Deep within the rugged Lancashire countryside is Gresgarth Hall, the country home of the inspirational landscape designer and plant collector, Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd. Over the past 40 years, Arabella has transformed the land at Gresgarth into a wonderfully romantic garden.
The garden in brief
What Gresgarth Hall, home to designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd, with formal areas blending into woodland and arboretum. Where Lancashire. Size Ten acres. Soil Acid to neutral, woodland and alluvial soils. Climate Temperate. Hardiness zone USDA 9
When she arrived in 1979, there was practically no garden, and the space was neglected and overgrown. Clumsy lumps of sombre evergreen rhododendron and laurel hemmed the house in rather harshly from the surrounding countryside and completely obliterated any views. “It took a bit of time to get used to this garden,” she says.
Having grown up on an Italian hillside she was more accustomed to views that stretched for miles. Trees were felled, evergreens removed, and the woodland was pushed back from the house to make space for a garden, and to open views from the house across the river and into the woods beyond. This necessary clearing did, however, reveal the garden to the prevailing west wind. “It was one of my first concerns,” says Arabella. “How to slow the wind from coming in and hitting the hills, eddying and causing damage to the garden.” So hedges were planted for protection, but these also presented an opportunity to divide the garden up into different spaces. Large borders with clipped trees, beautiful double herbaceous borders and stone terraces were laid out closer to the house where she wanted more formality.
Yew hedging frames these borders, and the different areas of the garden are linked via intimate paths. Where the paths intersect, small circles of yew have been planted and are draped with wisteria, displays that Arabella describes as “little theatres”. The paths eventually lead to the kitchen garden, working areas, and a Chatsworth-inspired wavy corridor of beech hedging. Arabella has carefully managed the design to take full advantage of an existing lake and a brook, Artle Beck, that runs through the garden and creates a magical atmosphere.
The garden and lake
The lake was much smaller when she arrived at Gresgarth. “I wanted to create the feeling the river was flooding this area, even though it is actually much lower, so we enlarged it by three to four times the original size,” says Arabella. The still water reaches the house terrace and is a picture of reflections, of the white blossom of a Prunus ‘Shirotae’ that spreads above the water and a weeping katsura tree. The Artle Beck, by contrast, is noisy and playful and the sound reverberates through the garden. Yew buttresses are lined out equidistantly on both banks and gently firm the garden around the brook.
The garden continued to grow quite organically, but carefully. Arabella went on to develop a more formal open lawn area that features a very old Robinia pseudoacacia with wonderful fissured bark that acts as a host for different types of epiphytes. This area has a different atmosphere from the more complex plantings nearby and is enclosed by more yew hedging that forms a semi-circular boundary. On the slopes of the valley ascending from the Artle Beck, the garden becomes much more natural, and it is here that Arabella has created a world-class arboretum of rare and special plants, including a thriving collection of 200 magnolias. Drifts of Daphne bholua (grown from seed at Gresgarth), swathes of cherries, and rhododendrons all flourish under her watchful eye. The arboretum is also home to Gresgarth’s National Collection of plants from the Styracaceae family.
As you draw closer to the countryside beyond the garden, the curved lines of the hedging and the plantings continue to feel more naturalistic and less formal. On the western edge is The Wild Garden, with big borders of trees and shrubs that help to shelter the garden from damaging wind and create a link to the countryside. Despite the extensive work that has gone into creating the garden at Gresgarth, it sits so comfortably with the house and the surrounding landscape that it feels as though it should have always been that way – as if they have grown up together. Arabella has created a truly magnificent garden, and one could quite happily wander for many hours enraptured and captivated by the enchanting atmosphere.