The garden at Sudbury Hall

The south front of Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, with topiary trees in the foreground.

The fascinating history of Sudbury’s garden spans more than 300 years, beginning life as a very formal design created by George Vernon. Since then the garden has changed more frequently and radically than the house itself.

The Vernon family, together with prominent garden designers and landscapers of the time, developed the garden in line with the changing fashions. Adding their own ideas and tastes, the gardens have seen many changes over the years.  

The 17th-century garden

When the hall was built in 1660, George Vernon, the then owner, created a walled garden centred on the south front of the Hall.

The garden was typical of the Restoration period and had parterres of grass and gravel, together with beautiful fountains and statues. Beyond the walls were avenues of fruit trees and a flight of broad steps that led down to rectangular fish ponds, where the lake now stands.

George Vernon bought many different plants for his garden. Records include 17th-century favourites such as tulips; species of primula, and clove-scented gillyflowers (carnations). 

In the distance to the north lay an enclosed park. Created in 1614, it housed hundreds of deer used for hunting.

Bird's Eye View of Sudbury Hall: South Front Jan Griffier the elder (Amsterdam c.1645 – London 1718)
Birds Eye view painting of Sudbury Hall and garden
Bird's Eye View of Sudbury Hall: South Front Jan Griffier the elder (Amsterdam c.1645 – London 1718)

Sudbury’s 18th-century landscape garden

Sudbury’s garden is best known for its 18th-century period of design. During this century the original garden was swept away by George Vernon’s grandson, the 1st Lord Vernon, in favour of a naturalistic setting. This new English landscape style was highly fashionable at the time, following the trend created by Capability Brown at many stately homes, including Chatsworth House.

A series of paintings from the period illustrate how the garden and wider parkland may have looked during the 18th century.

Sudbury Hall from the South, 1730-1769, Nicholas Thomas Dall
A painting of Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire
Sudbury Hall from the South, 1730-1769, Nicholas Thomas Dall

Lord Vernon formed a serpentine lake out of the geometric fish ponds and reduced the avenues to clumps of trees.  Features such as the lake and groupings of trees were designed to appear entirely natural within the new garden landscape.

Sudbury Hall from the North, 1750-1800, Nicholas Thomas Dall
Painting of Sudbury Hall garden
Sudbury Hall from the North, 1750-1800, Nicholas Thomas Dall

The north parkland was also radically altered and extended at this time. An ornamental deer enclosure, called the deercote, was built to shelter deer. It was designed to look like a sham castle. You can spot this striking structure when you look north from the Hall. 

Sudbury Hall from the North, Morning, 1770-1777, Nicholas Thomas Dall
A painting of Sudbury Hall from the North
Sudbury Hall from the North, Morning, 1770-1777, Nicholas Thomas Dall

The 19th-century garden: formality meets nature


The 19th century witnessed further transformations – including the temporary draining of the lake to grow maize.

Then, in the late 1830s the 5th Lord Vernon aimed to enhance the picturesque qualities of the landscape and re-introduce formality to the garden.

The famous landscape gardener, W.S. Gilpin was employed to create new designs for the garden. Joseph Paxton, another renowned horticulturalist of the day, worked on the construction and planting of new formal terraces with a series of geometric flower beds. Gilpin’s design, with formal areas by the house and more natural ‘wild’ areas beyond, echoes many other designs of the period.
 

'An English Arcadia 1600-1990'
A 19th century illustration of the garden plan at Sudbury Hall
'An English Arcadia 1600-1990'

Our work in the garden


Since taking ownership in the late 1960s, the National Trust has sought to preserve the garden's long history, whilst introducing some new features in the garden to the south, echoing its more formal past. 


In the 1970s we created two star shaped parterres on the top terraces and planted topiary on the lower area. The lime Quincunx was also planted to grow in front of the 19th-century wing to echo the 17th-century formal orchards.

Late summer and autumn planting was introduced in to the parterres in 2018, providing beautiful colour as well as nectar for pollinating insects.

The parterres are part of our ongoing work in the garden
Bright flowers in a parterre flower bed at Sudbury Hall
The parterres are part of our ongoing work in the garden