From dahlias to dinosaurs at Knebworth House

PUBLISHED: 15:27 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:48 20 February 2013

The gardens at Knebworth House

The gardens at Knebworth House

There are plenty of surprises for all the family to enjoy in the beautiful gardens of Knebworth House, as Sue Armstrong discovers

'HOW many kinds of sweet flowers grow in an English country garden?', asks one of England's most famous songs. At this time of year the Gardens of Knebworth House have countless varieties of sensational blooms - roses, dahlias, fuchsias and honeysuckle - all dressed in their finest and most vibrant colours, flaunting their rich perfume.

Since 1490, Knebworth House has been home to 19 generations of the Lytton family. Its history dates from early Tudor times and is carefully preserved by The Hon Henry Lytton Cobbold and his wife, Martha, who manage the house, park and estate and live here with their two children.

Not surprisingly this stunning house, with its grand proportions and medley of towers, turrets and gargoyles, has equally impressive gardens set in 25 acres. Formal gardens have been here since 1615 but the present layout dates from Victorian and Edwardian times, with some recent additions and improvements. In their Victorian heyday, they were well known for their Italianate layout and 14 gardeners were employed to maintain them. Since then they have been simplified and head gardener David Roberts and his team of three now keep them in perfect order.

The gardens are divided into 14 different rooms, each with its own season, and in the height of summer the Rose Garden, with its lily ponds, is the jewel in the crown. Visitors will look on enviously at the perfect buds and petals, untouched by blackfly or the green or white variety, that seem to regularly attack in most domestic gardens.

'We keep the plants and shrubs free from infestation with the help of ladybirds and small, harmless Encarsia wasps,' explains David. 'We buy in their eggs and when they hatch they do the job for us. We prefer to use natural methods to insecticides or weed killers. We've also got plenty of frogs, toads and thrushes to keep the slugs and snails at bay.'

Amazing tree sculptures, statues and fountains add to the rich variety and interest in the peaceful garden rooms - the cool and shady Green Garden, the Gold Garden with leaves and flowers to match its name, the Malus Walk with its avenue of crab apple trees and the Brick Garden with planting in a blue and silver theme, contrasted with delicate pink roses.

Two large ponds sit side by side in the Horace Garden and are regularly visited by kingfishers and herons, as well as electric blue dragonflies dancing over the water. Watching the scene is a large evergreen oak tree, a gift from Queen Victoria in 1897 to her godson, Victor, 2nd Earl of Lytton, on his coming of age.

In the Wilderness Garden there are some much larger 'pets' to be found. In the past few years, this seven-acre area has become home to 72 life-sized dinosaurs. They can be found grazing amongst great Californian Redwoods, rhododendrons and a rare 150-year-old snowdrop tree. Children of all ages, and adults too, can enjoy learning about the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Woolly Mammoth and many other prehistoric creatures. But as they are so huge, how did they get here?

'With great difficulty,' says David. 'A man from Wales created them and they were originally displayed in a public park in Colwyn Bay. When he retired he needed a good home for his rather large pets and following a trip to see them, we decided they would be just right for our Wilderness Garden. They were delivered over a period of 10 days, on 10 lorries, and caused quite a distraction on the motorway - how often do you see a 35ft crocodile driving past you?'

Article taken from August issue of Hertfordshire Life

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