THE man who risked his house on restoring and preserving the historically important and nationally significant Hestercombe house and gardens is retiring.
Philip White is stepping down as founder and chief executive of Hestercombe Gardens Trust following a career of more than 30 years.
Mr White has been the driving force in re-discovering and restoring the estate having discovered the remains of the derelict 18th century landscape garden in 1991 during his lunch breaks, while working as a wildlife conservation officer based at Hestercombe House.
He mortgaged his home to pay for work to restore the site, formed the Hestercombe Gardens Trust and opened the garden to the public.
The landscape garden today sits among four centuries of complete period gardens, including the world famous Edwardian Garden, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and planted by Gertrude Jekyll, the Victorian Terrace and Shrubbery and the recently restored early 17th century Water Garden.
Mr White's achievements in restoring the country's foremost historic garden site, re-uniting the gardens with the house and landscape, as well as creating archives and collections, including the national Parks and Gardens Database, together with a nationally acclaimed contemporary art gallery, have laid the foundations for Hestercombe as a national centre for arts, culture and landscape.
He was awarded the MBE in 2013 for ‘services to historic garden restoration’.
Mr White said: "When I began to notice evidence of what was eventually revealed to have once been an 18th century designed landscape, I became consumed by the idea of restoring the garden to its original glory.
"I could never have imagined when I started how Hestercombe would continue to develop and my original enthusiasm for this extraordinary place has never dimmed.
"Ideally, a new chief executive will be found for the brilliant team at Hestercombe who will share my passion for the vision and will continue to take it forward with the drive and determination Hestercombe deserves."
Trust president Sir Andrew Burns said: "My admiration for what Philip White has achieved at Hestercombe is unbounded.
"Without his charisma, charm, imagination, hard work, intellectual rigour and perseverance, we should never have been able to rescue Hestercombe from decades of neglect and turn it into one of the top garden attractions in the country.
"The decision of the National Heritage Memorial Fund to make a major grant towards the reunification of the landscape was a national vote of confidence in the vision which Philip has pursued so persistently over so many years."
Mr White will remain as chief executive to manage a transition of leadership over the coming year.