Who knew that the Surrey market town of Guildford was home to an important English Heritage Grade II Listed Garden? Well not me that’s for sure.
Designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe in 1956-57 to symbolise the flight of the first Sputnik, the rooftop Water Garden was built for Harvey’s department store & is described by Jellicoe in his book, Studies in Landscape Design as being “primarily a sky garden with the underlying idea to unite Heaven and Earth”.
The most amazing thing about this garden is that it is essentially a water garden on a roof! Early photographs show the spectacularly modern garden with viewing platforms and seating being enjoyed by members of the public. Superb modernist stepping stones seemingly float across the water towards curved concrete beds. At that time, a ground-breaking waterfall cascaded from the rooftop!
You can only imagine how exciting this futuristic garden must have been in its heyday. With the water reflecting the sky above and circular stepping stones resembling planets, it must have been a real destination for the fashionable Surrey set.
Sadly the garden fell into decline, firstly with the demise of the waterfall followed by the demolition of the restaurant. Luckily, along with the creation of a new tea room, the roof garden has been resurrected. Much of the original structure remains with the stepping stones and curved beds still in place. The curved beds have small holes within them to allow water from the pool to nourish the plants.
Although there used to be fish and other aquatic life in the pools, gardener Jo Botibol reveals that now they only have snails (which occasionally clog the drainage!) Jo is the sole gardener here and enthusiastically showed us original photos of the garden, which we tried to match up with today’s views.
What was most striking was the change in the Guildford skyline. Gone are the factories and industrial warehouses, replaced by shopping centres and housing – although the distance skyline remains unchanged over the surrounding hills of the Surrey Downs.
You can still enjoy tea overlooking the rooftop garden at the Tea Terrace – a somewhat surreal baby blue and pink tea room. Alternatively, Guildford has a marvellous selection of cafes and restaurants to explore.