Centuries of change in Charlecote Park's landscape
The house you see today at Charlecote was built in the 1550s, when the estate lay at the southern edge of the ancient Forest of Arden. Over time the landscape became more open as the trees were removed to create a fashionable deer park.
A garden in Arden
The first Sir Thomas Lucy is said to have planted the great double avenue of limes which still stretches away from the house to the south west. The rough split-oak palings that surround the parkland are of a type thought to have first been put up in Elizabethan times and we are keeping this craft alive today.
In the 1670s a formal water garden was established, comprising geometric parterres and two ponds in which to breed carp.
The garden was lovingly completed by Colonel George Lucy between 1695 and 1700. How long the garden was maintained in this immaculate state is unclear, but by the middle of the 18th century it would have seemed terribly old-fashioned.
Renowned ‘Capability’ Brown
Around 1750 the young ‘Capability’ Brown was called in to advise on the garden at Packington, some 20 miles away, and a rough outline drawing of Charlecote’s house and garden appears on the back of one of his designs for Packington.
However, it was not until 1757 that Mr Brown came to Charlecote to create a new cascade where the little river Dene met the Avon in the parkland.
A contract with Brown
Three years after building the cascade "Bachelor" George Lucy made the following agreement with Brown.
- Article 1. to widen the River Avon
- Article 2. to sink the fosse (ha-ha) round the meadow, to make a sufficient fence against the deer
- Article 3. to fill up all the ponds on the north front of the house, to alter the slopes and give the whole a natural, easy and corresponding level with the house on every side
Once the unfashionable water garden had been filled in, Brown created a raised lawn and planted it with the cedars of Lebanon which you see today.
The work cost £525, paid in instalments. In April 1761 George Lucy bumped into ‘Capability’ Brown in Bath: ‘I told him the time was elapsed for a second payment which he said was no matter as he did not want money, but upon my offering him a £100 note he pulled out his pocket book and carried it off with him.'
Flowers for Charlecote
Mary Elizabeth Lucy brought flowers back to Victorian Charlecote. She was often in her beloved garden by 6am on a summer morning, working on laying out new parterres. We carefully reinstated her colourful parterre behind the house overlooking the river in 1995.
She filled the shady ‘wilderness garden’ with Solomon’s seal, foxgloves, ivy, box, martagon lillies and wild flowers beneath Scots pines and chestnuts.
Our work in the woodland garden is about reinstating this area, partly as she would have planned it, as well as bringing in new and unusual plants as she would have done to impress her visitors. Look closely at the fascinating forms of our fern collection, reflecting the Victorians' obsession known at "pteridomania".
A Victorian legacy
By 1857 George Lucy’s summerhouse was replaced by the present orangery on the cedar lawn (which is now our tea room). This delightful building housed ornamental exotics that were raised in hot houses in the kitchen garden to amaze Mary Elizabeth’s guests, as the Victorian craze for orchids and imported plants raged from the 1840s.
Our work today aims to be faithful to the house as you see it in its Victorian heyday, while maintaining the highest possible modern standards of stewardship in the parkland and environmental care in the gardens.