Country houses for sale

Can a garden help to sell a house?

Lush, landscaped grounds have long been an integral part of country-house life, and crucial to the enjoyment of the property as a whole. Formal, enclosed gardens evolved in ancient cultures thousands of years ago when there was a need to protect the cultivated domain from the wilderness beyond-threats could come from wild animals or maurauding hordes. For this reason, in Britain, too, the formal enclosed garden in various forms prevailed for hundreds of years, until owners of country estates felt safe enough to knock down the high walls, throw open the views and let in the broader landscape.

The 18th-century landscape park successfully swept away the formal Renaissance and earlier gardens of England for various reasons-aesthetic, philosophical and sporting (as fox hunting became a widely popular pastime). Victorian country gardens are notable for a focused interest in formality and exotic novelty, but the early-20th-century country-house garden was largely concerned with traditional craftsmanship, and what people still regard as a very ‘English’ look of roses and herbaceous borders.

Today, even though a landscaped garden may not come as high on the priority list as good schools or commutability, it nonetheless remains a crucial part of the country-house package. ‘My view is that houses with mature gardens sell best,’ says Samuel Gibson of Strutt & Parker. But although a mature garden is prized, it needs to be proportional to the dimensions and style of the house. ‘Size matters,’ explains Anthony Brooks of Batcheller Thacker. ‘A year or so ago, we were instructed to sell a house that had 7,000sq ft of interior space, but barely a quarter of an acre. At £3.25 million, this wasn’t enough garden for most buyers.’

Likewise, James Grillo of Chesterton Humberts comments that ‘it’s important the gardens are in keeping with the period of the property and mirror the architecture’. This doesn’t necessarily mean slavish reproductions of period styles (a rather 1980s, revivalist approach), but care should be taken that the garden’s designer understands rules of proportion and scale, and the appropriateness (or otherwise) of certain plants.

Great gardens can have an uplifting effect on value, especially in larger properties. Quantifying this can be difficult, as it depends on each garden’s layout, size, orientation, privacy and views, among other factors, but agents estimate it to be as high as 5% to 25%, and up to 50% in exceptional cases. ‘If it’s a National Gardens Scheme Yellow Book entry or has a listing, this adds substantial status,’ says Mr Grillo. After all, as owner John Murray says of the beautiful grounds at his Northumberland home, Acton Hall-a 17-acre estate now on the market with Strutt & Parker
for £1.85 million (01670 516123)-a garden can ‘lift your mood and make every day feel like a holiday’.

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Fine grounds need looking after, however, so owners should match their ambitions for their garden with the hours of gardening help they are prepared to pay for. Perhaps it’s unsurprising to find that a high proportion of buyers desires grounds that are relatively easy to maintain. Property-search agent Colin Mackenzie says that ‘in these straitened times, buyers are looking for gardens that they can care for, perhaps with the help of someone for half a day a week’. This shift is also the result of a longer-term change in lifestyle. ‘Younger buyers are less concerned with high-maintenance gardens.

They prefer something more low-key for the children to play in, perhaps with some woodland for them to build their dens in,’ says Jonathan Bramwell of Savills. Tim Winney of Winkworth and Jeremy Briggs of R. A. Bennett & Partners have also noticed a growing fashion for Mediterranean lifestyle settings. ‘Outdoor living space incorp-orated in a garden that can recapture that distant holiday mood is very desirable,’ says Mr Winney, who explains that secluded patios adjacent to the main house and outdoor kitchen areas with cooking facilities are now extremely sought after.