I’ve had this glorious English estate on my mind for quite some time so I embarked on a virtual tour… One of the finest castles in the Lake District, Levens Hall dates back to the late 14th-century and has the oldest and most beautiful topiary garden in the world. Trims and hair cuts can take as “little” as six months but it is all worth it. Abstract geometric shapes, lavender, pansies and delphinium borders make these gardens an unforgettable experience, if only a virtual one. Come join me!
“The first dwelling at Levens was a medieval pele tower, built by the de Redman family of Yealand Redmayne. The Bellingham family, who were wealthy landowners, chose Levens as their main residence in the 1590s and incorporated the fortified tower into a gentleman’s residence. They employed local craftsmen to carve the oak panelling, incorporated elaborate Italian plasterwork, including Elizabeth the First’s coat of arms and stained glass – all of which can be seen today.
The historic house became the property of Colonel James Grahme in 1688 after his career at Court in the service of King James II. He brought with him a young French gardener, Guillaume Beaumont, a pupil of le Notre at Versailles, to plan a fashionable garden at Levens. This family home contains fine furniture, paintings, one of the best examples in Europe of Spanish leather wall coverings, the earliest English patchwork, Wellingtoniana, clocks and miniatures, and has become one of the finest stately homes in south Cumbria.”
THE TOPIARY GARDENS
“This is the area which makes the gardens of Levens Hall unique- a surreal and fantastic living sculpture gallery. It is the finest, oldest and most extensive topiary garden in the world. There are over 100 pieces here, each clipped to an unusual and individual design.
Some of the trees and bushes are three hundred years old and the layout of this garden has changed little since their planting and initial training in the 1690s. Then, it was really fashionable to have a garden in the Dutch style with clipped greens set in a pattern of formal box edged flower beds. Fashions changed by the 1730s however, and most similar gardens were ripped out to make way for the new trend of natural landscaping. Amazingly this garden survived that purge, was enhanced in the 19th Century, and continued even through the economic pressures of the 20th Century.”
“The shapes are made of those tight-growing, small leaved evergreens Yew Taxus baccata, Golden Yew Taxus baccata ‘Aurea’ and various forms of Box Buxus sempervirens. The low-edging to the beds is now of Japanese Holly, Ilex crenata.
Most pieces of topiary here are nameless abstract or geometric shapes but look out for the Chess pieces- King and Queen, the Judges Wig, the Howard Lion, the Great Umbrellas, Queen Elizabeth and her Maids of Honour, a Jug of Morocco Ale and four Peacocks.
The parterre beneath the topiary provides a magnificent floral display through spring, summer and into early autumn. It is bedded out twice a year with over 15,000 home grown plants each time. Pansies, Violas, Polyanthus, Drumstick Primulas, Double Daisies and Tulips are used in Spring. The summer bedding is more adventurous using lemon yellow Antirrhinums, Verbena venosa, Verbena rigida ‘Polaris’, Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’, Heliotrope ‘Chatsworth’, Heliotrope ‘Marine’, Nicotianas, Begonias and many others.
The topiary takes many months to trim mainly using petrol clippers and a hydraulic lift to reach the highest points. This careful crafting is carried out by the highly skilled Levens gardeners just once a year beginning in September.”
“Despite its warm and welcoming atmosphere there are many tales of ghosts at Levens, as you might expect from a house that has seen centuries of history and many different owners.
The most famous legend is about a gypsy woman who is said to have died cursing the house, claiming that no male heir would inherit until the River Kent ceased to flow and a white fawn was born in the Park. Strangely, the estate passed through the female line for four generations until the birth of Alan Desmond Bagot in 1896 when the river did indeed freeze over and a white fawn was born in the park. The three male heirs since have all been born on freezing winter days. A grey lady still haunts the drive near the river and has often been seen by visitors, including one that had to swerve to avoid a collision with a mysterious figure near Levens Bridge.
A little black dog has been seen chasing visitors up the main staircase as well as with the present owner’s mother and wife outside the house.
The late Oliver Robin Bagot was even seen as a ghost playing the harpsichord when he was at the time on business in Keswick, earning him the distinction of being a ‘living’ ghost.
Rooms such as the Small Drawing Room and the Bellingham Bedroom above it have been known to disturb many visitors and some guests refuse to sleep in the bedroom.
An episode filmed by the television programme ‘Most Haunted’ in 2002 discovered some lights, sounds and disturbing atmospheres not previously experienced by visitors.” – via the Levens Hall touristic guide
The good news is that Levens is open to the public so you too can plan your next visit here.