Edwardian high summer splendour at Benington Lordship near Stevenage
PUBLISHED: 15:14 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:13 20 February 2013
Benington Lordship near Stevenage is renowned for its displays of snowdrops in late winter. The gardens also look stunning in the summer, as Philippa Pearson finds out
SPREAD over seven acres, the gardens at Benington Lordship hug the Georgian manor house and the remains of a Norman Keep. In February, the castle's old moat has thousands of snowdrops in flower, a spectacular sight and one that has deservedly positioned the garden as the premier place to visit for snowdrops in the country.
This wonderful garden has much more to offer during the rest of the year, too. Spring brings more bulbs and carpets of cowslips whilst in summer, the garden shimmers from an array of colourful flowers in the borders.
Located four miles east of Stevenage and situated 400 feet above sea level, the garden's outlook takes in spectacular views of the gently rolling Hertfordshire surrounding countryside. The house was built in the early 1700s on the site of an Elizabethan farmhouse, the remains of the original Norman castle consisting of the outer bailey which runs round the car park, the moat, inner bailey and the ruined keep, which is a listed monument and the only vernacular Norman stonework in Hertfordshire.
The 'Norman' gatehouse, summer house and curtain wall were built in the mid 1850s by a previous owner who also built the flinty additions to the house and a wing on the west front. The gardens weren't formally laid out and planned until Edwardian times when Arthur and Lilian Bott bought the house. The kitchen garden was built with a range of greenhouses which produced grapes and nectarines whilst other areas of the garden were defined and planted. When their grandson Harry and his wife Sarah lived at the Lordship in the latter part of the 20th century, the gardens were gradually and sympathetically restored to maintain their Edwardian character and splendour.
One of the most spectacular sights in summer is the double herbaceous borders which hug the outside wall of the kitchen garden. Tucked away from the house, the borders run downhill, giving a wonderful view of the typically Edwardian herbaceous style planting as well as unfolding vistas of the surrounding countryside.
A riot of colour and interest from April until the first frosts of the autumn, the borders peak in June, July and August. Roses clamber over the kitchen garden wall, providing colour and a scented backdrop on one side, whilst a recently planted yew hedge frames the other border. The RHS Garden Finder describes these lush borders as 'the best we know'.
Elsewhere, the Rose Garden is in full bloom. In 1996 this formal rose garden was renovated and re-planted with low growing repeat flowering roses in shades of yellow and cream, supplied by Harkness Roses of Hitchin. A low growing lavender hedge surrounds them whilst salvias, sisyrinchiums and iris mingle with the roses to extend the planting interest.
The meandering circular route around the garden takes in the different landscaped areas where plants play a key role in the design. At the Cowslip Bank, the rough grass is managed to encourage wildflowers and cowslips, oxslips and wild primroses are left to seed in the summer to increase each spring's display. Past the ha-ha, a wide ditch that was traditionally built in rural estates to keep deer and other animals from entering gardens, there are two ancient ponds. One has been cleaned and restored as a carp pond whilst the other is fenced off and managed as a wildlife pond which includes a nesting bank for kingfishers and is a haven for dragonflies.
The Rockery was originally planted in the early 1900s by Lilian Bott's brother when he was home on leave from the First World War and has recently been re-landscaped. Old, tall conifers have been removed, opening up fine vistas and new planting for year round interest is maturing. Next to the double herbaceous borders the Walled Garden and Nursery has raised beds bursting with vegetables and cut flowers whilst other borders here are edged with a growing collection of unusual and interesting snowdrop and hellebore cultivars. The mature shrub borders are being replanted to create a new winter garden.
The garden has a philosophy that it should merge into the hillside without looking contrived and be in sympathy with nature. Benington Lordship is a garden that unfurls naturally and whilst its snowdrops are synonymous with the name, exploring the garden in high summer is an undiscovered treat.
Visit the gardens
Benington Lordship is open for a special weekend in conjunction with the local church and the NGS on Saturday and Sunday, June 28 and 29, from noon-6pm. Many other gardens in the village are open and the church is decorated with flowers. Refreshments available and free parking.
Admission: Adults 4,
children under 16, 2,
under 12s, free.