The first thing you see when you walk into Sudeley Castle gardens is a pretty meadow with a few trees, and then, unexpectedly, the vast ruin of a honey-stoned tithe barn. Roses and Clematis pour from its roofless walls and self-seeded foxgloves dot the ground nearby.
The effect is undeniably romantic – and nostalgic – but walk closer and you’ll see there’s more to Sudeley Castle gardens than nostalgia. Pass through the barn and you’ll come face to face with the 21st century as drifts of silver balloons float above the carp pond towards you.
Like nearly all the outdoor art at Sudeley Castle, Tomas Saraceno’s “flying garden” is inspired by the English gardens that surround it without being in any way held back by them. If you’re not ready for a flying garden, Sudeley’s earth-bound gardens also offer new takes on old garden styles. These, it has collected throughout its long and action-packed past.
Rise and fall of an English castle
The present Sudeley castle was built in the 15th and 16th centuries, nearly destroyed in the 1640s, left to fall down for the whole of the 18th century and finally rescued in 1837. The rescuers were the Dent brothers, and their ancestors have been restoring this English castle and gardens ever since. Many ruins remain though. Most notably, the Banqueting Hall Ruins, an atmospheric backdrop for Sudeley’s ten small connecting gardens.
These include a parterre, a secret garden, a white garden, a knot garden, and a Victorian kitchen garden as well as the Hall itself, which has been sympathetically planted with alpine plants, climbing Roses and Clematis. All the gardens are organic.
The Mediterranean Garden
Although the massive ruins give a romantic cast to all these gardens, many have a modern edge too. In the secret garden, this is by way of the contemporary Mediterranean garden design. Here the designer, Charles Chesshire, has used half-hardy Mediterranean plants, which benefit from the shelter of the garden walls, to startling effect. In July, soft Allium seed heads contrast with the striking yellow spires of Foxtail Lilies. Other Mediterranean plants are used to draw out the flowering season from spring to early winter.
The Victorian Kitchen Garden
Behind the Mediterranean garden, Sudeley’s Victorian Kitchen Garden also breaks new ground, combining Victorian taste, organic know-how and rarely seen heritage vegetables. This scaled-down version of Sudeley’s original three-acre kitchen garden was created in partnership with Garden Organic, Europe’s largest organic charity.
Also in miniature is Sudeley’s white garden, an unusual arbor against a church. Regale lilies and the Tea Rose, “White Wings” Madonna are a reminder here of the chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary that once stood here.
Beyond the white garden is the Queen’s Garden, inspired by the original Tudor parterre and created by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall. Today, its ancient yew hedges enclose beds of herbs and old-fashioned roses.
The Knot Garden
Fearnley-Whittingstall has also designed the Knot Garden, taking its intricate design from the dress of Elizabeth I in the painting, The Tudor Succession. This refreshing and original approach to garden restoration is typical of Sudeley Castle, where visitors can see just about every major English garden style of the last 500 years in a brand new way.