IT BEGINS WITH THE SOIL
I. HECKFIELD PLACE
Heckfield Place has never relied on yesterday. Always evolving, resolutely natural, we are a beautiful piece of English history that redefines the idea of a country hotel. An elegant Georgian family home lovingly restored and rewoven back into 438 acres of Hampshire countryside.
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 - from the House itself, which, like so many grand English houses, is positioned to align with the movement of the sun, to our organic Home Farm and fully certified biodynamic Market Garden, and natural skincare line. In an increasingly turbulent world, this is a place that feels timely in its pursuit. A place that stands out of time, seeking to impart wisdom and inspire change.
A forward-looking endeavour, we maintain a humble regard to its legacy dating to the 1760s. As we respect this 250-year-old history, so we look forward with a 250-year new plan. Heckfield Place is a land sculpted by many hands, minds and ideas over hundreds of years. Today we act as custodians of this remarkable estate.
2. AT OUR HEART
Our journey started a decade ago with a simple ambition: to reconnect a grand English house, its Home Farm and the local community. In this time, two things have come to define us.
The first is that everything at Heckfield Place begins with the soil; we are intrinsically connected to the land, and we must provide for it so it can continue to provide for us.
The second is time. We are a living place, rooted in the rhythms of slow time – at nature’s speed. The pace and energy of Heckfield Place, and our respect for nature and our environment, all stems from this appreciation of time.
3. THE HOUSE
In a time of unbelievable discoveries and unprecedented modernity, we find ourselves looking to forgotten skills and lost ways of living. Heckfield Place is an antidote to modern living. A way of seeing luxury in a new way. The House, like everything at Heckfield, adheres to the rhythms of nature.
It is a place with an iterative and human perspective.
Everything comes together - and radiates from - the House. From single-use plastic-free rooms with natural materials sourced locally and sensitively wherever possible (such as rush mats and headboards from the River Ouse) to cooking with the produce we grow or from as nearby as possible ensuring healthier and more delicious food as well as greatly reducing food miles, deliveries to site, and traffic on the local road.
We rely on bio-mass boilers to burn wood pellets from a sustainable source to heat the majority of the water for our showers, baths and heating whenever possible. Our alternative energy resources, when they are needed, are generated from renewables.
We control our lighting centrally and on motion sensor systems as well as 90% using LEDs. To maintain our water consumption responsibly, we use our own bore hole and harvest rainwater wherever we can for the estate use.
To share all that we do at Heckfield we offer walks and talks to discover the Estate, our Home Farm, gardens and woodlands. These are coordinated through The Assembly, a curated programme of events which cultivates a space to unearth, reconnect and rediscover built around the core themes of the Estate.
4. THE FARM
If the House is the heart of Heckfield, the fully certified biodynamic Market Garden and the organic Home Farm is its soul. Overseen by the Heckfield team and supported by the formidable consultant Jane Scotter of Fern Verrow, the farm provides for the House whenever it can: from flowers to rotating crops, to dairy and even honey from time to time.
Biodynamics is a holistic form of sustainable, regenerative agriculture, which recognises that all life, seen and unseen, has a role to play in growing the best food possible. Created by Rudolph Steiner through a series of eight lectures given in 1924 to remedy the widespread use of artificial fertilisers in the First World War – the approach understands the importance of ‘living’ soil to produce healthy and nutritious crops.
This is maintained without the use of artificial chemicals but rather natural fertilisers such as compost and manure. These materials build soil rather than deplete it and this way of farming is respectful of nature, the planet and the resultant produce is considered better for human beings.
Taking a step beyond organic, biodynamic growers also use specific herbal remedies. These 'preparations' as they are known, enhance the ability of soil, plant and animal to make better use of the forces, or information, available to them in the atmosphere. They do this by stimulating a conversation between the physical matter of the soil and the invisible energy of our planet's surroundings. In case this is hard to grasp it is worth a reminder that all the gases that surround us on a daily basis are invisible.
Biodynamic growers also use a calendar to help guide them in choosing optimum times to carry out tasks in the garden.
These include seed sowing, working the soil, planting, pruning and harvesting. With the calendar in mind it is an accepted part of biodynamics that life on earth is at all times under the influence of the other planets and stars in our solar system.
In 2020 we opened our own dairy, which generates wholesome milk, cream, butter and yogurts for the House. The milk from our herd of Guernsey cows is used to create cheese with our local cheesemaker Village Maid.
In terms of pigs, we raise British Saddlebacks on site - the closest match to the original Heckfield pig mentioned in the Spectator in 1850 and bred by Charles Shaw Lefevre, who was the speaker of the House of Commons. We also raise a mixture of Suffolk, Hampshire Down and Southdown sheep.
Our chickens provide eggs for the Kitchens, as well as our orchard of 500 trees that includes apple, pear, greengages and damsons. We are currently working on developing a healthy colony of beehives to help pollinate our orchard and beyond.
Seven greenhouses – each set with varying temperatures – propagate new life that goes into the cut garden and across the estate – nurturing things like lettuces, soft fruits, brassicas, squash and a variety of species of tomatoes as well as fresh flowers.
Where possible, Heckfield’s Market Garden and Home Farm form the basis of our plates and floral arrangements in our restaurants and House. However, we are a living place that contend with all the vagaries of nature. This means we have beautiful gluts in seasons of surplus, but also have times of shortage when the climate doesn’t cooperate.
Our team are dedicated to problem-solving and creating the best outcome every year. Currently, we’re receiving three deliveries and 3,000 stems a week from our Home Farm. Of course this ebbs and flows with nature, and we look to our neighbours like Fern Verrow in Hertfordshire that share our commitment to biodynamics to help us through these dry spells.
Our growers and farmers work hard to cultivate the fresh produce that is grown on-site. And as such, we’ve committed to working towards a zero-waste policy. From preserving gluts into cordials or preserves, to championing unloved and overlooked bits like carrot tops in our Earth Menu, our aim is to either consume or reuse as compost for our living soil.
The Market Garden, Home Farm and no-waste philosophy capture the essence of our approach – starting with good clean soil, standing for something planet-positive and joyful, and giving back to the community and the planet.
5. THE WOODLANDS
In 1865, William Wildsmith was brought to Heckfield Place as a foreman and became head gardener in 1867, and his legacy prevails today. We are proud to be home to ancient woodlands, which are also kept in good company with more than 100 different species of fungi and provide natural habitat for indigenous wildlife. Wildsmith ingeniously choreographed the grounds around the House adding new planting to ancient chestnut, lime and yew tree landscape, which became a celebrated arboretum in his day, attracting crowds when the gardens opened to the public in the 1880s.
Today we are protecting his legacy, by managing the woodland, supporting the ancient trees and propagating from those trees so they can be enjoyed in another 150 years.
Our arborists collect and propagate trees from several hundred seedlings. 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 on the estate. We have collected seeds from our magnificent trees on the estate including Redwood, Douglas Fir, Nordmann Fir, Monterey Pine, Japanese Cedar and English Oak to name a few.
With many of them more than 150 years old, they are genetically strong and resilient to pests and disease, and will hopefully have what it takes to adapt to the ever-changing environment and pass their individual survival knowledge to their offspring. Planting hundreds and hopefully thousands of trees will also help sequester tonnes of carbon.
Heckfield is where home, food, company and philosophy coexist seamlessly. A place of escape, and a movement calling us to come together. We are honoured to continue the custodianship of this unique and remarkable place, which asks us to consider our impact, and open our eyes to better, more natural ways of living and being.