Conservation in Calke's gardens

The Orangery at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire

Our dedicated team of green-fingered gardeners work hard throughout the year to keep Calke’s gardens looking good, whilst doing vital conservation work to maintain Calke’s ethos of ‘repair not restore’. So how do we care for Calke’s gardens?

Buildings and bulbs

Calke’s gardens are presented much like the rest of Calke, following our ethos of ‘repair not restore’. Whilst our gardeners maintain a very high horticultural standard, with stunning displays throughout the year, you’ll also find signs of dilapidation and decay as you wander through the Walled Gardens.

In among flower borders bursting with colour, you’ll find the faded grandeur of the Orangery and rusting tools in the Gardener’s Bothy. Alongside a working Physic Garden, packed with seasonal produce, you’ll discover glass houses and old potting sheds.

Every day, our gardeners get to work keeping the gardens looking and smelling great – but they’re also working hard to preserve the gardens and their fascinating history.

Glass cloches in the Gardener's Bothy at Calke
The Gardener's Bothy at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire
Glass cloches in the Gardener's Bothy at Calke

Planting in the Pleasure Grounds

Before the National trust took over Calke Abbey, the deer roamed free in the Pleasure Grounds, which caused extensive damage to the trees and shrubs, and they’d eaten the herbaceous layer of plants. As such, the Walled Garden was visible from the house – which wouldn’t have been the case historically.

The National trust decided to restore this woody shelter to hide the Walled Gardens and allow shady walks, as a contrast to the formally planted main gardens. Replanting started in the 1990s with tree planting, and then the shrub layer was put in.

We’re now in the final phase of the planting project, which has more recently seen extensive bulb planting in the Pleasure Grounds to replace the herbaceous layer – this includes snowdrops, fritillaries, wood anemones, camassias, glory-in-the-snow, squills, daffodils and cyclamen. There’s also been more focus on planting some flowering and fruiting shrubs for winter, now that our gardens open all year round. Have you spotted any of these bulbs whilst visiting the gardens?

A view of the house from the Pleasure Grounds
A view of the house from the Pleasure Grounds at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire
A view of the house from the Pleasure Grounds

Coppicing the hazel    

As part of our maintenance, and to maintain enough light for the bulbs to thrive, we also coppice the hazel in the Pleasure Grounds. This is done on a seven-year rotation. All hazels poles and brash are used to stake plants and build supports in the Walled Gardens.

Some of these hazels have been aged by an expert to the early 1700s, and are believed to have been planted as a nuttery in an earlier walled orchard. Coppicing should also extend the life of these plants, ensuring that they can be enjoyed for many years to come.

Battling box blight

Until 2018, the beds in the Physic Garden were surrounded by box hedges. Unfortunately the hedges started suffering from box blight, which thrives in wet and humid conditions, making them look a little worse for wear.

For two years, the garden team worked hard to try and save the hedges – they were trimmed, hoovered and treated as part of an on-going treatment plan – but the difficult decision was made to remove the hedges in 2018.

As the box hedges weren't an original feature at Calke, we're hoping to replace them with something in-keeping with Calke's history. In the meatime, a local craftsperson has built hazel fencing in place of the box hedges, which provides a long-lasting solution while we decided what to replace the hedges with in the long-term.

The box hedges getting a haircut as part of their box blight treatment
Volunteers at work in the gardens at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire
The box hedges getting a haircut as part of their box blight treatment

A rare surviving auricula theatre

One of the highlights in Calke’s gardens is the auricula theatre in the Flower Garden. This is a rare survival of display gardening from the nineteenth century, and was originally decorated with blinds to create a separate space from the rest of the Flower Garden.

The auricula theatre was designed to show off prize specimens of auriculas in tiers, and to preserve the blooms for as long as possible.

Today, the gardeners maintain collections of snowdrops, auriculas and pelargoniums for display on the theatre, all of which have strong links to Calke.

The auriculas are on display at Calke Abbey
A display of auriculas on the auricula theatre at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire
The auriculas are on display at Calke Abbey

Ask a gardener!

Your visits are an important part of our work. The money we receive from our admission fee and memberships helps us to continue this vital conservation work.

When you next visit Calke’s gardens, why not chat to our friendly gardeners about the work they’re doing? It’s thanks to you that we can keep Calke’s gardens growing.