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Burghley House

On June 9th, 37 members of the Trust made a day trip to Burghley House and gardens, just outside Stamford. Burghley House was started in 1555 and took 30 years to complete. It was conceived as a family seat for William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, who served Elizabeth I for forty years. Although the interior of the house was toured it was the garden we had come to see, and with a special guide, the head gardener, Joe Whitehead.

Joe Whitehead

Joe previously worked at Burghley before coming head gardener at Salle Park and at Raveningham. His return has proved to be perfect timing for there is a gardening buzz in the air as interest in the development of the gardens is mounting and along with it, money. The six and a half acre walled kitchen garden, long abandoned, is poised for a major maker over.

South Gardens

The 25 acre south garden leading from the south façade of the house is in a familiar tradition of grass, yew hedges, topiary and roses and leads to the main landscape feature at Burghley the lake, this by Capability Brown. It covers 22 acres and Brown took advantage of rising springs and runnels to direct water into it. From the lake rise swathes of grass and tree clad slopes and hills, and its chief ornament is the Lion Bridge from the 1770s.

He also designed a boat house and a Gothic temple. His valley garden, below one of the lakes embankments, Joe has converted into a water garden. This one of the new schemes he has initiated since returning to Burghley four years ago. There has been much knowledgeable tree planting at Burghley in the past, and the variety of the trees is one of its chief attractions. Previously the grass within the arboretum had been closely cut but Joe now lets it grow to its natural height allowing wild flowers to establish. He also has various cultivated wild flower areas. I the last 4 years over 40,000 new plants have been added to the gardens. These are tended by nine gardeners with help from 17 volunteers.

Swallows Rill

One of the new projects is in a ravine called Swallow’s Rill. This for the moment is dry, with a new winding path down one side and huge rocks punctuating the arid bank. Excellent for dry planting, but eventually water will spill through the ravine, emerging from a cave in newly restored and cleared rock works, only a winter phenomenon at the moment. The ravine is populated by two sculptured cows, looking at ease and at home in their surroundings.

Sculpture is one of the key features of the Burghley landscape. There is a core permanent collection enhanced by an annual infusion of new works. Some are figurative, animals in various guises feature prominently, and there are many abstract works in differing materials. They add a strong and welcome dimension to the gardens, the sculpture is set throughout 12 acres.

The visit ended with a viewing of the ‘The Garden of Surprises’. This a formal garden, and sequence of enclosures where water in various forms is used to entertain and delight. Designed by George Carter in 2007. Here jets rise from hidden corners or tumble down rills or fall within grottoes. A Mirror Maze is remarkably effective This garden is unlike anything else at Burghley and is an excellent complement to its arboretum and Brownian landscape and various herbaceous beds and wild plantings. When its kitchen garden is transformed by new designs and the planting, Burghley needs to be marked down for a return visit.

Next Event

Visit to Shropham Vicarage

Thursday 14th July

Venue: Shropham Vicarage, Church Road, Shropham NR17 1EJ.

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