Friday, 21 March 2014

Spring has Sprung at Leeds Castle

Written by Head Gardener Andrew McCoryn.

Spring is here and it’s really nice to see the daffodils, crocuses and of course our famous Anemone blandas in full bloom after the heavy rainfall of January and February. In the past few weeks, we’ve been making the most of the sunny, dry days by planting lovely cherry trees in the Culpeper Garden to bring some beautiful white and pinks blooms for visitors to enjoy.

The plan for this year and beyond is to create lots more colour and interest to attract more visitors throughout the colder months and, personally, I’d like to ensure that the Culpeper Garden is one of the best-kept gardens in Kent, after all the county has long been nicknamed 'the Garden of England.'

The Culpeper Garden was first opened in 1980 in memory of the Castle’s last private owner Lady Baillie.  It was designed by leading landscape gardener Russell Page and I believe he successfully achieved a homely feel to the cottage-style garden. It’s located on what was once the site of the Castle’s kitchen garden and is named after the Culpeper family that owned the Castle in the 17th Century.

New to the Culpeper Garden for 2014 are over twenty
witch-hazel shrubs. We planted these in January. Known in China as ‘Queen of the winter’ they produce the most amazing vibrant yellows, oranges and red spidery flowers. Hardy down to -18 degrees Celsius, some of the flowers possess a lemony or spicy fragrance. It’s the perfect way to kick off the New Year in an English garden.  We are also making a winter trail of hardy shrubs through the formal gardens, which will add colour, fragrance and interest for many winters to come.

One of our latest projects is to restore the rockery around The Barbican and fortified mill to bring back the colour as it would have been in the 1930s.  Working with an original 1934 black and white photograph, and the recent discovery of 80 year old rockery plant lead labels, this amazing plant puzzle is slowly being pieced back together.

Later this year we will be planting cherry trees and magnolias on the Castle Island to give visitors the 
feeling of tradition and majestic presence in keeping with the Castle's 900 year history. We are so lucky to have such a rich and colourful past here at Leeds Castle and we plan to reflect this through the development of the gardens around the Estate.

This summer we will be kept busy redeveloping the Lady Baillie Mediterranean Terrace Garden, where many palm trees indigenous to the Mediterranean, South America and Central China will be planted. I hope that this will encourage more visitors to enjoy this warm, but often overlooked, part of the Estate.

On the top terraces will be Chilean Jubaea Palms, which has the widest trunk of any palm species and feels like the skin of an elephant - I know this from my days working at a zoo with elephants. On the mid-terraces will be Chamaerops Palm, one of only two types of palm tree native to the Mediterranean and on the lower terraces will be Chinese Chusan palm, which has fan-shaped leaves and a hairy trunk, giving a lush sub-tropical feel.

We have recently planted a series of large round Tuscan stone pine trees. These have created volume and height to the garden and will help to provide shelter for other plants. Incidentally the trees are also the source for pesto. Alongside them we will be adding tall pencil-shaped Italian Cypresses. So revered was this plant in ancient times that the people of the Island of Cyprus named their island after the plant.

Together with the team we have been planning our new look Lady Baillie Mediterranean Terrace Garden for some time. We want the garden to be as dramatic as possible. Most importantly though is to remember that we are nearer to the North Pole than the Mediterranean by over 500 miles, therefore we have looked for plants from around the world that come from colder climates but still have that exotic look.

I’ve recently introduced desert plants such as the
Argentine saguaro, a cactus originating from the cool mountains of Chile and Argentina, where it can withstand temperatures as extreme as -10 Celsius; meaning it can easily survive a British winter. For me, it’s all about combining theatre with plant knowledge and good gardening.

The Mediterranean Terraces were originally the location of Lady Baillie’s aviary and were designed by landscape architect Christopher Carter and opened in 1999.  It offers an interesting contrast to the cottage-style Culpeper Garden with its dramatic terraces and striking views across the Great Water.

My team and I are looking forward to once again hosting the Garden Tours from next month and I would encourage visitors to come along, ask questions, find out more about the history of the gardens and chat to us about how we maintain the plants day to day to take some useful tips home. The tours run on Thursdays from April to October, subject to availability, please check the website for details coming soon. The Garden Tour is free of charge with a valid admission ticket and meets outside the Fairfax Restaurant at 1130am. We hope to see some of you there!

Spring Photo Walks 26th March 2014, 15th April 2014, 17th April 2014
A rare opportunity to improve your photography skills and capture the castle grounds and spring flowers with your own equipment with professional guidance from Robert Canis. The workshop is suitable for all ages and abilities and each walk lasts approximately three hours. 
Price £40 per person (includes a one-day ticket to Leeds Castle and refreshments). Max 8 people per session. Pre-book online HERE.

For more information on the Leeds Castle Garden Tours and Spring Photo Walks please visit