A LYME Regis man responsible for the restoration of an historic public garden has been honoured in the New Year’s Honours list.

Philip White, chief executive of the Hestercombe Gardens Trust, has been made MBE for his services to heritage garden restoration.

Hestercombe, in Cheddon Fitzpaine, near Taunton, is a collection of three gardens with a visitor centre, watermill and gardens shop and plant centre.

Mr White, of Hill Rise Road, became involved with the gardens 20 years ago and has spearheaded its transformation into an acclaimed visitor attraction.

He said: “This has come as a great surprise, but it’s been a great privilege to be able to restore Hestercombe’s extraordinary historic landscape.

“I have been associated with the gardens since 1992 when I first realised that hidden beneath the coniferous woodland and brambles in the valley behind Hestercombe House, were the remains of a once beautiful, 18th century landscape garden complete with lakes, cascades, garden buildings and stunning vistas. You could say it then became my life’s mission to restore it.”

When Mr White became involved, Hestercombe already featured a Grade I listed formal Edwardian garden, designed by architect Edwin Lutyens with planting plans by Gertrude Jekyll, which had initially undergone restoration in the 1970s.

Mr White transformed the site and today it is listed among the top 20 gardens in Britain, as well as the most visited garden in Somerset.

The former dairy farmer and wildlife conservationist mortgaged his house to fund the initial felling of hundreds of trees and removing 17,000 tonnes of silt from the choked up lakes.

Mr White secured a grant from the Countryside Commission in 1993 for a historical survey of the site.

Using a watercolour painting of the garden by its original 18th century creator, Coplestone Warre Bampfylde, Mr White revealed the structure of the garden. The mausoleum and temple were rebuilt and the Great Cascade flowed again.

Ten years later a Heritage Lottery grant of £3.7million was secured towards the total £4.9million cost of the next stage of restoration, involving the conversion of the coach house and stables into a visitor centre.

The Hestercombe Gardens Trust was established with Mr White as its chief executive, followed by a £1.6million project to restore the 17th century mill and barn complex.

Trust chairman Sir Andrew Burns said Mr White’s MBE is a fitting tribute.

“This is wonderful news,” he said. “Philip's determination to restore what has become one of the top gardens and tourist destinations in Britain should not be underestimated. He has done a great service but more importantly has saved this site for the benefit of future generations.”