The formal gardens have undergone several changes over the centuries with most Duchesses leaving their mark from Elizabeth the 5th Duchess who commissioned the Rev Sir John Thoroton to terrace this area in 1815 to Violet the 8th Duchess who commissioned Harold Peto to redesign the gardens as we know and love them today.
The striking statue of ‘Winter’ by Caius Gabriel Cibber presides over the Rose Garden and the Statue Garden – of which there are a total of a further six statues by Cibber. These include Spring, Autumn and Summer, two represent the senses of smell and taste and finally, Juno with her peacock insignia (from the Manners family crest)
The plans drawn up by Harold Peto the renowned Edwardian Garden Designer have only been recently discovered in the castle archives. After close inspection it is revealed that the rose garden is shaped like a boat with the Chinese horse at the bow and circular seat at the stern – classic hallmarks of Peto.
The roses you see now were planted by Emma, the current Duchess and if you look over the low yew hedge you will see two box parterres designed by her with the initials D and E in the centre.
The Japanese Woodland is located to the right of the embankment as you approach the castle. The garden is named as such due to the Japanese and Chinese plants extensively used here. Many of the magnolias rhododendrons and camellias in this area have been sourced from the original seed collection from Charles Williams of Caerhays Castle in Cornwall/ Burncoose Nurseries. The Williams family were well known for their expeditions to Western China from 1861 – 1939 and then cultivated the seed in their Cornish woodland gardens.
The conditions are perfect in this small valley – almost as if a slice of Cornwall has been dropped into the Leicestershire countryside – the valley is sheltered from winds on all sides and the wet ground is perfect for hardy exotics.
The Belvoir gardens in the early 18th Century were regarded as one of the greatest gardens north of London along with Trentham and Chatsworth – current Duchess’s desire to continue to re-develop and bring these gardens back to their former glory.
There are over 250 specimen Camellias planted in the Japanese Woodland along with tree magnolias, specimen hydrangeas, azaleas and rhododendrons, snake-bark and Japanese maples and various bamboos.
This four acre garden was rediscovered in 1970 by Frances, the Dowager Duchess of Rutland. Also known as the Spring Gardens it had been neglected for 30 years since the Second World War. It was once the finest examples of a Picturesque garden in the Regency period and later for spring bedding during the Victorian era.
This garden was also referred to as The Ladies Garden and was originally started by Elizabeth the 5th Duchess in 1814 – it must have been a peaceful place to retreat to whilst the massive restorations were underway on the castle at this time.
The Root and Moss house was originally built in 1818 and restored again in 2014 – it sits above a series of stone steps commanding an unrivalled vista through trees and shrubs to a new pond with an elegant statue.
There are a multitude of unusual trees and shrubs planted in this wonderful valley – all which enjoy the benefits of an acid soil.
The walk through this hidden corner of the gardens is an absolute must if you are visiting Belvoir.
The Hermits Garden is a seven acre area adjoining the Duchess Gardens. This is another area which has undergone a massive clearing and rejuvenation programme. A great deal of investment has been made into this area with regards to clearing and planting and it is still very much a work in progress. During the clearing process a couple of Regency grotto’s were uncovered – as it was the fashionable thing in the late Georgian/Early Victorian period to pay a hermit to live in their grottos as the ultimate Picturesque landscape ornament. The name of this area has consequently been named the Hermits Garden, it will be interesting to see how this garden develops and matures with time into another unique visitor attraction.
In January 2013 an extensive 2 year restoration programme began at Belvoir – over 500 acres of woodland were cleared. During this process, a discovery was made in the archives – a collection of plans that Capability Brown had drawn up in 1780 (it was originally thought that these plans were lost in the fire of 1816.)
The current Duchess of Rutland along with a team of dedicated employees and volunteers brought these plans and designs into fruition.
For 2016 Belvoir will be opening new areas of the estate to public – never seen before these stunning views and vistas that Capability had planned for Belvoir over 250 years ago will be open in a series of walks for all to enjoy.
For all types of garden enthusiasts a must read for you or a perfect Christmas Present – go to our Shop page and pre-order Capability Brown at Belvoir – Discovering a Lost Landscape a wonderful depiction of both the restoration journey and the history of Belvoir’s gardens.
The Blue Walk – Spiral Walk
The spiral walk starts at the Castle on the left hand side of the drive and leads to the old workshops, and the second subterranean passage where all the trade goods were transported on a railway. To the left, down some steps, you will find the old ice-house. Due for restoration, this is thought to be the second ice-house on the estate. Continuing along the path under the north tower of the Castle, look to the left and see the Charles II stables, which were built at the same time as the third castle in the 1680s for the 8th Earl and Countess of Rutland after the second castle was destroyed after the Civil War. Further along, you will come to the family’s private gardens where there are some wonderful ornamental trees and shrubs including the wollemii Pine – a recent discovery from Australia. Continue on this path and you will arrive at the Rose Garden.
The Red Walk – The Rose Garden
From the ticket office, walk up a fairly steep hill and turn right onto the tarmac road. Follow this round the corner where you will get your first sight of the magnificent castle. This is the fourth castle built on this site, the first one was started in 1067 and the castle you see now was completed in 1825
Walking towards the castle you will see the Japanese woodland garden falling beneath you on the right hand side. This had been planted predominantly with Camellias, Magnolias and Acers, with bamboos and some more unusual trees and shrubs. The planting here was started in 2006 with all the Camellias and the two lakes you now see were added later in 2011. At the far end of the garden you can just see the Pink Dairy House, which was built as part of a ‘model farm’ in 1825 under the charge of the 5th Duchess – Elizabeth.
If you continue towards the castle you will arrive at the formal gardens of Belvoir Castle. Harold Peto, the famous Edwardian garden designer, commissioned by Violet the 8th Duchess of Rutland, designed this area. The plans drawn by Peto have only recently been discovered in the archives at Belvoir and after close inspection revealed that the rose garden is shaped like a boat with the Chinese horse at the bow and the circular seat, a classic of Peto, at the stern.
The roses you see now were planted by Emma, the current Duchess and if you look over the low yew hedge you will see two box parterres designed by her with the initials D and E in the centre. Next to these, surrounding the lily pond are the famous statues by Caius Cibber, which were all carved on site in 1680 from local ‘Ketton’ stone brought by horse and cart.
On all the hillsides ornamental trees and shrubs have been planted including flowering dogwoods, Acers and Azaleas.
From here, the Laburnum arch leads you down some steps into the Pet Cemetery. All the plants in this garden are white and the hedges purple.
Disabled access is from the drive and around the top of the garden.
The Yellow Walk – Japanese Woodland
Walking out of the Pet Cemetery you will see on your right the newly emerging bog garden and on your left, only 10 metres further on, the Palm garden. There are springs all over the gardens at Belvoir, which is why we can have the Trachycarpus Fortunei (originating from China), adjacent to the bog loving Gunnera manicata (Giant Rhubarb) from Brazil grown in such close proximity.
The path meanders through the gardens leading down to two lakes and the wonderful view of the Pink Dairy House, which was commissioned by Elizabeth – 5th Duchess of Rutland as part of her model farm. this garden is best viewed at the end of March and the beginning of April to get the full benefit of the Spring flowering Camellias. However, if you are walking through this garden in August, the intense blues of the hydrangeas are stunning.
Both paths circumnavigate the lakes and lead to the crossroads. Take the route straight across the tarmac drive heading towards the Duchess’s Gardens via the Stumpery. Stumperies were created in Victorian times as a showcase for the landed gentry to exhibit their newly discovered ferns. They are also a great place for wildlife creating homes for stag beetles, toads and small mammals.
The path from here takes you into the bottom of the Duchess Gardens, also known as the Spring Gardens due to the springs in the hills and banks. Even in a dry summer you will still find parts of these gardens wet.
The best time of year to see these gardens is in May and June, when the majority of the Rhododendrons and Azaleas are in full colour. Turn right at the sign post and this will take you into the basin of Spring Gardens and bring you to the large rockery built in 2012. The stones used were taken from Belvoir’s own quarry, some of which weigh over 3 tonnes – these were placed to create a giant staircase. if you look to the top of the staircase you will see one of the oldest ornamental trees at Belvoir – the Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria Araucana) planted in 1842. And if you are lucky enough to be visiting in May or June, look to your left and you will find the Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata) with large white bracts handing from the branches in tiers.
Standing at the bottom of the rockery steps you have several choices of walks to reach the top of Spring Gardens, the most popular one is a curving path starting at the bottom of the large conifer. Walking up here you will pass a large clump of Rodgersia Aesculifolia that only grows well in moist soil – more springs!
At the top of the path turn right onto the yellow walk and towards the beautiful and rare root house or left onto the green walk which takes you into the newly planted Hermits Garden along the ‘Dukes Walk’
The Pink Walk – The Duchess’s Garden or also known as Spring Gardens
This route can be started from the sharp bend on the driveway just after you have walked up from the car park, or from the Duchess Gardens (Spring Gardens) at the end of the blue walk
The top route into Spring Gardens has new plantings of Camellias, Acers and Rhododendrons.
This route takes you past the Summer House, also known as the ‘Root and Branch house or the Moss House – a recent discovery in the archives, records it also being referred to as ‘The Pavilion’ This was finished in 1819 and thatched with reeds on the top. At this time the Duchess Gardens were also called ‘The Ladies Garden’ where they could stroll in safety.
Planted on the steep slopes are various unusual shrubs and trees that enjoy the benefit of an acid soil.. One of these is the Blue Sausage tree, also known as Dead Man’s Digits, (Decaisnea Fargesii) which bears blue sausage fruits in September/ October time.
Another wonder is the Cercidiphyllum, known as the Katsura tree from Japan, which has beautiful heart shaped leaves. But it’s most unusual trait is the amazing burnt sugar or candy floss aroma it produces in Autumn. Stand underneath it with your eyes closed and you are transported to the insides of a sweet shop!
One of the greatest views of the gardens can be seen from the top of the steps with the Monkey Puzzle tree on your right. Standing next to the low pillar a spectacular view of the whole garden and beyond into the Hermits Garden can be seen. There is a painting in the castle of Elizabeth – 5th Duchess standing in this very spot looking over her gardens. The Statue you now see by the lakes is of Elizabeth.
To the right of the Root and Branch house, standing with your back to this, is a superb example of a Persian ironwood (Parrotia Persica) planted in 1895. In autumn the leaves on this tree adopt shades of intense red, glowing oranges and vivid yellows.
The three terraces below the Root and Branch house are planted with tall herbaceous and over 100 beautiful peonies mixed through, the best time of year to enjoy these is in May.
If you have come from the Blue Walk, at the opposite end of the terraces there is a turn left back towards the castle. Along this route you will find new plantings of Rhododendrons, Acers and Camellias together with great views of the castle.
This path leads you back to the sharp bend that faces the castle not far from the path to the car park.
The Orange Walk – The Hermits Garden
This walk can either be started at the top of the Duchess Gardens or at the bottom.
At the top of this escarpment is the Dukes Walk, whose construction started as early as 1792. This walk extends round the whole of the castle grounds, parts of which are still being restored.
The 5th Duchess – Elizabeth, tragically died of appendicitis in November 1825, leaving a grief stricken Duke to continue without her to plant and build the gardens.
Along the top of this walk are two grottos. The first one is made of Tufa – Tufa forms when calcium rich waters flow over organic material in an exposed area. We believe the first grotto was built around 1822, when the tufa was unloaded from the Grantham Canal. It is documented that the Lord Granby’s cave roof was completed in 1830, but this may be the second grotto made of brick.
Please take great care here and do not stray from the path – this grotto is unstable and currently undergoing restoration.
Whilst clearing up through the farm buildings the present Duchess made the exciting discovery of a statue of the 5th Duchess – Elizabeth. This now has pride of place in the Hermits Garden next to the lake looking towards her favourite garden. Three elegant Magnolias, variety Elizabeth have been planted around her. The red Rhododendrons next to her are also called Elizabeth, these produce large scarlet trumpet flowers in April.
this new garden was cleared in 2013 and planted up in the spring of 2014. 3 lorry loads of trees and shrubs arrived – Stewartia, Styrax, Enkianthus, Stachyurus, Cornus and 30 different varieties of magnolias. Added to this are hundreds of Rhododendrons and Azaleas to make up the rich tapestry of colour envisaged.
The Hermits garden is triangular in shape so once at the end of the garden you can take either the top or bottom path back to the Duchess/Spring Gardens.
The Black Walk -The Duke’s Walk
The 5th Duke created this three-mile circuitous walk after the death of his beloved wife, Elizabeth, in 1825. It links all the gardens that she created from the Castle through the woodlands and back around Blackberry Hill. The first part takes the visitor through the Duchess’s and Hermit’s Gardens. A short but quite steep ascent takes 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 will see the recently planted woodland (as seen on the television programme, Titchmarsh on Capability Brown) and restored lakes called the Memorial Lakes in memory of Duchess Elizabeth, and estate workers who died during the Second World War. Further along the escarpment, the walk eventually leads to Frog Hollow. Up until the First World War, the walk cut through gardens of box and yew (still thriving but no longer clipped) with masses of spring bulbs. Notice the towering coastal redwoods planted along the route, too. The Duke added over thirty grottos and pavilions along the way to stop off at to picnic or merely to sit, rest and admire the view. Sadly, only a few remain and most still need a lot of restoration work.
The arrival at Frog Hollow is quite breathtaking and is now very Brownian in style. Before the restoration programme, this area was covered in ponticum, Japanese knotweed and brambles. Keep walking through the recently planted Carlisle Wood, named after Duchess Elizabeth’s father, the 5th Earl of Carlisle from Castle Howard. There are magnificent old pines dotted along this route which have been complimented with newly planted rare trees and shrubs. Before you get to the end of the wood, you will see Elizabeth’s Pavilion. All we found when we uncovered it was a shell of a summerhouse and seat that had a vague resemblance to the Root and Moss House in the Duchess’s Garden. Our wonderful carpenter, Danny, has created a new structure using traditional construction methods. The final part of the Duke’s Walk takes you through the last wood, yet to be restored. This gives a good indication of the before and after effect!
Look out for a plethora of wildlife: montjac, hares, buzzards, red kites, Jays, woodpeckers, ospreys, geese, swans, wagtails, finches to name but a few. Bring a picnic and you will be amazed who joins you.
Enjoy all that our walks have to offer.
In Edwardian times there were 40 gardeners at Belvoir Castle with the head gardener in his top hat surveying his work force. Now, a century later, an enthusiastic contracting company who work closely with the Duchess and a handful of volunteers run the gardens. With the ravages of two world Wars depleting the gardening workforce – the aim now, is Restoration.
If you would like to be part of this important volunteer team at Belvoir Castle, for further information on joining our volunteers please contact Nikki Applewhite on 07970 753713 or by email to Nikki@applewhitegardendesign.co.uk