Ickworth’s sumptuous pleasure grounds
The immaculate Italianate gardens at Ickworth encircle the stunning Rotunda. The earliest surviving example of their kind, the 1st Marquess designed the gardens as pleasure grounds for his family and guests to enjoy. The legacy he left has been carefully cultivated by successive generations and continues to delight the senses.
Grand Tours and grander designs
The 1st Marquess dedicated his life to realising his father’s dream for Ickworth and under his watch the magnificent Rotunda was finally completed. He next turned his attention to creating Italian-style gardens to complement the architecture. On returning from his Grand Tour of Europe, a journey undertaken by all 18th century men of fashion, the Marquess set about bringing the Mediterranean to Suffolk. He succeeded with classical effect. Corridors of manicured hedges sit alongside towering cypress trees. Lush lawns stretch from border to border and shrubs in muted colours set the calming tone. Thanks to his son, the Earl Bishop’s Italianate vision flows inside and outside the house. In the gardens’ heyday, aristocratic ladies and gentlemen spent their leisure time strolling along the neat pathways, playing croquet, or promenading on the raised terrace. Lady Mary MacRae, granddaughter of the 4th Marquess, remarked that wandering through the blossomed trees in the gardens in spring was…
" ...like walking through lace..."
The Hervey family are full of contrasts and surprises, their gardens are no exception. The restrained grandeur of the formal planting contrasts with the vibrant meadow of flowers popping up in the adjoining spring garden. Magnolia trees and purple-leaved beech may not fall in line with Italianate design, but their effect is truly stunning.
The gardens at Ickworth reflect the changing times of the estate, and the tastes of its many owners. The Stumpery was created by the National Trust’s garden team and adds a dash of Victorian mystery to the present day. The stumps belong to trees that were uprooted during the Second World War, when fields were sown to ‘Dig for Victory’. Their wonderfully gnarled roots nestle amongst the largest collection of ferns in East Anglia. This shady spot offers you a magical escape and is also perfect habitat for wildlife. Another reflective area can be found in the Temple Garden. With its classical summerhouse and mixture of Mediterranean herbs, grasses, and perennials, it’s a refreshing 21st century spin on Ickworth’s Italianate theme.
A labour of love
The design of the gardens may be somewhat restrained, but they proudly express the Hervey’s devotion to home and family. The 1st Marquess included his children in designing the gardens and named many walks and groves after them and other relatives. Lady Geraldine’s walk, which weaves through carpets of snowdrops and aconites in the spring, is named after the 3rd Marquess’ wife. She took great pleasure ambling along its pathways while she was pregnant. The 4th Marquess loved nothing more than to don his old clothes and dig up thistles. The Herveys cherished the freedom they had in their gardens, and carefully maintained them for future generations. National Trust staff and volunteers have taken up that cause and nurture the gardens’ beauty all year round.