Lowther is a garden that was once asleep but after 70 years of neglect is now springing back to life. We have removed tons of concrete and thousands of trees. Moss covered stone built garden shelters and limestone steps have been hidden and untouched amongst the entanglement of years of undergrowth. Fallen cast iron balustrades lie at the foot of ruined fallen walls and old water features stand eerily silent amongst the trees. We have fought through brambles and been rewarded by discovering that the seventeenth century structure of the garden is still evident. Our process of revelation and restoration has begun. Since the beginning of our restoration project in 2011, we have worked tirelessly to unpick the dense layers of neglect. We have started an important process of uncovering slowly and painstakingly some of the unique lost and forgotten parts of the garden and whilst protecting Lowther’s rich heritage and history we are adding an exciting new layer. Owners of these huge gardens were always innovating and experimenting: we are doing the same. Lowther is a garden for all seasons, for all ages. Come and explore.
Dan Pearson created an overall master plan for the gardens to give a mixture of revelation, restoration and design of new gardens for the future. Taken from Dan’s overview of the gardens he writes “The landscape and gardens at Lowther Castle are fertile with the history of over seven hundred years of man’s changing relationship with nature. 21st century landscape proposals reconnect Lowther to the surrounding landscape, give perspective to the historic gardens and engage with contemporary ideas of ecological design to reassert Lowther as a landscape and garden destination of national cultural significance.
Lowther’s gardens and parkland have historically been celebrated as containing “more nature than art”. The continuity through centuries of well-documented British landscape & garden design is layered one over the other with the design intentions of Colen Campbell, Francis Richardson, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, John Webb, William Gilpin and Thomas Mawson reflecting the tastes of each age. This layered set of lost gardens is a timeline through English garden heritage.
Original 17th century divisions appear through the threadbare incarnations of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century designs, and a new opportunistic ecology has colonised amid ancient trees, Roman columns and Egyptian baths. Previous incarnations are not erased and wild gardens are sensitively preserved to retain their enchanted storybook narrative”.
The South Lawns
In the early 1900’s immaculately kept lawns and a bowling green were the key features of this area. Over- spending and eccentric lifestyles led to the castle and gardens being abandoned in 1937. The British Army requisitioned Lowther Castle during WW2 and concreted the grand lawns and used this area for tank training and up until recently the concrete was the site of several large chicken sheds which were erected post war. During the first phase of clearing in the gardens the concrete was removed and nearly 2000 trees were felled which had been planted throughout the gardens in the mid 1950’s as a source of income. The restoration of the lawns and construction of paths represents the biggest single change we have made in the gardens. There are four lawns flanked by enormous beds of perennial wildflowers native to our region and this will benefit insects & wildlife.
The Yew Avenue
The Yew Avenue is one of the oldest original features in the garden also known as the Yew grove, it is believed to have been first planted in the early 17th Century and the oldest yew is thought to be around 350-400 years old. Some of the original Yew trees have been lost over the years, but have now been replaced in order to give a better sense of the layout. Towering over the Avenue is the Pinetum which is still a significant asset to the gardens housing a collection of veteran specimens including huge Douglas and White firs, Western Hemlocks and Cedars dating from the late 1800’s. The Treescapes at Lowther have a major role to play and arboriculture and planting new trees for the next 50, 100 & 500 years is an important part of our strategy.
The Japanese Garden
During major felling works during the first phase of clearing, a number of original structures and gardens were found which were on top of the original 17th century layout. The Japanese garden was laid out around 1902 - 1903 and believed to be designed by Thomas Mawson. A fine collection of Bonsai trees over 300 years old grown in native soil and original ware pots sat around a lily covered central pond. Lead cranes and a giant bronze stag kept watch. There was a Shinto Temple and a Tea House from Japan which were key features but they have long since gone, however the mossy remains of this once grand garden can let the imaginations run wild.
The Sweet Scented Garden
The fashion for sweet scented gardens was created In the Edwardian heyday with dense shrub planting creating a sense of it being enclosed and hidden. Limestone edged paths meandered around the beds once planted with scented geranium, lilies and nepeta. The sounds in this garden emanated from the seven stone cairn water features now covered in moss and wild creeping cranesbill which now stand silent. In the past visitors to this garden sat on benches made from twisted yew and rhododendron underneath arbours of honeysuckle however the cash crop of trees which were planted in the mid 1950’s all but obliterated the original layout and we plan to retain it as a ruin amongst ferns and foxgloves.
The Rock Garden
Regarded as a gem of a garden in its day, the Rock Garden has slowly been unearthed and awakened from years of hibernation and original paths have been exposed which twist and flow around beds and a ruined central pond. The ancient stone seating allows time to pause and reflect on what was once planted here. Trilliums, snowdrops and colchicums still flower today to give an insight into the planting and the work continues to preserve the moss covered stones and summerhouses. New plants are being added while plants that have been dormant for many years have begun to come to life which is enhancing and recapturing the lost and romantic atmosphere
The gardens that exist at Lowther today have been developed over a period of time since the mid 1600's. Fruit and vegetables have always been grown even in the 20th century but then the gardens became overgrown and neglected. From the very start of the restoration project a new orchard was planned in an area of the garden where one was once believed to have grown and old apple labels have been found here which confirm these suspicions. We have begun to plant new fruit trees and soft fruits which we have grafted and propagated ourselves and when fully planted the orchard will have over 160 fruit trees including apples, pears, plums and damsons.
Parterre Tapestry Garden
The first of the new designs from the Dan Pearson garden master plan for Lowther Castle was constructed in spring 2014. A perennial parterre tapestry garden now takes the stage in front of the south façade of the castle. Yew hedges have been planted to suggest the effect of an outsized and thread bare tapestry, grasses and perennials such as Mollinia, Filipendula and Iris’s will be planted. Reclaimed stone will be positioned through the paths to help play the effect of a romantic ruin.
Garden in the Ruins
Part of the ongoing development of the garden is a new design for the east range of the castle ruins. This is an ambitious and romantic plan based on the design created by Dan Pearson and is due to commence from early 2015. Trees and shrubs will provide the structural planting while roses, wisteria and jasmine will scramble through the huge gothic style windows. The choice of the perennials has been based on the idea of using grasses and bulbs which will sway in the breeze under the shadows of the imposing castle walls.
It is our dream to allow the plan for the garden at Lowther to mature and grow slowly and this will take years. We have an ambitious strategy which will develop overtime and although it is an ambitious undertaking it is already proving to be exceptional. We are fortunate to have a team of gardeners and volunteers who are dedicated and hardworking and since starting this project have achieved extraordinary changes. Much more is still to be done; the reintroduction of water into the gardens, a new rose garden, final plans and planting for the Countess’s garden, the uncovering and consolidating of several other gardens including the Patte d’oie, Jack Crofts Pond, the Iris garden and the Alpine garden. The hard work will continue for years to come which makes the future of the gardens at Lowther exciting, whilst becoming a notable visitor attraction known for its horticultural excellence.