The scale and beauty of the spectacular ruin that is Lowther Castle are reflected in the scope and setting of its 130-acre gardens. Here the past and present jostle for space.
The Gardens were first formally laid out in the 17th century by the first Viscount, Sir John Lowther, a profound thinker and – significantly for the gardens – a committed vegetarian. The Great Yew Avenue was complemented by Knot Gardens where fruit and vegetables were grown for the then Lowther Hall kitchens.
Garden relics such as the Roman Bath and stone columns provide reminders of the mid-Victorian period; while the Rock, Japanese, Sweet-Scented and Iris Gardens hark back to that early Edwardian period when the Yellow Earl was enthusiastically trying to keep up with the very latest in horticultural fashion. (Thomas Mawson was one of many garden designers he employed.) The “Emperor’s Drive” was commissioned to welcome the German Kaiser on one of his visits to Lowther Castle.
Over his sixty year tenure, the Yellow Earl squandered a vast family fortune and in 1936, the castle and gardens were abandoned. Wartime occupation by tank regiments left the lawns covered in concrete; and in the 1950s, once the castle was demolished, the gardens were filled with commercial chicken sheds, a pig farm and a spruce plantation. Wild undergrowth soon came to dominate.
The near and the far:
After more than fifty years in the wilderness, in 2008, Lowther’s gardens were marked out for rescue. Under the guidance of Chelsea Gold winner and international Garden Designer Dan Pearson, a 20-year landscape masterplan was put in place and restoration began.
Today visitors will discover the courtyard dotted with a series of clipped hornbeam sentinels, their sculptured shapes reflecting the castle architecture; the Parterre planted with bold combinations of herbaceous perennials, woolly grasses and clipped yews; the Garden-in-the-Ruins, a fine example of naturalistic planting with a collection of botanical rarities. The Rose Garden, inspired by the Sleeping Beauty myth and planted in the shape of an old English Rose, is Pearson’s latest addition.
Summerhouses, tree hives for wild bees, wildflower meadows and rambling woodland – all these can be found across the gardens’ 130 acres. The remarkable Western Terrace is a must for all visitors, a spectacular point from which to view the Lowther Valley and the Lake District mountains beyond.