Category: Historic landscapes

I’ve loved Castle Drogo in Devon for many years. A classic Lutyen’s design, the house is as imposing (forbidding?) as the entrance suggests. The gardens are relatively modest for somewhere so grand, I guess partly because of the site perched on a granite outcrop overlooking Drewsteington and Dartmoor beyond.

Our recent visit coincided with a long standing and major renovation project on the house; basically re-roofing to stop water penetration. The story goes that Lutyens used a relatively untested asphalt covered flat roof system when the place was built, and over time this has broken up and so water is getting in where it shouldn’t. It’s a multi million pound project and we were able to climb an external stairway (my other half very warily), to see the work underway, beneath a huge ‘tent’ that encases the whole of the roof and must make for a resonably comfortable work space, notwithstanding the site’s exposed position.  We had a very interesting guide to the works, which are imposing some limits on the areas of the house open to the public, but heh ho, never mind. There was a rather interesting ‘installation’ of many many different kids of clock in one of the rooms!

We concluded our visit with a stroll through the split level gardens,a nice mixture of herbaceous perennials giving a late summer boost of colour and some grasses just coming into their own.

Old School Gardener

Further information: Castle Drogo- National Trust website.




We were very lucky to have a morning to spare before travelling home from seeing friends in Cheshire, recently. Tatton Park was a half hour drive away, so we headed off. I was eager to see this garden which is a prominent National Trust property (though run by the local Council) and features in the annual round of RHS Flower Shows. I wasn’t disappointed…

Our friends took us straight to the most talked about area here, the Japanese Garden. WOW! It was a delight, especially as the various Maples were newly in leaf. The sun was out and the garden, with its changing levels, water and Japanese feature buildings and monuments, was breathtaking.

After this we had an hour to get round as much of the rest of this beautifully kept estate, including fernery and palm houses, bothy, walled garden, tower garden and wider woodland areas with some superb early Rhododendrons. You could easily spend a day or two here exploring the wider parkland as well as the 50 acres of richly varied gardens…enjoy the pics!

Further information:

National Trust website

Tatton Park website

Old School Gardener

Having arranged to see our son in Leicester on the way home from Hull, we couldn’t resist trying to pop in and see the new tomb of Richard III in the cathedral there. We found the cathedral after parking in an ‘anywhere’ shopping mall: I loved the newly established informal landscaping and gardens that now surround the building, featuring some lovely flowering cherries. We arrived on the stroke of 5pm, to be met at the main entrance by a long grey beard attached to a man in a black vestment….

‘I’m afraid we’ve just closed’ he said…’Oh no!’, I replied trying to sound devastated, ‘…and we’ve come such a long way to be here!’. It must have worked, because this lovely man offered to give us a quick personal tour of the tomb and the cathedral…all it must be said, in his own time. We had the low down on how it took relatively little time to unearth the former King’s grave, which had been entombed beneath a car park near to the cathedral, but which many centuries before had been the site of a monastic Abbey, with which the cathedral had once been associated. And he filled us in on how the Cathedral layout had been changed to accomodate him. The tomb is very impressive, simple and clean-cut in design…very much an example of ‘less is more’.

And the wider cathedral, though relatively small in scale had some wonderful features…including gilded screens and roof angels and some beautiful modern glass windows telling the story of King Richard. It was wonderful to see all this and to be the only people around…our guide explained that since the tomb had been installed the place was usually heaving with visitors.

You may have heard of the controversy over where the King was to be re-interred, york staking a claim, but ultimately this being rejected in the courts in favour of his final resting place, a stone’s throw from where he now rests. I think this is also the right outcome, as York, wonderful though its Minster and wider City are, is already chock- a- block with historical interest and monuments. Somehow, to see the tomb here, the centre-piece of a human-scale religious building, heightens its emotional impact.

This was a magical experience…and well worth repeating, though I expect next time we won’t have Richard to ourselves.

Old School Gardener

P.S. Whoever you are, Mr. Verger, thank you for giving your time to help make our day.



Travelling back from our recent trip to Hull, we stopped off at a National Trust property in Derbyshire, the north midlands- Hardwick Hall. The Hall itself wasn’t open on our visit, but promises to be a fascinating example of high 18th century bling, so a return visit is in store….meanwhile how about the gardens?

After a pleasant lunch, sitting outside in the sunshine, we made our way around the rather splendid house (picking up a brief history from a very helpful guide) and explored the interesting entrance gardens and walled gardens that sit alongside the impressive pile.

The gardens are kept in good condition, as you might expect, and provide a wonderful opportunity to diversify and create areas of interest in what might otherwise seem to be an underdeveloped layout. Certainly the mixed herbaceous borders surrounding the House looked to be firing up for a wonderful summer show, but I was left thinking that more could be made of the walled garden….maybe I’ve been spoiled by my experience of regenerating the Walled Garden at Blickling! However, it was a very pleasant walk and I was very impressed with the various neat and interesting ways of interpreting the gardens and what’s currently of interest…something Blickling could do more of…

We didn’t have time to explore the wider estate, but it would seem to be packed with interesting walks (including a sculpture walk), complete with roaming herds of deer and other animals.

Further information: National Trust website

Old School Gardener


This year’s UK City of Culture is Kingston upon Hull. We had a trip there recently to explore this old city, which, a bit like our home city of Norwich, is ‘off the beaten track’. I’d been here before but only briefly, and wasn’t overly impressed with its noise and scruffiness… but that was a while ago.

Our two-day trip was a real eye opener. My abiding impressions are of a place that is unpretentious (and still a bit scruffy in places), warm and friendly, but with a certain ‘edge’ (maybe just ‘bluff yorkshire’?).

We had a fascinating guided walk around the city in the company of a local lad who showed us many wonderful places with fascinating stories, including the street named- no one knows why– ‘Land of Green Ginger’, which also has the world’s smallest window…see the picture below, to the right of the information board… yes that vertical slot; it was used by the inn’s stable lad to keep an eye out for arriving coaches so that he could be up and at ’em!

We saw how the city ‘public realm’ is being transformed with much new paving, fountains and seating. We saw some amazing art in the Maritime Museum ( a work of art itself) and the Ferrens Gallery.

We were impressed with some grand old buildings (and stayed in the Royal Hotel, itself a remnant of the grand Victorian age of rail travel).

We found (eventually) some superb pubs tucked away from the main streets and did our own mini ‘Ale Trail’ as well as exploring a wealth of museums (all free entry), walking along the River Hull and looking out over the Humber. We joined a discussion about freedom, justice and modern slavery (well this is the city of William Wilberforce, the driving force behind the abolition of the slave trade back in the middle of the 19th century).

If you get the chance, go t’ ‘ull. It’s a place on the up; in a way which grabs your attention, and then gives you a warm hug. Oh, and there were also some rather fine ornamental gardens on display…

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Old School Gardener


We took a mother’s Day trip out to this super National Trust Hall and Farm in Cambridgeshire. I loved the parterre with it’s combinations of Box and Euonymous and the Folly tower with some wonderful skeletal trees…


Ingra Tor, Dartmoor...a favourite place

Ingra Tor, Dartmoor…a favourite place, visited recently

WP_20160606_12_23_13_ProWe had a delightful trip to the west of Norfolk a month or two back; to the splendid medieval ruins of Castle Rising with its massive mounded enclosure and monumental masonry.

Equally fascinating was the village next door, where the old ‘hospital’ (almshouses) had a fantastic garden (including a large clipped box seat) and the Norman church featured some beautiful decoration.

A cricket match was underway in the adjoining field …the epitome of English country life (of old)! The sun shone, we strolled, and then took coffee in a great little cafe, where we also found a novel use for a redundant telephone box- a local lending library!

We shall definitely be back. The castle’s website says:

‘Castle Rising Castle is one of the most famous 12th Century castles in England. The stone keep, built in around 1140 AD, is amongst the finest surviving examples of its kind anywhere in the country and, together with the massive surrounding earthworks, ensures that Rising is a castle of national importance. In its time Rising has served as a hunting lodge, royal residence, and for a brief time in the 18th century even housed a mental patient.

The most famous period in its history was when it came to the mother of Edward III, Queen Isabella, following her part in the murder of her husband Edward II. The castle passed to the Howard family in 1544 and it remains in their hands today, the current owner being a descendant of William D’Albini II, the norman baron who raised the castle.’

Further information:

Castle website

English Heritage website


Lancelot Brown by Nathanial Dance, photo by dcoetzee

Lancelot Brown by Nathanial Dance, photo by dcoetzee

Throughout 2016 the work of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown will be marked with a festival of events celebrating his life, work and legacy – 300 years on from his birth.

Brown’s rich legacy of work ranges form Highclere Castle, the fictional home of ‘Downton Abbey’ to the well-known estates of Chatsworth, Blenheim and Stowe, to hidden gems such as Milton Abbey, Weston Park and Compton Verney. In 2016, there will be a range of events for everyone to enjoy – from the most ardent of fans, to those that know nothing of his work but simply enjoy stunning landscapes.

Some highlights include the opportunity to tour the grounds of Belvoir Castle, where a lost Brown design was recently rediscovered and implemented; his first and last known commissions; his longest commission; and some of his crowning achievements. The Capability Brown Festival 2016 has been funded by a £911,100 grant from the Heritage lottery Fund, and is managed by The Landscape Institute. Festival director Ceryl Evans said:

‘Brown’s work was groundbreaking. He blended art and engineering, and moved mountains of earth and villages, to create beautiful naturalistic landscapes which are still much admired today, 300 years after his birth.’

Brown's original plan for Blenheim

Brown’s original plan for Blenheim

A prolific landscape architect, Brown is associated with more than 250 sites across England and Wales, with many more parks and gardens around the world inspired by his work.

Audley End, Essex

Audley End, Essex

Capability Brown is a name well-known in gardening and landscaping circles, but among the general public his work and influence is less well-known. The Festival aims to address that gap as many of our best loved country houses are set as jewels in the wonderful landscapes he created, but often we recognise them for their architecture but sideline what makes them even more splendid –  their amazingly landscaped and seemingly natural settings.

Three centuries after Brown’s birth, the Festival presents a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at how the father of landscape architecture shaped the nation’s countryside.

Blenheim Palace Grand Bridge by Boddah at English Wikipedia

Blenheim Palace Grand Bridge by Boddah at English Wikipedia

Source: Landscape and Amenity Magazine, December 2015

Further information:

The Capability Brown Festival

Wikipedia- Capability Brown

Old School Gardener


WP_20150910_12_46_17_ProOur recent stay in Northumberland featured a boat trip to the Farne Islands.The National Trust says:

‘The Farne Islands are possibly the most exciting seabird colony in England with unrivalled views of 23 species, including around 37,000 pairs of puffin.

It’s also home to a large grey seal colony, with more than 1,000 pups born every autumn.

Historically, the islands have strong links with Celtic Christianity and St Cuthbert, who lived here in the 7th Century.

There’s also a medieval pele tower and Victorian lighthouse here, plus a visitor centre and easy access boardwalk.

Many of the islands hide underwater at high tide…’


We loved to see the birds and seals of the islands and to visit the main island to explore St. Cuthbert’s Chapel with it’s memorial to Grace Darling.

This young girl shot to fame nearly 200 years ago as she and her father helped to rescue survivors from a shipwreck. As the Grace Darling website says:

‘Grace was born on 24th November 1815 at Bamburgh, Northumberland and spent her youth in two lighthouses (Brownsman and Longstone) where her father, William, was the keeper. In the early hours of the 7th September 1838, Grace, looking out from an upstairs window of the Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands, spotted the wreck and survivors of the Forfarshire on Big Harcar, a low rocky outcrop. The Forfarshire had foundered on the rocks and broken in half; one of the halves had sunk during the night.  Amidst tempestuous waves and gale force winds there followed an amazing rescue of the survivors.  Grace’s life would never be the same.’

November 24th will be the 200th anniversary of Grace’s birth.

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I also loved seeing the cliffs where bird nests can be seen up close. Unfortunately the main nesting season had passed so we weren’t able to see puffins and other birds who had moved on to new homes for the winter, but it was, nonetheless a great trip.

Old School Gardener

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