GARDENS & LAKES
During your visit, take the time to wander round the gardens at Belvoir – they are a beautiful and tranquil space all year round.
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’.BOOK TICKETS ONLINE
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.BOOK TICKETS ONLINE
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.BOOK TICKETS ONLINE
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.BOOK TICKETS ONLINE
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.BOOK TICKETS ONLINE
There are many lovely walks to enjoy at Belvoir – suited to able and less mobile visitors alike.
Shorter strolls take in the formal gardens on the Castle terrace and into the woodland through the Japanese, Duchess and Hermit’s gardens. But if you’re up for a longer walk, try the three-mile circular Duke’s Walk, which includes all the gardens and stunning views back to the Castle.
Due to the various terrains around the Castle, gardens and woodland, we recommend sensible flat shoes with grips.
- SPIRAL WALK
- ROSE GARDEN WALK
- JAPANESE WOODLAND WALK
- DUCHESS GARDEN WALK
- HERMIT'S GARDEN WALK
- THE DUKE'S WALK
- FROG HOLLOW
Spiral Walk (Blue route)
Starting below the terrace walk of the Castle, this walk leads you past the old workshops and the second subterranean passage where a railway originally transported all the trade goods to the Castle.
To your left, down some steps, you’ll find the old ice house. Awaiting restoration, this is believed to be the second ice house constructed on the Estate.
Continuing along the path under the North Tower of the Castle, look to your left to see the Charles II stables which were built for the 8th Earl and Countess of Rutland in the 1680s at the same time as the third Castle, following the destruction of the second Castle after the Civil War (1642-1651).
Further along the path, you’ll come to the family’s private gardens which are home to some wonderful ornamental trees and shrubs – including the Wollemii Pine, a recent discovery from Australia. Carry on and you’ll arrive at the Rose Garden.
Rose Garden Walk (Red route)
Start at the Ticket Office and walk up a fairly steep hill. Cross the road and continue on the footpath up to the castle and you’ll get your first view of the magnificent Belvoir Castle. This is actually the fourth castle built on this site – the first Castle was started in 1067, and the Castle you see today was completed in 1825.
Walk towards the Castle, and you’ll see the Japanese Woodland down to your right. This is mainly planted with camellias, magnolias and acers, plus bamboos and other unusual trees and shrubs. We started replanting here in 2006, and the camellias and the two lakes were added in 2011. At the far end of this garden, you can just catch a glimpse of the Pink Dairy House, which was built as part of a ‘model farm’ in 1825 by Elizabeth, the 5th Duchess.
If you continue towards the Castle, you’ll arrive at the formal gardens designed for Violet, the 8th Duchess of Rutland by the famous Edwardian garden designer Harold Peto. Peto’s plans have only recently been discovered in the Belvoir archives, and they reveal the Rose Garden is boat-shaped, with the Chinese horse at the bow and the circular seat at the stern.
The roses you see in the garden today were planted by Emma, the current Duchess – look over the low hedge to see two box parterres designed by her with the initials ‘D’ and ‘E’ in the centre. Here, surrounding the lily pond, you’ll see the famous statues carved on site from Ketton stone by Caius Cibber (1630-1700).
On all the hillsides, you’ll see a wide range of shrubs including flowering dogwoods, acers and azaleas.
From here, a laburnum arch leads down some steps to the pet cemetery where all the plants are white surrounded by purple hedges.
Access for the less mobile is from the drive and around the top of the garden.
Japanese Woodland Walk (Yellow route)
On leaving the pet cemetery, look out on the right for the newly emerging Bog Garden, and about 10 metres further on, the Palm Garden, on your left. There are natural springs all over the gardens at Belvoir, which is how we can have the Trachycarpus fortunei (a native of China) growing alongside the bog-loving Gunnera manicata (Giant rhubarb) which hails from Brazil. Follow the path as it meanders through the gardens to two lakes, and a wonderful view of the Pink Dairy House which was commissioned by Elizabeth the 5th Duchess of Rutland in 1825 as part of her ‘model farm’. This garden is at its best in late March and early April when the Spring flowering camellias are in full bloom. And in August, the intense blues of the hydrangeas are stunning. Both paths circumnavigate the lakes and lead to a crossroads. Go straight on across the tarmac drive to head towards the Duchess Garden via the Stumpery. Stumperies were created in Victorian gardens as a showcase for the landed gentry to exhibit their newly discovered ferns. They are also a great wildlife habitat, with ideal conditions for stag beetles, toads and small mammals. From here, the path leads you to the bottom of the Duchess Garden – also known as the Spring Gardens due to the natural springs found in the hills and banks. Even in the heat of a dry summer, you’ll still find parts of this garden are wet. The best time of year to see this garden is in May and June, when the majority of the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full colour. Take a right turn at the signpost into the basin of the Spring Gardens to see the large rockery we built in 2012. The stones – some of which weigh over 3 tonnes – come from Belvoir’s own quarry, and they have been placed to create a giant staircase. At the top of the staircase, you’ll see one of the oldest ornamental trees at Belvoir – a Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) which was planted in 1842. And if you’re visiting in May or June, look to your left to see the Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrate) with large white bracts (flower clusters) hanging in tiers from its branches. From the bottom of the rockery steps, you have several choices of routes to get to the top of the Spring Gardens. The most popular route is the curving path which starts at the bottom of the large conifer. As you walk up the path, look out for the large clump of Rodgersia aesculifolia that only flourishes in moist soil – more springs! At the top of the path, turn right onto the Yellow route leading to the beautiful and rare Root and Branch House, or bear left onto the Green route to the Hermit’s Garden along the Duke’s Walk.
Duchess Garden Walk (Pink route)
This walk starts at the sharp bend on the driveway as you’re walking up from the car park, or from the Duchess Garden (Spring Gardens) at the end of the Blue route. The top path has new plantings of camellias, acers and rhododendrons, and leads you past the Summer House (also known as the Root and Moss House). We’ve only recently discovered details of this building in the Belvoir archives. Also known as the Pavilion, it was completed in 1819 and the roof was thatched with reeds. At this time, the Duchess Garden was also called the Ladies Garden, because women could stroll there in safety. On the steep slopes you’ll see various unusual shrubs and trees that thrive in acid soil. One of these is the Blue Sausage tree, also known as Dead Man’s Digits (Decaisnea fargesii) which bears blue sausage-like fruits in September/October. Another one to look out for is Cercidiphyllum, the Katsura tree from Japan, with its beautiful heart-shaped leaves. But its most unusual trait is the amazing burnt sugar or candy floss aroma it produces in the Autumn. Stand underneath it with your eyes closed, and you’ll think you’re in a sweet shop! For a spectacular view of the whole gardens, stand at the top of the steps with the Monkey Puzzle tree on your right. There’s a painting in the Castle of Elizabeth, the 5th Duchess standing in this very spot proudly surveying her gardens. The statue you’ll see by the lakes is of the same Elizabeth. To the right of the Root and Moss House, you’ll see a superb example of Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica), which was planted in 1895. In Autumn, its leaves turn to shades of intense reds, glowing oranges and vivid yellows. The three terraces below the Root and Moss House are planted with tall herbaceous shrubs and over 100 peonies, which are at their blooming best in May. If you have come from the Blue route, turn left back towards the Castle at the opposite end of the terraces. Along the way, you’ll see new plantings of rhododendrons, acers and camellias, set against beautiful backdrop views of the Castle. The path finally leads you back to the sharp bend facing the Castle, not far from the path to the car park.
Hermit’s Garden Walk (Orange route)
You can start this walk from the top or bottom of the Duchess Garden. At the top of the escarpment is the Duke’s Walk – construction of which began as early as 1792. Extending round the whole of the Castle grounds, parts of the walk are still being restored. Tragically, Elizabeth the 5th Duchess of Rutland died of appendicitis in November 1825, leaving her grief-stricken husband the 5th Duke to finish building and planting the gardens without her. Along the top of this walk, you’ll see two grottoes. The first of these is made of tufa, which is formed when calcium-rich water flows over organic material in an exposed area. We believe the first grotto was built around 1822 using tufa sourced from the Grantham Canal. It is documented in the Castle archives that Lord Granby’s cave roof was completed in 1830, but this may be referring to the second grotto which is made of brick. Please take great care here, and stick to the path – the grotto is unstable and undergoing restoration. While clearing out farm buildings on the Estate, the present Duchess made an exciting discovery – a statue of Elizabeth, the 5th Duchess. This now has pride of place next to the lake in the Hermit’s Garden, looking towards her favourite garden. We have planted three elegant variety Elizabeth magnolias around her statue. The red rhododendrons next to her are also called Elizabeth, and produce large scarlet trumpet flowers in April. This new garden was cleared in 2013, and planted up in the Spring of 2014 with three lorry loads of trees and shrubs – Stewartia, Styrax, Enkianthus, Stachyurus, Cornus, and 30 different varieties of magnolia. In addition, hundreds of rhododendrons and azaleas add to the rich tapestry of colour. The Hermit’s Garden is triangular in shape, so once you reach the end of the garden, you can either take the top or bottom path back to the Duchess Garden (Spring Gardens).
The Duke’s Walk (Black route)
This 3 mile circular walk was created by the 5th Duke after the death of his beloved wife Elizabeth in 1825. It links all the gardens she created and runs from the Castle through the woodlands and back around Blackberry Hill. The first part of the walk takes you through the Duchess and Hermit’s Gardens, and a short – but fairly steep – ascent leads you to some of the best views on the Estate. As well as the parkland and long river-like lake designed by Capability Brown, you can see the recently planted woodland (as featured on the TV programme Titchmarsh on Capability Brown), and the Memorial Lakes – restored in memory of Duchess Elizabeth, and the Estate workers who lost their lives in the Second World War. Further along the escarpment, you’ll come to Frog Hollow. Until the First World War, the walk here cut through gardens of box and yew (still thriving but no longer clipped), with masses of Spring bulbs. Also, look out for the towering coastal Redwoods lining the route. The 5th Duke created over 30 grottoes and pavilions along the way to stop off at for picnics – or just to sit, rest and admire the view. Sadly, only a few of these remain, and most of them still need a lot of restoration work.
The arrival at Frog Hollow is quite breathtaking, and is now very ‘Brownian’ in style. Before restoration, this area was covered in ponticum, Japanese knotweed and brambles. Carry on through the recently planted Carlisle Wood, named after Duchess Elizabeth’s father, the 5th Earl of Carlisle from Castle Howard. Magnificent old pines are dotted along the route, which we’ve complemented with newly planted rare trees and shrubs. Just before the end of the wood, you’ll see Elizabeth’s Pavilion. All we found when we uncovered it was the shell of a summerhouse and seat that looked vaguely like the Root and Moss House in the Duchess Garden. Our wonderful carpenter Danny created this new structure using traditional construction methods. This final part of the Duke’s Walk takes you through the last wood – which is yet to be restored, and gives a good indication of the before and after effect! Look out for a plethora of wildlife – including muntjacs, hares, buzzards, red kites, jays, woodpeckers, ospreys, geese, swans, wagtails and finches. Bring a picnic, and you’ll be amazed who joins you for lunch!
VOLUNTEER IN THE GARDENS
With the ravages of two world wars depleting the garden workforce, our main aim is restoration.
If you would like to join this important volunteering team at Belvoir Castle, please contact Tom at [email protected].