A Georgian house sits at the top of a north facing, damp and stony valley, with a much older walled garden with thatched barn below, forming quite the picturesque location. Despite the site a first class garden was created, with Lionel Fortescue been an avid collector and breeder of plants. His garden passed to the care of a trust, and Head Gardener Keith Wiley went on to double it in size using his pioneering and unique ‘New Naturalism’ style. The result is a garden that excites all, from the amateur to the professional, giving inspiration to many.

In 2016 the trustees were faced with a garden that year on year witnessed falling visitor numbers, negative revenue streams and a bleak future. A keen team could not turn this around, and many cost were being cut to try and limit the decline. Matt joined the trustee board in 2016 and began to make observations and recommendations for change, including the need for a General Manager role – a bold step. Matt became Chair of the Trustees in 2017, the same year in which a full time General Manager was appointed. It was clear that skilled leadership and a business strategy was needed, which would start with a strong and diverse board of trustees.

A hunt for the right trustees means that in 2018 the Garden House board is no longer all male, and consists of a range of professional new trustees covering hospitality, marketing, charitable visitor attractions, and horticulture, to complement the existing team. A new 5 year strategic plan is in place, defining the core pillars of operation and activity. The General Manager has adjusted the staff structure to accommodate the strategic plan, and despite a tough season with the weather all numbers are up – for the first time in years.

The next step in the process is to take the entire site through a master planning exercise. A consultant team has been selected and a 10 year development plan is anticipated in 2019. The master plan will focus fund raising and business activity and take the charity to long term growth and sustainability.

Land and Heritage Symposium at The Garden House