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Great gardens: Stoke Rochford Hall, Woolsthorpe Manor, Easton Walled Gardens and Burghley

The Flower of Kent apple tree which inspired Isaac Newton’s thinking on gravity is still producing fruit in the orchard at his former home in Woolsthorpe Manor, in Stoke Rochford, south Lincoln.

Woolsthorpe Manor
Woolsthorpe Manor

Three hours’ drive from Kent, this area is more forgotten England than Middle England when it comes to garden visiting.

Newton’s birthplace is now in the hands of the National Trust and just one of a trail of historic gardens, just off the A1, that can be visited within a weekend.

Nearby Stoke Rochford Hall, which proudly displays a plaque to mark it out as one of the first NGS gardens to open in 1927, had 28 gardeners back then – one for every acre.

The most memorable area of the grounds is the undulating pastureland either side of the long, long driveway - a slalom with lambs, ducks and geese slowing traffic by the most natural means of stubbornness.

Closer to the hall is a memorial to Newton, clearly the village’s favourite son judging by the size of the soaring obelisk.

Stoke Rochford Hall
Stoke Rochford Hall

There are also Second World War memorials including a Canadian maple tree and a plaque remembering the Lancaster crew who died when bad weather brought down their bomber in the grounds in April 25, 1945.

The hall was home to 2 Battalion Parachute Regiment and it was from here they prepared for Operation Market Garden at Arnhem. A plaque to Ron Holt from his wartime comrades of 2 Paras, has been placed at the foot of a tree which was raised from a seed found near Arnhem Bridge.

There will be memorial ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem on September 17 and visitors can stay at the hall, now a competitively priced hotel.

Just across the A1 is Easton Walled Gardens which also played its part in both world wars. Eight men from the Chomeley family gave their lives for freedom in the Great War and Easton Hall became a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.

In the Second World War, the house was requisitioned by the Royal Artillery and later, the 2 Paras, but it suffered considerable damage including gunfire inside the house and grenades being thrown into the greenhouses.

By 1951, the family had no choice but to demolish the property where President Roosevelt had stayed with his wife Eleanor in 1905, describing the garden as "a dream of Nirvana ... almost too good to be true".

Some 50 years later, a new generation of Cholmeleys, Hugh and Ursula, started to restore the gardens and derelict stables. By now the garden was no Nirvana but almost a wasteland.

The sweet peas at Easton Walled Garden
The sweet peas at Easton Walled Garden

It was at a time when the Lost Gardens of Heligan was finding a new lease of life and Alnwick Castle gardens were being reinvented, so Lady Ursula, at the time at home with two young children, was spurred on to take a RHS diploma ‘and just got on with it’. And how.

This was not job for the faint-hearted. With no budget, she got men from the estate’s farm to cut down the trees and clear the ground of sycamore, elder and brambles.

“By the summer of 2002 the ground was littered with tree stumps and tractor ruts,” said Lady Ursula.

She was determined that Easton would not be Lincoln’s vanished garden and eventually took on Stephen Marsland as the first gardener at Easton for more than 50 years. Gradually, after years of clearing, planting began with a wisteria on the Peach House and an espaliered pear next to the now impressive tearoom.

Stephen and Ursula dug out a few beds which became the pickery and planted out flowers grown from seed in the crumbling greenhouses.

Sweet peas were among those early blooms and are now a real draw for visitors. More than 60 varieties are grown and make a true spectacle of colour and fragrance.

“This year is probably the first time that I can honestly say the garden has come together,” says Lady Ursula who knows every square inch of the 12 acres.

Last year 14,000 visitors came to Easton and through Lady Ursula’s natural planting ability, plus a business acumen driven by necessity, Easton has become recognised as an important historic garden.
The original terraces can now be seen, the old stone walls restored, orchards replanted with old fruit varieties, rare lilacs and hundreds of roses have been planted, as well as 20,000-plus bulbs.

Easton Walled Gardens are certainly no longer the lost gardens of Lincolnshire but a wonderful find for garden visitors who will appreciate the years of solid graft to revive Roosevelt’s ‘Nirvana’.

The deer was stuck near the Royal Military Canal. Stock image
The deer was stuck near the Royal Military Canal. Stock image

Burghley House and Gardens, home to the British Horse Trials since 1961, is 20 minutes’ drive from Easton, close to the mellow stone-built town of Stamford – Meryton in Pride & Prejudice for those who watched the Kiera Knightly version.

Burghley is a great, great garden that goes from strength to strength. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s ‘natural’ landscaping took 25 years to achieve and he even insisted that one wing of the finest Elizabeth house in England should demolished to achieve the intended view.

Avenues of trees, formal gardens, even fields were dispensed with to create his minimalist and easy maintenance landscape.

By the 1750s, he was not just a designer who oversaw the work; he was as much an engineer as an artist and skilful plantsman. Not least, he solved drainage problems atBurghley by creating the large serpentine lake, dredging the nine-acre pond to find blue clay and extending it to 26 acres.

Beautiful Burghley
Beautiful Burghley

Burghley remains one of the finest examples of a Capability Brown landscape but efforts are being made to take it back to the original by clearing newer planting that has started to obscure views.

As part of the Higher Level Stewardship scheme, which gives funding to farmers, a 10-year plan to reinstate this important historic landscape has been put in place – Herdwick sheep and long-horn cattle will graze where post-Brown plantings had sprung up and various specimen trees that had been lost to storms or decay will also be reintroduced.

By 2016, Brown’s 300th anniversary, visitors should be able to see the complete brilliance of Brown’s scheme. Forgotten England? Not any more.

Burghley House and Gardens
Burghley House and Gardens

How to get there

Stoke Rochford Hall, Stoke Rochford, Grantham NG33 5EJ
From Kent, on the A1 take the pull-off for Stoke Rochford and the hall is half a mile on the right. Call 01476 530337 or visit stokerochfordhall.co.uk

Woolsthorpe Manor is a couple of turnings from Stoke Rochford Hall – drive to Water Lane NG33 5PD. Info at nationaltrust.org.uk

Easton Walled Gardens, NG33 5AP: From Kent, take the A1 and take the Colsterworth junction. Follow the signs to Easton. Visit eastonwalledgardens.co.uk

Burghley, Stamford PE9 3JY: Take the Carpenters Lodge exit on the A1 and follow the brown historic house signs to Burghley House and Gardens.
To view the South private gardens at Burghley visit on a National Gardens Scheme open day or book with a group. Visit burghley.co.uk­

More details also at visitlincolnshire.com

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