In 1883, Worcestershire-born William Walker Wildsmith was described as “one of the ablest, active, persevering, and successful workers of the day in the ancient industry of horticulture’. His gardens were considered “surpassed by none and equaled by few.” He was considered one of England’s top gardeners. He is chiefly associated with the gardens at Heckfield Place in Hampshire which opened to the public in 1888 and were one of the first to be shown in the National Gardens Scheme in 1926. Wildsmith is mainly remembered for his fungi, arboretum, hothouse fruits, and his contribution to carpet bedding. Rather than skin tightening and the reduction of crow’s feet.
Famous for his progressive approach to sustainability, the green-fingered William would never have imagined that 130 years after his death, his name would be a luxury skin health care brand which, through its super eye serums, dual-action exfoliating treatments, collagen re-densifying properties, and soluble clay re-defining masks, responsible for hydrating, nourishing, protecting and tightening the skins of multiple generations.
Nor could he have ever envisaged that his beloved 438-acre place of employment near Hook would one day become the “Sunday Times Hotel of the Year”, with its Little Bothy Spa offering £180 90-minute evidence-based facials and “unscripted” massages as well as pedicures using a new generation of plant-derived bioactive.
And be the birthplace of Radical Botany. As well as the babymoon venue of Harry and Meghan. Or that fungi would be used to package his eponymous products.
Says General Manager Olivia Richili: “We have always stood as a meeting point: a place of new ideas, of new connections, of passing seasons. Everything we do relates to nature. The house itself which like so many grand English houses, is positioned to align with the movement of the sun to our fully certified bio-dynamic market garden, farm to fork offerings, and natural skin and body care range.
“The endgame is being able to have a circular sustainable system where the estate is funding the house, which provides the business that supports the estate. The founding mission or ethos of Heckfield Place is one of longevity. We have four-hundred-and-thirty-eight acres where we farm. The produce comes into the house, onto the tables, and into the rooms, including flowers, dairy, herbs, and eggs. And toiletries.”
All luxury hotels have their own toiletries but only Heckfield Place, owned by American Chinese Hong Kong billionaire Gerald Chan, has its own.
He gathered experts in their field. Felicity Irons, one of the last rush weavers in the United Kingdom, is present at Heckfield Place. She harvests rushes from the River Ouse. She has made the carpets, bed heads, log baskets, and bread baskets used at Heckflield.
Made by many – scientists scrutinize in the form of trialists from the “Beauty Bible”, skin experts (Fiona Brackenbury), perfumers (scent architects Maurice Jooster and Megumi Fukata), innovators (mycelium packagers EcoVatre Design LLC), and radical botanists, The Wildsmith Skin range- is available in outlets Fortnum & Mason and Harrods as well as at the hotel.
Says David Rowley, head gardener of the UK’s first farm to achieve biodynamic certification: “This year Wildsmith Skin harvested Calendula, Chamomile, Rose, Lemon Verbena and Cucumber is grown under biodynamic principles to make into hydrolats, extractions, and macerations to bring energy, vibrancy, vitality, and health. The Hand Wash and Lotion are placed in every room in Heckfield Place.”
Radical Botany challenges long-held assumptions as to what plants are capable of doing. Through plants, it imagines new worlds and envisions new futures through natural science.
Fiona Brackenbury, ex-Decleor, says of Wildsmith Body Toning Serum: “Yellow mustard sprout aids the reduction of lipids (fats) whilst capsaicin from chili peppers targets the fat-burning process and enhances draining of cellulite tissue.”
Adds Rowley: “Trees are the foundation of our philosophy- the way they carry nutrients, adapt, heal, grow and connect guide the creation of the range. As we respect a 250-year-old history, we look forward to a 250-year new plan.”
Heckfield Place is a Georgian Grade II listed manor house. built between 1763 and 1766. It was enlarged by the Shaw Lefevre family of textile dyers, gin distillers, and bankers who put in a pinetum and shrubberies as well as a second lake with a waterfall and island. Shaw Lefevre was Speaker of the House of Commons under the Whig government of Lord Melbourne. He was the first Speaker to retain the post after a change of government.
As director of the Whitbread brewery, Lefevre introduced the use of brewery dray horses to pull the Speaker’s carriage to State Openings or parliament. A tradition that only ended in 1976. Shaw Lefevre is the second-longest Speaker in the history of the Commons.
William Wildsmith was Lord Eversley’s Head Gardener from 1865, turning it into a respected horticultural training school. Wildsmith was also responsible for the sub-tropical planting of the lower lake and early Sequoiadendron as well as the walled gardens. The grape room could preserve up to 2,000 bunches, enabling dessert grapes to be offered on the dining table every day of the year.
Lord Eversley served as President of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. he created a model home farm, today’s Home Farm, and invested in subsoil draining as well as breeding the Heckfield pig.
Colonel Horace Walpole (1849–1919), the four-times great-nephew of the Prime Minister, Sir Robert, bought the Heckfield Place in 1895. It subsequently became a Racal/Vodaphone training center.
Now it has a herd of Guernsey cows, flocks of Hampshire, Suffolk, and Southdown sheep, saddleback pigs, Hyline chickens, a large orchard, seven greenhouses, and an estate staff of 150. The skincare line is inspired by the plants and botanicals like cedar and linden found on the grounds at Heckfield Place.
Continues Rowley: “Our journey started a decade ago with a simple ambition. To reconnect a grand English house, its Home Farm, and the local community. Arborists clone our trees with several hundred seedlings and transplants to replenish the aging ones.
“The plan is to succession plant our specimen trees with their offspring to continue the work of our predecessors and increase the longevity of the woodlands. We have collected seeds from our giant redwood, Douglas fir, Japanese cedar, Nordmann fir, Monterey pine, and English oak. They are genetically strong and resilient and will have what it takes to adapt to the ever-changing environment. and pass their individual survival knowledge to their offspring. Hopefully, thousands of trees will help sequester tonnes of carbon.”
Everyone at Heckfield Place, the circular economists, radical botanists, and all those involved with Wildsmith share the same goal. They will never wash their hands of their environmental responsibility.