Reason to visit: impressive topiary gardens (and very well-cared for home)
As we were driving down the M6 and Levens Hall is only about 15 minutes’ drive from Junction 36, we took a detour to ogle the topiary in the garden there. The last time we visited was probably 2009, before most of the small box hedges were removed due to blight.
D didn’t go in the house at all; I snuck in for a quick whiz around the ground floor (admiring the Cordova leather panelled walls of the dining room, still glinting in the late spring afternoon sun as they would have done in times gone by under candlelight) while D squirreled away in the car some pansies from the plant shop (apparently at £1 a punnet, they couldn’t be left). We then lost each other (I hadn’t said I would go in the house but I couldn’t resist) and so the tour of the garden was part “wow” and part “where are you”. Nevertheless, it didn’t fail to impress, although it seemed smaller than I remember. The house boasts that its topiary gardens are the oldest in the world.
What I did pick upon is the sense that Levens is dealing with future. The heir in waiting married in 2013 and is due to move into the big house soon (his parents are building a new house in Levens) and elsewhere in the gardens there is evidence that the replacement of the box isn’t the only thoughts towards the future: some of the impressive beach hedging has begun to show its age and appears to be dying from underneath. However, there are babies growing. Of course, no plant lives forever and even Capability Brown’s clusters of perfectly positioned oak trees and “wilder” areas will one day die.
The garden at Levens Hall was laid out in 1694 by Guillaume Beaumont (gardener to King James II) for Colonel Grahme, so it is no surprise that minds are turning to longevity. It has survived the “landscapisation” of the 18th century and no doubt flourishes because of that USP, a USP that is worth protecting and cultivating.
In 2009 a willow labyrinth was planted (we last visited just after it had gone in), following the installation of a fountain garden in 1994. Back in the early 1700s in the very far corner of the garden some built a smoke house (recently restored), for those with terrible habits connected with nicotine to retreat to.
Everywhere one looks there are long vistas, taking the eye.
This speedy trip also refocused my mind on two things: Peel Towers and “how much am I prepared to pay”. Food for future posts.
When visited: April 2014
Garden * out of 5: *** (maybe more in mid-summer)