The water garden forms part of the 4000 acre Leckford estate in Hampshire, bought in 1929 by John Spedan Lewis. He founded the John Lewis department store chain and was responsible for introducing the revolutionary staff profit-sharing scheme that continues today. In the 1940s he developed the water garden as a private place to reflect and relax.
The public can now enjoy his vision on the first and third Sunday of the month, between April and September, to raise money for charity. Parking is in a field opposite a long, deep hedge, which hides any suggestion of the sights to come. After following a path through the hedge you emerge into the daylight with the water garden laid out in front of you. It is impossible not to emit a small gasp.
Simple, wooden bridges connect a series of islands and ponds. Each island is planted with a different tree designed to provide autumn colour.
Early in the season many of the marginal beds are bare, but immaculately tended soil and emerging shoots of hostas are a dramatic sight. Weeding and edging takes the team of three full-time gardeners three and a half days to complete.
The water garden is fed by the River Test, but the water surface is flat and still and there is no sound of trickling water. It is quite different to other water gardens, which use rocks and waterfalls, but it creates a wonderful atmosphere of peace and serenity, even with many visitors walking around.
Adding to the slightly otherworldly feel is a thatched summerhouse, a favourite spot for Spedan Lewis. He installed a phone line so that he could manage the department stores surrounded by the tranquility of the water garden, an enviable home office.
The bold outlines of the beds and bridges provide such an arresting sight that I almost wonder if there will be less drama when the marginal plants have grown. I will certainly be returning to find out.
To complete your visit there is also a farm shop and café, and a well-stocked plant nursery that is home to National Collections of Buddleja and Clematis viticella, and the Gilchrist Collection of Penstemon.
[Longstock Park Water Garden, Longstock Park, Stockbridge, Hampshire SO20 6EH, is open 2-5pm on the first and third Sunday of the month, April to September, in support of various charities.]