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Sizergh Castle gardens in winter

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 January 2015

The 900-year-old Sizergh Castle © Sabena Jane Blackbird / Alamy

The 900-year-old Sizergh Castle © Sabena Jane Blackbird / Alamy

© Sabena Jane Blackbird / Alamy

Linda Viney visits the gardens at a National Trust property dating back 900 years

The Rock Garden constructed from local limestoneThe Rock Garden constructed from local limestone

Winter certainly isn’t the time to sit around and stay indoors however tempting it may seem. Once the festivities are over what better way to spend any free time than to visit gardens and parks that are open all year? You will catch them in their winter finery for the deciduous trees have shed their leaves opening up vistas not normally seen, and their skeletal shapes also have a beauty of their own. One garden I enjoy seeing in all seasons is Sizergh, a few miles south of Kendal.

While it has been associated with the Strickland family for nearly 900 years, the garden has evolved over the last 300. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that the large limestone rock garden was laid out thanks to Sir Gerald Strickland and his wife Margaret. It was constructed by Hayes of Ambleside and it now holds the national collection of ferns. But it has so much more to offer.

In 1950 the house was given to the National Trust ensuring it will be looked after for generations to enjoy. As you walk down to the entrance to the garden which covers some 20 of the 1,600 acre estate, you pass by a large lake which on a good day shows the reflections of the surrounding countryside. Carry on through the gateway to the garden where in winter you can spot the first signs of spring, snowdrops piercing their way through the sometimes frozen ground, and the exposed branches of the old crab apples not often seen for the blossom, leaves and fruit yet to come. Step-over fruit trees edge the borders of a vegetable and cut flower garden adjacent to a magnificent glasshouse with its cold frame. For the horticulturists among you everything is clearly labelled so you will be able to see what will appear as the days get longer.

The natural water-worn limestone sourced from the estate to create the rock garden formed the biggest of its kind in the National Trust portfolio. The soft grey colour of the stone makes a wonderful backdrop for the variety of plants grown here, though use of limestone would be frowned upon today, its removal causing considerable damage to the natural habitat of the flora and fauna. Limestone pavement is now protected by law in most areas.

Sizergh Castle forms a backdrop to the Rock GardenSizergh Castle forms a backdrop to the Rock Garden

Sitting on a well placed viewing seat you can look down over the dell before exploring as you venture down the meandering path. Water drains off the fells with small streams leading down to two ponds which in turn drain via another stream into the large lake which flows to the River Kent. Although constructed, this area has a real natural feel about it where winter heathers come into their own, hellebores start to bloom and the first buds of the small daffodils peep up through the ground. Some of the collection of ferns reside here - there are over 200 species of hardy varieties making up the National Collection.

The trees in the orchard include older varieties like quince and medlar as well as damson, apple, pear and plum. These are underplanted with bulbs and wild flowers and several wild orchids can be spotted on the estate. Willow is woven to form an edging to the path.

Adding an air of formality is the Dutch Garden and the South Garden where clipped yew cones flank either side of the grass walkway leading to the large wrought iron gates which at one time led to the deer park. Standing above this area is the The Terrace Garden which was built the same time as the Rock Garden and has gradually evolved over the years. There are views across to the lake.

Hazel twigs are used to support the plants in the long herbaceous border which is backed by a wall and in season a mass of colour, by using natural supports they disappear as the plants grow. Whichever way you turn on your journey through the garden the castle can be seen looming up in the background. Whether or not you want to visit the garden, and I suggest you do for seeing it unclothed in the winter you are sure to return to see it blossom through the seasons, there are many walks through the estate where you will enjoy nature at its best.

Seat at the top of the Rock GardenSeat at the top of the Rock Garden

Don’t forget there are many other parks and gardens to entice you to wrap up warm and get out and about. Yes, there will be days when the weather is too harsh, but even then take time to plan what you can start doing in your garden and enjoy seeing the first shoots beginning to appear heralding warmer times to come.

Sizergh Park is open all year and the garden is open weekends in the winter but check www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sizergh.

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