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Sudeley Castle: Celebrating a secret garden in the heart of the Cotswolds

PUBLISHED: 10:46 10 July 2018

Statue in the Secret Garden at Sudeley Castle (c) Barbara Evripidou/FirstAvenuePhotography.com

Statue in the Secret Garden at Sudeley Castle (c) Barbara Evripidou/FirstAvenuePhotography.com

©Barbara Evripidou

This year, Sudeley Castle is celebrating a milestone for arguably its most romantic spot – its Secret Garden

As one of the Cotswolds’ most charming visitor attractions, Sudeley Castle is perhaps best known as being the final resting place of Queen Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s six wives.

Yet, almost 500 years on from her death, the Castle and gardens are very much full of life. Visitors can explore the beautifully restored 15th century church where she lies entombed or visit the new exhibition which tells the 1,000-year story of Sudeley’s history.

But in the summer months, it is Sudeley’s ten award-winning gardens that really steal the show. Set against the stunning backdrop of the majestic castle, and surrounded by striking views of the Cotswold Hills, the gardens are an ever-evolving showcase of the best of what each season has to offer.

A quiet spot in the Secret Garden at Sudeley Castle, June 2018A quiet spot in the Secret Garden at Sudeley Castle, June 2018

From the tranquillity of the Knot Garden or the magnificence and grandeur of the Queens’ Garden, there is a vast array of flowers, shrubs, trees and herbs to delight the senses. Throughout the summer they are awash with colour, the highlight being more than 80 varieties of rose in full bloom.

This year, Sudeley Castle is celebrating a milestone for arguably its most romantic spot – its Secret Garden. The garden is so-called for its intimate and sheltered nature – being hidden on one side by a large yew hedge and on another by a stone wall, complete with buttresses.

The garden can be found through an archway of roses alongside St Mary’s Church. It is overlooked by a huge, 200-year-old cedar of Lebanon tree, and is adjacent to the castle’s pheasantry – home to one of the largest collections of rare-breed pheasants in the world. Visitors are certain to hear the unmistakable calls of the castle’s two resident peacocks which are free to roam the whole site.

Henry & Lili on their wedding day, in the library at Sudeley Castle in 1998Henry & Lili on their wedding day, in the library at Sudeley Castle in 1998

Little is known about the garden’s history prior to the 20th century. It was re-planted in 1979 by the current chatelaine of the castle, Elizabeth, Lady Ashcombe, following her marriage to Lord Ashcombe in 1979. She wished to create a ‘secret garden’ as a celebration of their marriage and to house four 18th century cherub-like garden ornaments from Lord Ashcombe’s own garden – which can still be seen today.

When Lady Ashcombe’s son, Henry Dent-Brocklehurst, married Lili Maltese in 1998, it was decided to re-plant the garden, introducing more vibrant, exotic colours to give it a more modern feel. This year marks their 20th wedding anniversary and many features of the 1998 planting scheme can still be enjoyed today.

“It really is an enchanting garden,” says Lili, who spends most summers at Sudeley Castle along with Henry and their three sons. “It’s wonderful to see it in full summer bloom and thriving, four decades after it was first created. I love its cottage-garden charm and the simple elegance of flowers such as the foxgloves, alliums and irises.”

Henry and Lili with their three sons in the Secret Garden at Sudeley Castle June 2018Henry and Lili with their three sons in the Secret Garden at Sudeley Castle June 2018

The garden is bordered by raised beds which evolve throughout the year – in spring it is a sea of more than 2,500 tulips and in summer the beds spill over with flowers, shrubs, ferns, and climbers of varying height and colour.

Among its secrets are two mature purple smoke bushes, one at each end of the garden, and a large, old Judas tree, Cercis siliquastrum, which has been trained against the wall and offers delicate pink flowers which grow directly off the bark. The garden also offers a variety of daisies, roses, blue salvias, penstemons, Russian sage and clematis.

Scent plays a large role in the garden – visitors can enjoy the sweetly-scented ‘fragrant daphne’ and the highly-fragranced white flowers of the philadelphus shrub, which is said to smell similar to orange blossom and has led to it being called ‘mock orange’, although the plants are unrelated.

Secret Garden at Sudeley Castle (c) Barbara Evripidou/FirstAvenuePhotography.comSecret Garden at Sudeley Castle (c) Barbara Evripidou/FirstAvenuePhotography.com

Stephen Torode has worked as head gardener at Sudeley Castle for the last four years. He said: “I’m very fond of this garden, it has a serene and peaceful feel. I think it surprises people as they don’t always know it’s here – it is perhaps the hidden gem of Sudeley Castle.”

He added: “One side of the garden is south facing - sunny, dry and warm – while the other is shaded by the yew hedge. This, combined with changes in the soil throughout the garden, gives us the opportunity to work with a range of plants which might not otherwise flourish in one garden.”

The Secret Garden flowers right up until October, if weather permits, after which time the Castle’s team of gardeners will be hard at work preparing it for next year.

Secret Garden at Sudeley Castle, next to St Mary's Church (c) Barbara Evripidou/FirstAvenuePhotography.comSecret Garden at Sudeley Castle, next to St Mary's Church (c) Barbara Evripidou/FirstAvenuePhotography.com

Gardener Mel Cox has worked at Sudeley for the past year and says it is her favourite garden within the estate: “There is so much beauty and variety in a relatively small space,” she explains. “The conditions here allow us to be creative and we have exciting plans for next year which will make it even better – adding more texture, variety and colour, and maybe even a few banana trees!”

For more information about Sudeley Castle and Gardens, visit sudeleycastle.co.uk or phone 01242 602 308.

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