The word garden may conjure up images of flowers and shrubs, pots and palms – but at Lowther, the gardens are on an altogether grander scale, both in terms of history and setting. Echoes of the past are all around. These are gardens that were first formally laid out in the 17th century and in the intervening years, have been layered with great indulgence and great neglect in equal measure.
The Yew Walk and the Western Terrace are reminders of a time when the first Viscount Lonsdale was dreaming all things vegetarian and taking a broad philosophical view of the art of landscaping. Jack Croft – with its surrounding woodland and pond – dates back initially even further. The Patte d’Oie and the now semi-forgotten Iris, Japanese and Rock Gardens take visitors to the late Victorian, early Edwardian period when the Yellow Earl was frantically trying to keep up with the very latest in horticultural fashion.
Over the top and around these earlier timepieces are layers from the 21st century. Dan Pearson, landscape designer, has brought a bewitching combination of geometry and wildness to the mix, the Courtyard filled with lines and blocks of trees and benches; the Parterre both running wild and controlled at the same time, its imagery echoing a threadbare tapestry; the Garden-in-the-Ruins slowly coming to emulate the burnt out shell of Lowther Hall, when trees and plants had overtaken it.
The near and the far:
It is not just the castle ruins’ relationship with the sky that is astonishing about Lowther. It is not just the scattered summerhouses or the wildflower meadows or the hints of splendour from the past that are surprising to first-time visitors. But Lowther also enjoys a remarkable relationship with the landscape around it. The gardens sit on a natural bluff and from the Western Terrace, you can see the land falling away into the lovely Bampton Valley. From the top of the Patte d’Oie, you can look down each of the three avenues and catch three separate and stunning views. From the North Terrace, in front of the castle, you can stand and gaze at Penrith in the distance.
In the late 18th century, the gardens and setting of Lowther were likened to those of the great Summer Palace in China. This sense of scale and of history are still very much present in the gardens at Lowther today.