How are developments at Ingatestone Hall’s rambling gardens coming along?
PUBLISHED: 11:31 23 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:49 23 August 2017
The rambling gardens at Ingatestone Hall are gradually being reclaimed and planted by the Petre family. Philippa Pearson learns more about how the restored gardens are being developed
Ingatestone Hall is a delightful Tudor manor house built in 1540 by Sir William Petre, the Secretary of State to four Tudor monarchs, and owned by several generations of the Petre family since.
Elizabeth I spent several nights at the hall on her Royal Progress of 1561 and the hall still retains much of its original Tudor form and appearance, with its mullioned windows, high chimneys, crow-step gables and oak-panelled rooms. In Tudor times, the grounds were almost entirely covered by orchards and most of this has disappeared as the gardens have gradually been restored and added to by generations of the Petre family.
Some of the Tudor features still remain, including the high boundary wall and the walled garden where summer al fresco picnics were once enjoyed, the stew pond and the avenue of ancient lime trees that borders it, and The Cistern in the old orchard in which, until very recently, spring water was collected to supply the house.
A lime walk leading to the half-timbered clock tower has a carpet of naturalised daffodils and other bulbs in spring, while through the inner courtyard of the hall, one wall has a magnificent large espalier pear with tier upon tier of horizontal branches reaching up to the sky. The high boundary wall surrounding the garden was typical of many houses of this period, although some sections have long disappeared.
A few decades ago, a large area of the garden was turned to grass as a grazing paddock and this area is gradually being reclaimed back as an ornamental garden. An area of the orchard was mostly destroyed by the gales in the late 1980s and new fruit trees have been replanted. This area once had wide herbaceous borders along the wall and it is hoped to reinstate these again in the future.
In the far north-east corner of the orchard, a statue of the Madonna is mounted on the wall, a remnant from a former Catholic school nearby the hall which the Petres maintained. Also in the orchard is an unusual round building, The Cistern, where water for the hall was collected and stored from a series of natural springs in this area of the garden.
The northern area of the new shrubbery has been planted with a range of broadleaf trees including Acer, Catalpa bignoniodes and Davidii involucrata, also known as the Handkerchief Tree as the large bracts in spring look like draped handkerchiefs. The southern area has plantings of pines, cedars and junipers. An interesting ditch maze, more like a labyrinth, makes use of a boggy area of ground here too.
You’d naturally think that the ornamental lake near the shrubbery was designed to complement the gardens, but its origins are very different. Known as the Stew Pond, it was built at the same time as the hall and was originally constructed to provide fish for the table. There were once three stew ponds in the garden and the surviving one, now purely ornamental, is fed by the nearby springs, with the clean water helping fresh-water mussels thriving here.
Surrounding the pond are large clumps of Prickly Rhubarb, Gunnera, with enormous leaves the size of golf umbrellas. Huge plantings of roses once also blossomed in the Walled Garden, but rabbits quickly destroyed these and standard roses were then planted, which the rabbits seem to mostly ignore.
Another lime walk borders the Stew Pond. The limes are pollarded every 10 to 15 years to maintain their shape and the walk dates back to Georgian times. Other walks to enjoy are the Nut Walk, which has hazel trees, the Red Cedar Walk and the Wild Walk, which has been planted with trees and other plant species to attract wildlife. The south-facing, sheltered aspect of the Grass Walk is ideal to grow tender shrubs.
The great gales of the late 1980s again sadly claimed many trees and shrubs here, but the area is being gradually replanted and the streamside has a fine selection of American Skunk Cabbage, Lysichiton americanus. In mid-spring, the yellow flame-shaped flowers look magnificent reflected in the water and are followed by enormous paddle-shaped green leaves, which remain until autumn.
The gentle, rolling acres of gardens at Ingatestone Hall are an enjoyable place to roam on a summer’s afternoon where you can imagine the heyday of their former glory and admire the renovation work as the gardens are gradually reclaimed and replanted.