Skip to content

History of the garden at Arlington Court

Conservatory and borders in the flower garden in July at Arlington Court, Devon
Conservatory and borders in the flower garden in July at Arlington Court | © National Trust Images/Mark Bolton

The 30 acres of grounds that surround the house at Arlington are set in picturesque style. The planting was carefully designed to give views and vistas mainly from the house, but also from carriage drives and footpaths. Discover more about how the grounds changed and developed over the years to the garden you see today.

Picture(sque) perfect

The picturesque style was very fashionable in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century; hence the Chichester family choosing to have their grounds landscaped this way. Features and follies were often used to create interest for visitors to discover on trips through the gardens.

Contrasts between areas of light and shade, formal and informal, natural and unnatural were all important within a picturesque garden. The easiest way to think of it is as if stepping into a picture of a wonderful view.

Early changes – Colonel John Chichester

During the remodelling of the medieval manor house south of the church, in 1790, Colonel John Chichester redesigned the old Tudor gardens into picturesque parkland.

When the current house was built in the 1820s, Colonel Chichester continued to develop the area around his new house in the picturesque style. This involved removing hedgerows and cultivated land and moving towards more clusters of trees and shrubs with grassland between.

The Intended Suspension Bridge at Arlington Court, Devon by William Dredge (fl.1840-1860)
The Intended Suspension Bridge at Arlington Court by William Dredge | © National Trust/Elsie Rolfe

Unfulfilled ambitions – Sir John & Sir Bruce

Colonel John’s son, Sir John Chichester, had grander plans for the gardens and estate. He rebuilt some of the gate houses and Home Farm in a more gothic style to create interest when visitors arrived. From the gate houses, visitors would have travelled to the house on long winding carriage drives with a number of views and points of interest en route.

One drive would have crossed the lake on a suspension bridge, which was left unfinished when he died in 1851; the bridge piers are still visible to anyone venturing to the old lake.

The estate passed to his son Sir Bruce Chichester, who introduced monkey puzzle trees to the grounds and garden as a wedding present to his wife, Lady Rosalie.

Reclaimed by nature – Miss Rosalie

Miss Rosalie Chichester, daughter of Sir Bruce and Lady Rosalie, took control of the estate in 1881 and seems to have maintained the grounds and gardens as her father left them until the 1920s when nature was allowed to take control.

This was in part caused by Rosalie’s love of wildlife, but financial and social circumstances may have contributed. After the Second World War, outer areas of the pleasure grounds not regularly visited by Miss Chichester would have been completely left to grow wild. In 1949 she died, and the estate passed to the National Trust.

View over the parkland at Arlington Court, Devon, with sheep in the foreground
View over the parkland at Arlington Court | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Protecting the garden for the future

In the 1970s John Sales, then Chief Gardens Adviser for the National Trust, advised Arlington to adopt a more historically informed approach to the gardens and grounds.

The Victorian garden was developed further with a long border introduced on the top tier of the gardens. A ha-ha was created on the south and west edge of the pleasure grounds to replace a fence which had prevented deer and livestock entering the park.

Rhododendron removal

The 21st century has seen further changes. Phytopthora was found on a number of large rhododendrons within the grounds and all affected plants needed to be removed.

Today the gardeners work with nature to create natural beauty, using native plants where possible. Introduction of spring and autumn interest plants is one way the gardeners are replacing the lost colour from the rhododendrons.

A visitor admires a small elephant statue in the Long Room at Arlington Court, Devon

Discover more at Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum

Find out when Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

You might also be interested in

A painting, 'View of the East Front of the Arlington in 1845' by an unknown artist, now hanging in the Ship Lobby at Arlington Court, Devon

A brief history of Arlington Court 

The house at Arlington Court is the work of generations of the Chichester family. Discover how each heir left their mark on the building you see today.

A dog enjoying a winter walk in the grounds at Trelissick, Cornwall

Visiting Arlington Court with your dog 

Find out how to have a dog-friendly visit to Arlington, when to keep them on a lead and what facilities are available. Arlington Court is a three pawprint rated place.

Azaleas in the garden at Arlington Court, made up of bright reds and pinks

Things to see in the garden at Arlington Court 

From the ever-changing flowers of the formal Victorian Garden to picture-perfect pleasure grounds, the garden at Arlington Court is beautiful whatever the weather. Step into the hidden walled kitchen garden for variety through the seasons.

Family walking under a tree in the woods at Arlington Court, Devon, with the sun shining from behind them

Walking at Arlington Court 

Over 20 miles of footpaths criss-cross the estate at Arlington Court, ranging from easy strolls around the lake to more demanding walks with rewarding views.

The Sea of Time and Space (Vision of the Circle of the Life of Man) by William Blake (London 1757 - London 1827)

The collection at Arlington Court 

Take a closer look at some of the items assembled at Arlington Court by the Chichester family through 11 generations of ownership.

Overhead view of an octagonal table with the figure of Silenus, a drunken follower of Bacchu, in The Library at Claydon House in Buckinghamshire


Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.

A close up of items on the dressing table in the White Bedroom at Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum, Devon

Arlington Court's collections 

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Arlington Court on the National Trust Collections website.