Beguiling Burghley

Set within a large delightful park designed by Capability Brown, there is much for a visitor to do at Burghley in normal times: https://www.burghley.co.uk/about-us . Many will know the landscape from enjoying walks around the park, or a visit to the Sculpture Garden and the Garden of Surprises, and many will know Burghley from the famous horse trials held each September. However many may not know the Private South Garden which is seldom open but is hidden away behind the Great House. In 2019 I had a very enjoyable afternoon with a friend when the South Garden was open for the National Garden Scheme.

A far too great a distance for us to bike, but I wish I could have done so, if only to use this ingenious bicycle rack.

The entrance to the South Garden is via the Orangery and it feels strange ascending stairs in order to get out into a garden.

The Orangery restaurant on my left (closed at the moment but soon to re-open) and the garden gate to the South Garden is open through the Orangery Garden.

Such a handsome lion watches us quietly,

and a fountain drips gently through the aged moss into the formal pond,

whilst at the base of a pillar a splash of blue catches our eye growing miraculously from within the stonework.

Through the gate a vast expanse of croquet lawn appears before us, and we are drawn towards the dark forms of yew in the distance. Space is certainly not a problem here,

and it is what is required to compliment this great building, one of the largest and grandest houses of the first Elizabethan age. Built between 1555 and 1587 by William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I.

The dark green forms are clipped into shapes, some still work-in-progress, this one perhaps awaiting the emergence of a lion?

Here we see a display of loyalty to the Crown of which the first Lord Burghley would surely have approved.

Who could have imagined such a splendid march of whimsical topiary?

Beds of roses, pruned, trained and mulched are awaiting the warmer weather, and the seasonal lack of colour gives us the opportunity to appreciate the layout and beauty of the many fountains and urns,

Look at the detail of the intertwined serpent handles and wise old faces. To the side stands a mighty English oak Quercus robur described by the Woodland Trust as ‘The ruling majesty of the woods, the wise old English oak holds a special place in our culture, history, and hearts.’ A description truly appropriate to this fine specimen which was planted in 1844 by Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

At the far end of the walk is the jetty extending out over the lake; a perfect spot for that wild swimming we are encouraged to enjoy nowadays. It is a freezing cold day and I am relieved to find nobody is tempted, and so we turn to face the house,

the view of which is far more exhilarating than taking the plunge.

I always think there is something rather mystical about mistletoe growing high up in a tree but now it is a joy to see it close up on the lower branches.

We move around from the south side to the west; little wonder that Horace Walpole referred to Burghley as “A noble pile! ” We marvel at all things ancient, including the trees. Queen Elizabeth I is reputed to have planted this Lime tree.

I am sure those twisted branches could tell a tale or two…..

One would not wish to leap the Ha Ha, as it is quite deep. A cunning device, the Ha Ha physically separates the lawns from this Brownian park without dividing it visually.

and if you did wish to attempt to climb the fence, you might be restrained by this ornate but effective barrier.

In fact everything has been designed with beauty in mind, nothing more so than these golden gates made by Jean Tijou in 1693; just imagine taking your sundowner with this as the backdrop.

We retrace our steps around the south side taking in the charm of more topiary creatures, this time a snail,

and here, a wee mouse,

and a cunningly created two-faced fox, or is it a bear?

We leave the characters on the flat but sunny south side of the house and ascend the hill towards the east.

In front of a bank of blossom stands yet another magnificent urn where even the snakes seem to smile.

It is less formal here with a variety of narcissi bringing a feel of springtime under foot,

and Snake’s head fritillary Fritillaria meleagris nodding in the breeze. Years ago one might buy these delicate flowers in Covent Garden for just a penny or two, supplied by children who would gather them from the meadows along the River Thames where they grew in abundance.

However good the faithful hounds of the household were, they are surely not forgotten; how a headstone can say it all.

Around the corner is a charming neo-Jacobean banqueting house set on a sloping lawn. The front overlooks the lake,

with a simply stunning back door.

It is behind here that a tennis court has been sited; I am not sure whether Brown would approve but I am sure he would find the ornate bench the perfect place from which to watch the game.

A boat house sited across the other side of the lake was built in 1871 and replaced an earlier building. 

This is a shrubby area with mature cedars growing elegantly by the lake.

We return to the orangery garden and my friend admires the neat chestnut paling fence.

The south garden was one of the original gardens to open for the National Garden Scheme back in 1927 and if you have missed this weekend’s opening, I thoroughly recommend a visit when it next opens for the Scheme this time next year. https://ngs.org.uk/view-garden/1387

It is also the 500th anniversary of the birth of Lord Burghley, with a series of lectures intended at Burghley House https://www.burghley.co.uk/news/lord-burghley-500th-anniversay-lecture-series and I am looking forward to learning more about the great man at the symposium to be delivered via Zoom from the Garden Museum later this month https://gardenmuseum.org.uk/events/burghley-500-symposium/

6 thoughts on “Beguiling Burghley

  1. Splendid… how truly wonderful! Always remember you telling me that mistletoe is not a parasite… so glad to know as it is very beautiful to see in a bare tree. Thank you for a lovely walk.

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  2. Many thanks Julia for another insightful, well ‘illustrated’ and informative vicarious visit. As a frequent visitor to Burghley, usually accompanying visiting friends (I used to live in nearby Peterborough), I have never had the opportunity to get out into the South Garden, rather, having only gazed upon it from a distance. I can’t wait for the Orangery Restaurant to open again with all the dining pleasures had there in the past to be enjoyed again ……. hopefully. A visit to Burghley is a lovely day out, something I have all but forgotten.

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  3. What a handsome garden. I always admire the topiary. It takes so long to create these more natural works of art. To have such long lived trees is amazing too.
    The house is so similar to a castle to my eyes. It is a beautiful structure.

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