In Edwardian times there were 40 gardeners, but following the second world war the labour force was much depleted and so the gardens went into gradual decline and became over grown with debris.
This meant initially a large percentage of our time was spent digging out giant brambles that had been there for years and were suffocating the shrubs and trees, nettles taller than garden sheds swamped lovely blue hydrangeas and there were endless carpets of docks.
Martin and I go in at least 4 days a month and with the help of Fran and 3 valiant volunteers we are slowly restoring the gardens. We have 3 fabulous Lithuanians who help with all our heavy work and keep the grass mown. And for serious earth moving and tree work, we have Mark and Dave from the estate. So it is a massive team effort!
The forward Plan
The present Duchess has great vision for the gardens and wants to restore them to their former glory. A century ago these gardens were famous for their spectacular spring flower displays and visited by large numbers from all over the country. Her goal is to put these gardens back on the Gardening English Map. To guide us with these plans we have the generous help of Charles Williams from Caerhays Castle in Cornwall, senior partner of Burncoose Nurseries who specialises in this type of renovation, and whose knowledge is invaluable.
To create a Japanese garden full of Camellias, Acers, Hydrangeas, bamboo and Magnolias. The Camellias were planted 6 years ago and are now really starting to take shape.
Last year trees were removed to reveal more light and the bog at the bottom was transformed into two lakes. This autumn we hope to plant more bamboo and Magnolias. This garden will then become a link between the Pet Cemetery and the Spring Gardens creating a circuitous route.
To renovate and replant the Spring Gardens. Hundreds of rogue sycamores, hollies, brambles, were removed to open up the gardens and give light to new specimens. This was a challenging job when you can hardly stand upright on some of the steep slopes. 250 rare trees were planted in 2012 which was fortuitous as we had such a wet summer. All but 6 are doing well.
To create a massive stone rockery that forms part of the vista from the very top of the gardens down to bottom.
Here another lake has been dug beside which we have placed a statue of the 5th Duchess Elizabeth (found on the estate) who also had such great input into these gardens.
The Dukes walk – this area is yet to be cleared, but it will become a continuation of the Spring Gardens with more magnolias, Acers, Rhododendrons and Azaleas.
A team of volunteers have already started work here revealing the old stone path which hasn’t seen the light of day for some time, it was buried over 3ft deep in places.
Build a Stumpery – this will all depend on the work load of the estate, but we hope to start in 2014.
We are planning carpets of English Bluebells at the top of Spring Gardens. The woods first have to be cleared of all debris and rogue saplings.