The Watergardens were created in the 1860s by horticulturalist James Veitch Jnr, who had purchased land from the Duke of Cambridge for his Coombe Wood Nursery. He laid out former gravel workings in the south of the nursery as a Japanese watergarden, with streams, bridges and plants brought back from Japan, its design apparently inspired by the Willow Pattern in Chinese plates. This part of the nursery was later brought into the grounds of the adjacent Warren House, then owned by banker Hugh Hammersley. It remained part of the grounds of Warren House until 1985 when a parcel of land including the former water gardens was purchased by Octagon developments for a private housing scheme. Veitch's watergardens were restored and have ponds, streams and waterfalls, and numerous rare trees.
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The Watergardens is a Japanese landscaped garden that was originally part of Coombe Wood Nursery, one of the nurseries belonging to the Veitch family of horticulturalists, whose main nurseries had been opened in Exeter (1832) and in Chelsea (1853). The nursery at Coombe Wood specialised in acers and rhododendrons, and had important woody plants from Asia and the Americas brought in by early plant collectors. The site was formerly in the Coombe Wood estate of the Duke of Cambridge who decided to sell part of his lands at the top of Kingston Hill in the 1860s. James Veitch Jnr, one of the leading horticulturists of his day and a member of the Royal Horticultural Society's Council, purchased some 14 ha, reputedly having been impressed by a huge holly tree on the site. He opened his new nursery at Coombe Wood to the public in autumn 1865 'for their free inspection and promenade at all times', having created a Japanese watergarden on old gravel workings, with streams and bridges apparently based on the design on the Willow Pattern of Chinese plates. Such a garden had not been seen before in England. Veitch's sons John Gould and Harry James joined his business, the former being one of the first people to collect new plant species in Japan. Examples of his finds still remain in the Watergardens, such as Acer palmatum and Primula japonica. Other plant hunters working for Veitch included Charles Maries, Pearce, Thomas and William Lobb and Ernest 'Chinese' Wilson who introduced the Pocket Handkerchief Tree, which first flowered here in 1911, and many of these trees still remain. The Japanese garden was on a steeply sloping site and had a series of pools connected by streams and cascades. The paths wound around, giving vistas that overlooked the gardens as well as winding through the gardens to allow close inspection of the plants. In 1865 the Gardeners' Chronicle particularly commended the recently introduced Japanese novelties.
Near Coombe Wood Nursery, Warren House (q.v.) had been built in the 1860s by banker Hugh Hammersley, following his purchase of c.6.5 hectares of the Duke of Cambridge's Coombe Wood estate. The area of Veitch's land containing the Japanese garden intruded as a tongue of land into Hammersley's property and he repeatedly tried to buy it, finally succeeding in the 1870s and he then incorporated it into his gardens. Hammersley died in 1882 and in 1884 Warren House was bought by the 2nd Lord Wolverton, George Grenfell Glyn, who was a partner at Glyn, Mills, Currie & Co. He was a friend and strong supporter of the Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone, who often visited Lord and Lady Wolverton at Warren House. Lord Wolverton later became postmaster-general in Gladstone's 3rd Government in 1886, but he died in 1887. Between 1907 and 1952 Warren House was owned by Sir A Paget and the Gardener's Chronicle of 1924 wrote about the fine camellias growing in the garden. In 1954 the estate was bought by ICI whose retired Chairman, Sir John Harvey-Jones refers in his biography to taking cuttings of camellias. In 1956 the then head gardener, Mr H Spencer, planted from seed many of the trees around the middle pond.
In 1985-6 3.645 hectares of the Warren House grounds were sold to Octagon Developments Ltd but by that time the Japanese garden had become very neglected, reverting to woodland in parts and much overgrown. Part of the site has now been developed for luxury housing, largely on the lawn area, and tree removal has been kept to a minimum with no unique species taken out. The gardens have gradually been restored by Octagon Developments, and contain around 600 plants, some of which were seedlings of the originals. The hard landscape has been repaired including the garden ornaments from China and Japan, although a Grotto and Ice House have been removed rather than restored. Although the gardens are for the use of the Warren House Residents Association they are opened at least twice a year for the National Gardens Scheme.
Veitch's Coombe Wood Nursery was sold to Arthur Luff and Sons in 1915. The RHS Veitch Memorial Medal was established by a group of gardeners after James Veitch's death in 1869 to honour nurserymen.
National Gardens Scheme notes by Simon Stafford (n.d. - 1990s?); Gardeners Chronicle, June 24, 1865; Graham Pattison 'Veitch's Water Garden', The Garden, August 1989; Graham Pattison, 'Tranquility in the Midst of Suburbia' in Plants and Gardens, Spring 1990; Barbara Simms 'The Houses and Gardens of Bertram Wodehouse Currie and His Liberal Friends at Coombe 1860-1900', The London Gardener, vol. 15 2009-2010