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21 September 2014

Hampton Court Castle & Gardens

While on holiday in early September, staying in South Shropshire, I got talking to a gardener working for English Heritage, who recommended a visit to the gardens at Hampton Court Castle, near Leominster in Herefordshire. If you are in the area it is well worth a visit.

Founded by King Henry IV in the early 15th century as a reward for a knights bravery at Agincourt, the castle predates the better known Hampton Court Palace. It is privately owned rather than belonging to the National Trust or English Heritage, so it is perhaps not as well known as it should be. The castle is well worth a visit but you can just pay for access to the gardens if you prefer.

The castle land extends to 1,000 acres, mainly parkland, but with stunning gardens adjacent to the castle itself. Both castle and gardens have been remodelled several times during their long history.

Rescued from neglect in 1994, the 12 acres of gardens surrounding the castle have been revived and transformed over the last 10 years by Simon Dorrell and David Wheeler, and now feature flower gardens, herbaceous borders, avenues, kitchen gardens, island pavilions, canals and a 150-year old wisteria tunnel leading to sweeping lawns. Make your way to the gothic tower in the centre of the 1,000-yew maze for a panoramic view of the gardens, or go down the secret tunnel leading to a waterfall and the sunken garden.

Many original structures have been meticulously restored by estate masons and carpenters, and inspirational new features have been added, complementing the established planting of the earlier eras.

The Dutch garden is an oasis of calm, with a long, rectangular stretch of still water lined with large pots of Fritillaria Persica. However, my favourite area is the walled vegetable garden, which is run organically and which provides produce for the Orangery tea room, and also for sale in the shop. As you might expect in Herefordshire, apple and pear trees thrive here, with produce again going to the shop and tea room, though windfalls are used for pig food and are also left for the birds to eat. Vegetables and flowering plants are often combined in this garden, with nepeta frequently used. Three different green manures were being used during my visit.

To finish your visit why not take the River Walk and then call in at the Orangery Tea Room, which is in a Joseph Paxton designed conservatory, built in 1846.

I hope you get a chance to visit ‘Possibly the most ambitious private garden of our time… one of the most successful public gardens in Great Britain’.
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