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We bought The Dell House Bed and Breakfast in Malvern Wells in 2014, giving up our jobs in Cambridge in search of a change of lifestyle amid the Malvern Hills. The potential of the 2-acre garden was a big factor in choosing the house but it was very overgrown. Encouraged by the local National Garden Scheme group, we’ve been opening the garden for the last few years as we’ve been recovering it.

During lockdown the B&B and Self-catering business had to close, as did all NGS gardens. Thus, while we had more time to spend in the garden we had no-one to share it with, which saddened us. As soon as it was possible to open the garden, we did so. We have already raised over £1,000 which goes to nursing and health charities.

The Dell House was built around 1820 and has been a rectory, a family home, the “Dell Hydro”; the “Lucidor House of Healing”; and a boys’ home. It’s been guest accommodation since the 1980s. The garden was laid out in the 1860s. Malvern museum have helped to verify links with Sir William Hooker, then director of Kew Gardens, and/or his son Joseph Hooker who succeeded him. It clearly had been a magnificent garden, originally much larger going by early maps and it’s described as 10 acres in 1950’s literature.

The current garden has been described as a “mini arboretum” and includes a huge cedar, a Wellingtonia Redwood, several very large beech trees, varieties of oak, two strawberry trees and various acers. In the early years we cleared vast quantities of ivy off the trees, bindweed, brambles and laurel; found and restored old paths and created new ones. At the bottom of the garden was a bare 30 foot tree trunk and that is what got us started on tree carvings.

The ‘solution’ to the bare trunk was to find local chainsaw sculptor Steve Elsby (, exchange ideas, photos and sketches, erect scaffolding and the result is a glorious dragon overlooking the lower garden.

Seeing the quality of Steve’s work we knew we’d be having him back though we didn’t know quite how often. As trees have needed to come down we’ve looked for opportunities to carve rather than remove entirely. We now have a fairy-tale castle tower, a sofa, horse, buzzard … and most recently a giant Lewis chessman overlooking the car park.

Other developments in the garden have been to lay a large, level, paved terrace with distant views over the Severn valley and the Cotswolds, created a wildflower area and planted a small copse of silver birch. We’ve recovered the area that was the Victorian croquet lawn, later a tennis court, which had since sprouted a dense scrubland of brambles, elder, laurel, holly, etc. Here, we’ve reinstated a rectangular lawn to respect the history and put our garden railway around the outside of it.
As well as gardening during lockdown we made some videos. In the latest one we talk about the carvings and include pictures of what the garden was like when we started, and work in progress.

We love sharing our garden. We currently open it most Wednesday and Sundays afternoons, pre-booked online through the NGS website here.

To hear more listen to us being interviewed by Kate Justice this Wednesday on BBC Hereford and Worcester between 6pm and 7pm here

Elizabeth and Kevin Rolph
The Dell House
2 Green Lane
Malvern Wells
WR14 4HU
01684 564448

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