Arundel Castle’s gardens combine abundant and unusual planting with a wealth of decorative structures that blend with its dramatic surrounding. It also has an air of informal formality, which balances tradition with innovation and creativity. The Duke and Duchess of Norfolk are instrumental in the restoration and re-design of the castle gardens, with great respect for historical detail, an organic approach and a preference for natural materials. The couple have a team of half a dozen gardeners as well as volunteers headed by Martin Duncan, who is no less than nobility within the gardening world himself. After designing gardens for King Hussain and Queen Noor of Jordan, he bloomed in Bermuda as Senior Garden and Parks Superintendent for the whole of the islands.
The gardens’ masterpiece is the ‘Collector Earl’s Garden’ commissioned by the Duke and Duchess, and opened by the Prince of Wales in 2008 as a memorial to the 14th Earl of Arundel, an avid art collector who died in exile during the English Civil War. Designed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman, who also worked at Highgrove, it replaced a car park and has a backdrop of the 14th century Fitzalan Chapel and Arundel Cathedral. The garden structures, many with intricate ornaments, are fashioned from weathered green oak that has the appearance of stone. These include grottos, fountains, ponds, pools, rills, pavilions, obelisks, a domed pergola and the Oberon’s Palace, an exquisite temple with shell-lined mosaics. In summer, for the ‘Arundel Festival’, the exquisite building stages Shakespearian plays to an audience seated on the lawn.
Sheltered by walls, the ‘Collector Earl’s’ garden is packed with luscious, abundant and colourful planting that blends with the landscape. An impressive Stumpery, created by Duncan from oak stumps, adds drama to the theatrical setting. Over 100 stumps, all turned upside down, look magnificent with long flowering hellebores, euphorbias wulfenii and Dieramas pulcherrimum. There is also a tropical-style garden with palms, tree ferns, salvias and other tender plants; and a child-friendly labyrinth lawn with purple alliums sprouting at different heights.
In the ‘Organic Kitchen Garden’, the Tropical House shelters exotics such as paw-paws, passion fruits, pineapples, unusual tomatoes and hot chillies, while the Victorian Vine House even boasts peaches. Grown over a wrought-iron archway, there is a selection of Sussex apple varieties, while walls are clothed with pears and cherries. Most of the kitchen produce is shared between the Duke’s family, the restaurant and the public through an honesty box. In the adjacent ‘Cut Flower Garden’, tulips and other spring bulbs, followed by annuals, dahlias and roses which paint a fine picture, alongside sweet peas and edibles covering hazel arches.
Other highlights include the heavily scented ‘Rose Garden’, enhanced by Gothic archways for climbing roses. Set in a courtyard surrounded by yew hedges, the garden is packed with top specimens and a 1785 sundial. According to Duncan, their perfume can be smelt by passers-by outside the enclosed area. Equally, the ‘Fitzalan Chapel White Garden’ and the stunning ‘English Herbaceous Borders’, with cottage-style favourites, have gone through significant improvements.
A new garden ‘room’ with thatched croft surrounded by more exciting planting combinations, is a new highlight for 2016. A record 72,000 spring bulbs, including snowdrops, eranthys, snake’s head fritillaries and numerous varieties of daffodil, have been added to existing stock. For its ‘Tulip Festival’ in April and May, over 32,000 tulips in 50 different types have been planted. This will be followed by an ‘Allium Extravaganza’ with 14 varieties, some six metres tall. Beyond the garden gems, the castle houses a fine collection of paintings, tapestries, furniture and armour, and a busy events calendar with live music, historical plays, characters and tournaments. “In Arundel”, says Duncan, “one feels immersed in history, yet we keep on making history with all that we do.”
Arundel Castle, West Sussex, BN18 9AB;
01903 882173; arundelcastle.org