Belvior Castle Gardens

The great privilege of working in this garden is of course its history, much of which we continue to uncover, and although the challenge is enormous it is very exciting.

Belvoir Castle sits 200ft above its surrounding countryside and the 27 acres of gardens are set in and around these steep slopes. This makes the use of small tractors and trailers limited as many of the surrounding lawns are too steep for lawnmowers to work on and so this all needs to be strimmed. That’s the challenge, but the excitement is the acid soil together with Belvoir’s unique topography.

The present gardens consist of two parts, the formal gardens near the castle and the Spring Gardens, also called the Duchess’s gardens, set half a mile away.

Formal Gardens

The formal rose garden below the castle is set underneath 4 large Holm Oaks and a beautiful Copper Beech. With advice and help from the notable Edwardian garden designer Harold Peto, Violet, wife of the 8th Duke was largely responsible for this area. You can immediately see his Italian influence that was so fashionable in those times.

Last winter on a bitterly cold morning the archivist called us in to show us plans he had unearthed by Harold Peto. This was a great find, as the plans clearly show the hedge topiary and style for us to now follow.

Below the rose garden is a small Victorian rockery, now bone dry as it is overshadowed by a large Yew tree, a small gothic grotto, two parterres, planted by our present 11th Duchess, Emma, a statue garden (carved by Caius Gabriel Cibber in 1680) a band stand and finally a pet Cemetery at the bottom.

Spring Gardens

The spring gardens occupy a natural hollow on the side of a hill where there is a drop of 100ft from top to bottom.

They take the shape of a horseshoe, which faces southeast, and is sheltered either side by old forest trees. Because of these natural formations many unusual tender shrubs and plants can survive on the acid soil.

Restoration

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.

Part 1

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.

Part 2

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.

Part 3

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.

Part 4

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.

Part 5

Build a Stumpery – this will all depend on the work load of the estate, but we hope to start in 2014.

Part 6

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.

To follow the progress of the restoration, please read: Nikki’s gardening blog

Belvior Castle Rose Garden

The rose garden

Peto's original plans

Harold Peto’s original plans

Building the rockery

Building the rockery

Moving the Duchess

Moving the Duchess

Camellia

Camellia