Best British Gardens - Levens Hall

Levens Hall in Cumbria is one of my favourite gardens - set against the backdrop of an imposing, but extraordinarily well-preserved Elizabethan house, which is still privately owned - sitting at the heart of 10 acres of gardens and boasting the oldest topiary garden in the world. It is well worth going into this beautifully maintained house, which is open to the public, to see its lavish interior with oak panelling and ornate plasterwork; for the collection of antiques, paintings and textiles; and for the views of the exceptional surrounding garden.
Located in the heart of Cumbria, which has more than its fair share of beautiful gardens, parts of the main house date back to the 13th century. The gardens came later, and the first records date back to 1694 when Guillaume Beaumont (King James II's gardener at Hampton Court Palace) became involved in their design at the request of the owner. Well-known English garden writer, Patrick Taylor, says "he laid out a feast of topiary" and describes the effect as "phantasmagoric" in his book about the great gardens of Britain.
Today they are the oldest surviving topiary gardens in the world and I think that once visited, few would be brave enough to dispute Taylor's claim as "the best". Late spring is always a good time and sees the topiary and hedges freshly clipped after a Herculean six-month cutting session carried out by head gardener, Chris Chowder and his team. The gardens look fresh and inviting at this time of year, although the borders are still in their infancy. But even as summer progresses the garden team re-plant the topiary gardens, so there is always a good display.
The garden is flourishing under the stewardship of Chowder and the owners and some of its newer features are beginning to flourish, including the willow labyrinth (planted in 2009); the beautifully-tended herbaceous borders; the vegetable garden and the beech circle, with its fountain garden (above). There is also an orchard and a herb garden. And new to Levens Hall this year is the Levens Kitchen - a restaurant using both locally-sourced produce and what is grown in the garden.
Levens Hall is open from Easter until October - for full details of timings and admission prices, click here. There are also other notable gardens nearby to visit if you're in the area.

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