Haddon Hall is unique. Not just because it is 900 years old, this is Britain after all, but more significantly because the house was closed in the 18th century when the family moved to another of their homes, Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, and then left untouched for the next 200 years or so. In all that time the hall wasn’t extended any further or updated, as the homes of the landed gentry usually are as they pass down through the generations and become subject to the fashions of the time. Haddon Hall seems to have been forgotten, and that was lucky because it has meant that much of the interior of the house, including the medieval kitchen, wooden paneling and windows which date from the 14th century to Tudor times, have survived.
From the outside the stone walls, punctuated by beautiful mullioned windows, create a spectacularly romantic setting which is well matched by the gardens. These were originally laid out in a series of terraces by Elizabethan architect Robert Smythson, who designed the long gallery in the house. These terraces, retained by buttressed walls, follow a steep slope down to the banks of the river Wye, and allow some spectacular views of the parkland and countryside around the house. The gardens haven’t remained untouched of course. They were apparently renovated at the start of the 20th Century, and were more recently redesigned and planted by Arne Maynard. The gardens certainly make the most of both the gorgeous house and dramatic surroundings with a vibrant and dreamily relaxed mix of plants. I’ve been here twice, both times in June, and both times I’ve thought that it must be the best month to see it. The combination of roses, irises, peonies and oriental poppies at that time of year is so perfect and suits the house so well I can’t imagine them being bettered. It’s skillfully planted, though, so I daresay anyone who has visited at another time of the year may disagree.
Roses climb the stone walls of the house and create a hazy rainbow of colour that helps you to see how many different tones and hues there are in that stone. The plants at the base are colourful, too, with the blousy but short-lived irises, peonies and oriental poppies in no way upstaged by the loveliness above.
Many more irises adorn the long borders on the terrace at the side of the house, raised above the garden this is where you get the best views of the house and garden, as well as surrounding parkland and the more rugged beauty of the peak district countryside beyond.
Perhaps I’ve made it sound like a typical cottage garden in my description so far, but in fact there’s a lovely mix of formality and informality. The knot garden filled with herbs beside the house is more structured, and topiary in the form of cubes of copper beech and rounded shapes of hornbeam also provide more formal aspects that sit well with the informality of the shrubs, climbers and herbaceous perennials that cram and spill out of the borders. I’ve talked about the stars of the show in June, but many other cottage garden favourites are used. Lavender, crocosmia, verbascum, salvias and phlox, to name a few. At the centre of the terrace in the picture below, but not visible in my picture, there is even a flowery mead, looking quite shaggy when we were there.
On one of the lower terraces, one of my favourite parts of the garden, you’re greeted by a set of steps smothered in mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus). This pink and white daisy self seeds like a weed, and proves just how lovely a weed-like plant can be. The master stroke in this scene, though is probably the honeysuckle climbing the wall, festooned with golden flowers, alongside another huge climbing (or possibly rambling) rose.
Finally, I wanted to mention something about the ethos of the garden, which they mention on their website. Their approach is to work with nature. They use peat free compost. They use seaweed and organic manure from their farms to feed the soil, they hand weed and they encourage natural predators as well as using nematodes to control pests and diseases. In fact, it sounds as though they garden in much the same way that the Elizabethans would have gardened, which sounds perfect to me.
Categories: Visits with interesting plants