Gardens and Lakes
Over the centuries, Belvoir’s formal gardens have undergone several major changes, with most Duchesses leaving their mark. Elizabeth (5th Duchess of Rutland) commissioned the Rev Sir John Thoroton to terrace the gardens in 1815 – and later on, Violet the 8th Duchess commissioned the renowned Edwardian garden designer Harold Peto (1854-1933) to create the gardens we know and love today.
The striking statue of ‘Winter‘ by Caius Gabriel Cibber (1630-1700) presides over the Rose Garden, and in the Statue Garden there are six more statues by Cibber – ‘Spring‘, ‘Autumn‘ and ‘Summer‘, two statues representing the senses of smell and taste, and finally ‘Juno’ with her peacock insignia (taken from the Manners family crest).
The original garden plans drawn up by Harold Peto have only recently been rediscovered in the Castle archives. These reveal that the Rose Garden is shaped like a boat, with the Chinese horse at the bow, and the circular seat at the stern – classic hallmarks of Peto.
The roses you’ll see in the garden today were planted by Emma, the current Duchess of Rutland. And if you look over the low yew hedge, you’ll see two box parterres with the initials ‘D’ and ‘E’ in the middle, for ‘David’ (the 11th and current Duke) and ‘Emma’.
You’ll find the Japanese Woodland to the right of the embankment on your way up to the Castle. Its name comes from the extensive use of Japanese and Chinese plants in this area of the gardens. Many of the magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias were sourced from the original seed collection of Charles Williams from Caerhays Castle in Cornwall and Burncoose Nurseries. The Williams family were avid seed collectors who undertook many expeditions to Western China between 1861 and 1939 – and they cultivated the seeds in their Cornish woodland gardens. The conditions in this small valley at Belvoir are perfect – sheltered from winds on all sides, and with wet ground which is well suited to hardy exotics. It’s almost as if a piece of Cornwall has been dropped into the Leicestershire countryside. In the early 18th Century, along with Trentham and Chatsworth, the gardens at Belvoir were regarded as some of the greatest north of London – and the current Duchess is determined to continue redeveloping these beautiful gardens to restore them to their former glory. You’ll find over 250 specimen camellias to admire in the Japanese Woodland – along with tree magnolias, specimen hydrangeas, azaleas and rhododendrons, snake-bark and Japanese maples, and various bamboos.
This section of the gardens was initially cultivated by Elizabeth (the 5th Duchess of Rutland) in 1814. It was a fine example of a Picturesque Regency garden – and a peaceful place to retreat from the massive restoration and rebuilding of the Castle at the time. The Root and Moss house (restored in 2014) was built around 1818. In the Victorian era, this area was known as the Spring Gardens – not because it was used for spring bedding plants, but due to the abundance of natural springs in the hills and banks. The garden had been completely neglected for over 30 years since the Second World War, and was only rediscovered in 1970 by Frances, the Dowager Duchess of Rutland. Today, the Root and Moss house sits above a series of stone steps commanding an unrivalled vista through a multitude of unusual trees and shrubs to a new pond with an elegant statue. Do make time for a stroll through this delightful hidden corner of the gardens during your visit to Belvoir.
The Hermit’s Garden covers an area of seven acres adjoining the Duchess Gardens. We have recently undertaken a substantial rejuvenation programme in this area of the gardens, with significant investments made in clearing and replanting – and it is still very much a work in progress. Why is it called the Hermit’s Garden? Well, during the clearing process, we uncovered a couple of Regency grottoes – and apparently it was fashionable during the late Georgian and early Victorian periods to pay a hermit to live in your grotto, completing the ultimate Picturesque landscape ornament.
In January 2013, we began an extensive 2 year restoration programme at Belvoir with the clearance of over 500 acres of woodland. At the same time, we made an amazing discovery in the Castle archives – a set of landscaping plans drawn up in 1780 by Capability Brown, which were thought to have been lost in the fire of 1816. 250 years after they were originally conceived, the current Duchess of Rutland has finally brought these plans to fruition, aided by her team of dedicated employees and volunteers. You can now enjoy the stunning vistas of the landscaping Capability Brown planned for Belvoir, on a series of walks through the gardens and grounds.