Butterfly House could move to Chiswick

Chiswick House Friends suggest new option for Walled Garden area

In the North East corner of Chiswick House Grounds is a very large Walled Garden area variously used in former times as orchard, kitchen garden, plant nursery and Council depot. This area has fallen into disuse and most of it is derelict, overgrown and littered with the detritus of long gone activities.

CIP, whose management responsibility on behalf of Chiswick House Ground’s owner London Borough of Hounslow includes this Walled Garden area, are proposing to bring this area back into use as part of their overall project for the restoration of the Grounds. CIP have drawn up plans, currently in course of submission for the necessary planning consents, to establish a Heritage Plant centre in part of the Walled Garden area. Chiswick House Friends are very enthusiastic about the initiative to bring the Walled Garden back into use and are generally supportive of CIP’s Heritage Plant proposal. However the Friends are concerned about CIP’s ability to manage, and make a profit from, such a commercial venture and are particularly anxious that any profit so made must be kept for the direct benefit of the Grounds not lost in the overall budget of CIP.

Alongside the Plant Centre proposal discussions are developing both with the owner of The London Butterfly House (presently at Syon House), and with a group of volunteers seeking to establish a formal Kitchen Garden, to utilise other parts of the Walled Garden area. The London Butterfly House needs to find a new home in the medium term, due to a major commercial re-development at Syon House and it’s owner, Michael Crosse, sees the Walled Garden at Chiswick as an ideal location to build a new home for his famous walk-through exhibitions of tropical butterflies, birds, insects and plants. The Butterfly House attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, including many groups of school children. The enclosed tropical gardens are set amongst ponds and water cascades within which visitors stroll amongst literally thousands of butterflies.

Michael Crosse’s vision is to design a new single-storey glazed butterfly house architecturally in keeping with the surroundings at Chiswick. The ethics of the London Butterfly House are centred on providing an ecologically friendly and educational experience with emphasis placed on environmental accuracy. It is run as a commercial venture, paying a substantial rental to the relevant landlord. The Friends believe that getting The London Butterfly House to move to Chiswick would be a coup not only because of it’s National, indeed International, reputation but because of it’s relevance to the needs of Chiswick House and Grounds

The proposal for a formal kitchen garden envisages a historically accurate working kitchen garden demonstrating the planting, growing and harvesting processes. Emphasis will be on education and community involvement, with products grown having a potential commercial outlet through the Plant Centre.

The three propositions for the Walled Garden are not competitive. They are complementary and there is space to accommodate all of them with yet further areas available for other ancillary uses that CIP have identified. Chiswick House Friends would like to see all three go forward together through the consultation and planning process. The Friends believe that important planning issues, including environmental impact and parking, must be considered in the overall context of the House and Grounds and of the wider issues of re-development. CIP are adamant that they wish to push through only their Plant Centre scheme and at this stage are not even making mention of the other two Walled Garden proposals in their submission document. To this end CIP’s Plant Centre proposal will go forward to the Sustainable Development Committee on 28th April.

The Friends final word is this. We should all support the wider initiative to transform the Grade 1 listed Chiswick House Grounds from the dilapidated, run-down disgrace full of litter, vandals and pot holes into a destination to be proud of, well maintained and with features and attractions that are fitting to the place and worthy of a popular audience.

Chiswick House Friends – March 2003


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