Tuesday, 10 May 2011

"Phantasmagoric" topiary at Levens Hall, Cumbria

The topiary garden at Levens Hall, Cumbria
Levens Hall in Cumbria is billed as "the best topiary garden in the world" and, having visited just this week, I have no doubt it's true. The original gardens were designed in the 17th century by King James II's gardener, Guillaume Beaumont, and have been maintained ever since by the owners of the Hall. Today they're certainly the oldest topiary gardens in the world, and I suspect that having visited, few of us would be brave enough to dispute their claim to be "the best"!
Glances of the topiary at Levens Hall - where huge, immaculately clipped hedges dominate the garden
Located in the heart of Cumbria, which has more than its fair share of beautiful gardens, parts of Levens Hall date back to the 13th century. The gardens came later, and the first records date back to 1694 when Guillaume Beaumont became involved in their design at the behest of the owner, Colonel James Grahme. Well-known English garden writer, Patrick Taylor, says he "laid out a feast of topiary" and describes it as "phantasmagoric" in his book about the great gardens of Britain and Ireland.
Amazing topiary with impressive underplanting at Levens Hall
But whilst the topiary at Levens Hall is amazing, credit must also be given to the striking underplanting, enclosed by low lying box hedges - at this time of year, there's a dazzling display of yellow and purple pansies. Later in the season these are replaced by equally spectacular bedding plants. The result is a stunning display that stops you in your tracks. I have rarely seen a garden that makes such a startling first impression!
You'll find glorious borders, a herb garden, fountain garden and nuttery, in addition to the topiary at Levens Hall
Credit must go to the owners of this remarkable garden, because they are not relying on the topiary to keep them in the list of "Must See British Gardens". Once you've finished gasping over the ancient, immaculately trimmed trees and the underplanting, you move on to the fountain garden, herb garden and nuttery. There are also spectacular herbaceous borders and a pleached lime tunnel. This really is a spectacular garden, unlike any other I've seen. Open Sunday to Thursday from April to mid-October, 10.00 am - 5.00 pm. Free to Historic Houses Association members.


  1. Beautiful. Love the topiaries. The gardens are incredible. Thanks for posting them - love taking a peek in there!

  2. I went to Levens Hall a few years ago when my daughter was at Lancaster Uni - think it is a 'must see' garden. The topiary is so incredible.

  3. Very beautiful gardens! It must be a tremendous amount of work to keep all those topiaries clipped.

  4. These are quite stately gardens! The topiaries are striking. Thanks for posting as I will likely never have the chance to set foot there myself! ~Kate from YourGardenShow

  5. Charlotte, Didn't I hear somewhere that they have box blight at Levens Hall, and so are experimenting with different shrubs to replace much of their topiary? It must be heartbreaking, but I seem to remember the head gardener being fairly upbeat and seeing it as an opportunity to try new things. Did you see much evidence of this?

  6. No, I saw very little evidence of box blight, but could just have been so stunned by what I saw that I didn't notice!

  7. Hello, great blog and thank you for the kind words about Levens. Yes, we have struggled with box blight for about three years and despite our best efforts it has left its mark. We are starting to replace some of the low box edges with Ilex crenata and also some Teucrium x lucidrys where a looser look is more appropriate. Both seem OK, but time will tell...
    I am experimenting with a blog myself- work in progress you can find at http://levensgarden.blogspot.com
    I look forward to meeting you at Levens one day...