Thursday, 7 June 2012

Hidden treasure in Warwick - The Master's Garden at Lord Leycester Hospital

The Master's Garden is a one-acre oasis in the middle of Warwick
The town of Warwick has a real surprise in its centre - ancient timber-frame buildings dating back to the 14th century, a beautiful chapel with stained-glass windows designed by William Morris and a secret and verdant landscape in an inner sanctum - the Master's Garden at Lord Leycester Hospital. This charming one-acre garden was almost lost to the nation at the end of the 20th century, but thanks to the tireless efforts of the then Master's wife, a garden historian called Susan Rhodes and a team of dedicated fundraisers, this little piece of history has been saved. 
The 12th century Norman arch and massive urn which once stood on the banks of the Nile
The Lord Leycester Hospital dates back to 1571. It was founded by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, as a hospital and safe haven for elderly or disabled soldiers, with a resident Master in charge, hence the name of the garden. Today the tradition continues and there are places for eight ex-servicemen and their wives in this tranquil setting in the heart of England. It's these residents who man the gates of the hospital and share their stories with visitors who come to see this charming plot, hidden behind ancient town walls.
At the rear of the garden there is an Elizabethan gazebo and raised walkway
By the end of the 20th century, the garden here had not only fallen into disrepair, but had been closed to the public for nearly 100 years. But when Susan Rhodes arrived here in the 1990s, a garden historian who was wife to the resident Master, new life was breathed into the ancient garden. Records for this plot date back to the early 17th century, and with the help of local landscape architect, Geoffrey Smith, The Master's Garden was restored and re-opened to the public. 
Colourful summer borders flank brick pathways that give symmetry to the Master's Garden 
Current residents at Lord Leycester Hospital
There are actually two gardens here - the main area, adjacent to the Master's house and a new Millenium courtyard garden, designed by Rhodes and Smith, which you pass through en route to the restored Master's Garden. You then pass through a Norman arch sheltering under two huge magnolia trees, to access the revitalised garden at the rear, which is planted with colourful border plants and has features like the thatched summer house (above), a restored 18th-century pineapple pit and an Elizabethan gazebo and raised walkway that commands wonderful views over the ancient town of Warwick. But what is striking about this garden is the sense of peace and serenity.
The Millenium Garden with sculpture by Rachel Higgins, based on the Dudley coat of arms - a bear with a staff
The Master's Garden is open daily from Easter until the end of September (except Mondays) from 10.00 to 16.30. Well worth visiting if you're in the area and described by Patrick Taylor as "a rare example of an urban garden with a long and interesting history and much charm".  Visitors to Warwick may also want to visit the castle there, which has another interesting garden. I didn't manage to get there because by the time I'd toured this garden, the rain was pouring down!

1 comment:

  1. all those hedges and all the clipping! makes me tired! looks like a magical place though.

    ReplyDelete