Lowther Rose Garden launched

It’s always a pleasure to see innovative progress in historic gardens and the recent launch of Lowther Castle’s Rose Garden, in Cumbria, is such an occasion, writes Sandy Felton.

The launch, in July 2022, has seen the culmination of the combined efforts of one international garden designer, 14 gardeners, dozens of volunteers, tens of groundwork developers and 2500+ specimens of 29 rose varieties. Not to mention hundreds of perennial plants so it has been quite a team effort.

Award-winning international designer, Dan Pearson, has been garden designer-in-chief at Lowther since 2012 and is responsible for the design of the new rose garden. His inspiration is taken from William Morris’s quartet of poems written around the Sleeping Beauty myth. The garden is accessed by a series of kissing gates taking you through an enclosure of briar roses into a magical and romantic space which has an explosion of colour and fragrance surrounding a gentle fountain.

(pictured above left to right:Natalie Gargett (senior gardener) Dan Pearson, Andrea Brunsendorf (head gardener) Jim Lowther, Michael Marriott and Martin Ogle (former head gardener).)

The launch took place in the shadow of the Rose Garden Summerhouse – a contemporary echo of the surviving Edwardian summerhouses elsewhere in the garden – with Dan and owner Jim Lowther being joined by rosarian Michael Marriott and the new head gardener at Lowther, Andrea Brunsendorf alongside former head gardener Martin Ogle.

The historic gardens at Lowther date back to the 17th century with the Rose Garden itself planted during the 19th century. Apparently, it was built on what was originally the dog kennels and according to the Gardeners’ Chronicle of 1893, it was said to have a large rustic summerhouse on one side, a ‘marquee’ of climbing roses and roses climbing up chains.

By the Edwardian period it was said to comprise 500 separate rose beds with 20,000 specimens planted. By the end of 1939, when the gardens as a whole were closed, the Rose Garden was lost to decay and neglect. The spruce crop planted in the 1950s by James Lonsdale, the 7th Earl, overpowered what was not already lost to brambles.

(above: Lowther Castle and Parterre)

In 2008, in a bid to rescue the castle and gardens from collapse and ruin, a Charitable Trust was formed with the intention to take on the challenge of finding new layers for Lowther as well as discovering the old ones, for future generations to enjoy. Now, their innovative 21st century approach and vision – not merely to restore what was once there but to create the perspective that will reconnect Lowther to the surrounding landscape – takes Lowther’s garden to its place as a garden of ‘natural cultural significance’.

Paying tribute to all those who helped to create the Rose Garden, Jim Lowther said how proud he was of the efforts of all the contributors: “When we first commissioned Dan to come up with a masterplan for the gardens, we agreed that our mission should be based not on restoration per se but on adding layers of new design to existing history. The Rose Garden is a shining example of this – the Victorian fountain, its jets mimicking the stamens of a rose, remains in the centre – while the external ironwork and planting are very much of the 21st century.

We could not be prouder of the results of the hard work of all those who made this come to pass, volunteers, gardeners, engineers and designers alike,” he said.

Talking about the idea behind the creation of the Rose Garden, Dan Pearson (pictured above with Jim Lowther) pointed out that they didn’t feel it was right to go back to a Victorian/Edwardian recreation of what was there before, rather the team wanted people to feel they were part of not only discovering an old place but a new chapter for that place. Dan paid tribute to Jim Lowther’s commitment to the whole Lowther project and to all those who have helped make it happen since 2008.

Speaking at the launch, Dan pointed out that the gardens project at Lowther is really an exercise in story-telling: “The masterplan has allowed us to unlock a series of spaces around the site so we could bring people along on that story so they could see a forgotten garden being rediscovered and reinterpreted,” said Dan. He went on to explain that the Rose Garden is really another chapter on that journey and just in terms of the amount of energy that has gone into making it, it has been a big effort but it will have a huge reward because a rose garden is something that a wide cross section of people love.

The challenges of creating a rose garden in Cumbria with its wetter climate were overcome and with the help of rosarian Michael Marriott of David Austin Roses, enabling the team to choose varieties more suitable for that climate.Their choice works very well, bringing the most wonderful scents and colours – a true sensory experience.

The Lowther Rose Garden is certainly romantic and mystical and will delight visitors for years to come bringing as it does a sense of peace and tranquility set within the wilder landscape.

For more information on visiting Lowther Castle and Gardens please visit: www.lowthercastle.org

All images strictly ©Reckless Gardener.