It’s not just the art that will be pulling the crowds at Hauser & Wirth, Somerset – the long-awaited garden opens this week, and it’s well worth a visit, says Clare Foster
Brace yourself for a shot of high culture at the recently opened Hauser & Wirth Gallery near Bruton, the vibrant new artistic hub in the middle of the Somerset countryside. With top-class contemporary art exhibits and a restaurant serving locally sourced food, this fashionable venue is well on the way to becoming the hot destination of the West Country.
The brainchild of Swiss art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth, Hauser & Wirth Somerset is the fourth gallery in their artistic empire, adding to venues in Zurich, London and New York. Described as the ‘gallery world’s power couple’, the Wirths fell in love with this bucolic corner of Somerset several years ago and have since moved there permanently with their four children. Having restored a derelict 200-acre farm, the couple are assembling a glittering array of artworks to fill the five gallery spaces, and with leading artists such as Turner Prize-winning Martin Creed under their wing, the new venture promises to deliver an impressive punch.
And it’s not just the art that will be pulling the crowds. Surrounding the restored farm buildings that house the indoor gallery spaces is a garden that will be a major attraction in its own right – a living work of art that complements the buildings as well as the curves of the surrounding landscape. Designed by the Dutch designer Piet Oudolf in collaboration with local landscape architects Petherick, Urquhart & Hunt, the garden’s main event is an astonishing 1.5-acre prairie meadow planted with over 30,000 perennials in contoured beds to set the whole field alight with colour over the summer months, mellowing into russets and ochres in autumn. In keeping with the place as a whole, the garden will also become an outdoor gallery, displaying a rolling exhibition of outdoor sculpture and installation.
While Piet Oudolf is billed as one of the world’s most influential landscape designers, landscapers Petherick, Urquhart & Hunt, based in nearby Castle Cary, brought essential local knowledge to the project. With their brief to build, plant and manage the landscape development, they were able to tap into a wide network of local experts and artisans. Crumbling dry-stone walls were rebuilt, stone was reclaimed from the fields to be crushed and used on the paths, and a local blacksmith was called in to make over a kilometre of steel edging for the beds in the meadow. The result is a garden that blends into the vernacular of the architecture and surrounding landscape, sitting pretty in its setting.
For garden-lovers and art aficionados alike, a visit to this sleepy corner of Somerset should be firmly marked on the calendar.
Clare Foster is Garden Editor at House & Garden magazine and has written for the Guardian, the Sunday Times and the Daily Express among other publications.