August 19, 2009

Ian Willis, Secret Garden of Serles House

all pictures courtesy of Simon Turner
above picture shows the decorated shell grotto

The secret garden of Serles House in Wimborne in the south of England scores high in the ranking of the many beautifully landscaped gardens known in this country.

A hierarchy for English art environments does not exist, but in any case the garden is also worth the attention from this point of view.

detail of the garden grotto, 
with a sculpture depicting Pan, the god of the woods

Life and works

Ian Willis (1951-2020) who created this garden, was born in Wimborne. 

After secondary school he got a job at a firm that produced precision weighing systems, but this did not satisfy him sufficiently, so he decided to start his own company in the field of interior decorating, an activity he would pursue throughout his life.  

In 1981 Willis bought a house in Wimborne that dated from the early 1890's and that had hardly changed during the years.

a fence has been decorated with a variety of garden tools

In the course of the years Willis transformed the garden at the backside of his house into a garden in the style of the English landscaping tradition, with a terrace, a sunken garden, a summer house, a fernery, a kitchen garden and an orchard, all equipped with flowering plants, ferns and a variety of trees.

In addition, he embellished the garden with decorated structures, sculptures, objets trouvées and other elements, done in such a way, that the garden can also be regarded as an art environment

various structures

One of these creations is a small grotto, constructed by Willis when he was at age fifty. As can be seen in the top pictures, this grotto has been richly decorated with St Jacobs and other types of shells.

Resting on a pedestal is a representation of the Greek god Pan with his flute.

Irvine, the plant-pot man

The garden has more sculptures, like there is a funny construction of plant-pots depicting Irvine, the plant-pot man, a character that may have been inspired by Bill and Ben, flower pot men in a BBC tv children's series from the 1950s

There also is sculpture representing a head of Priapus, in Greek mythology a god of fertility.

a decorated wall, with a plant and a found object

After Robin Noscoe (1917-2002), once director of art at Canford School near Wimborne. had died, a number of his sculptures found home at Willis' garden. To mark the centenary of his birth, in September 2018 an exhibition was held at Serles House.

a detailed view
a decorated towery structure


The garden also has some 60 historical artifacts, such as some old cannons digged up from the Solent river, iron memorabilia from old hotels and theaters around Dorset and a dovecote made from an old wash tub.

All objects have been described in a small booklet that is available for visitors of the site.

Ian Willis passed away in the autumn of 2020, the year his garden for the first time couldn't be visited because of the Covic pandemy,

* Website National Garden Scheme

first published August 2009, last revised November 2020 

Ian Willis
Secret Garden of Serles House

47 Victoria Road Wimborne Minster, Dorset, South West England, UK 
from summer 2003 on, the environment can be visited by the public, on basis of the UK National Gardens Scheme, that is on Sunday-afternoons in the summer months. 

1 comment:

  1. How wonderful that he is still alive to receive the appreciation of his visitors.