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Visiting the garden at Ickworth

The South Front of Ickworth House, Suffolk, showing the central rotunda, curved corridors and the gravel path in the garden. It was built by the Earl of Bristol in 1795
South front of Ickworth, Suffolk showing the central rotunda and gravel path | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Explore the immaculate Italianate garden at Ickworth which encircles the Rotunda. The earliest surviving example of its kind, the 1st Marquess designed the garden as pleasure grounds for his family and guests to enjoy. Discover how the Marquess brought the Mediterranean to a Suffolk garden.

Grand Tours and grander designs

The 1st Marquess dedicated his life to realising his father’s dream for Ickworth and under his watch, the 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 a number of men in the 18th century, the Marquess set about bringing the Mediterranean to Suffolk. Corridors of manicured hedges sit alongside towering cypress trees.

You will find lawns that stretch from border to border and shrubs in muted colours set the tone. Thanks to his son, the Earl Bishop’s Italianate vision flows inside and outside the house.

Explore the gardens today as they were in their heyday, when aristocratic ladies and gentlemen spent their leisure time strolling along the neat pathways, playing croquet, or promenading on the raised terrace.

Couple walking down in the Victorian Border in Ickworrth's Italianate garden
Couple walking down in the Victorian Border in Ickworrth's Italianate garden | © Jim Woolf

Always growing

The gardens at Ickworth reflect the changing times of the estate. The Stumpery was created by the 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 gnarled roots nestle amongst the ferns and provide a shady spot that’s a perfect habitat for wildlife. In the Temple Garden, with its classical summerhouse and Mediterranean-style planting, you'll find a refreshing 21st-century spin on Ickworth’s Italianate theme.

A labour of love

The design of the gardens may be restrained, but they express the Herveys' devotion to home and family. The 1st Marquess included his children in designing the gardens and named many walks 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’s 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.

View of St Mary's Church, Walled Garden and Rotunda from south part of estate
View of St Mary's Church, Walled Garden and Rotunda from south part of estate | © Jim Woolf

The 1st Earl’s spring garden

The walled garden has had many different identities since it was first created, from 18th-century leisure gardens to 20th-century working kitchen gardens.

It began its life in 1701 as a pleasure garden. Its red-brick walls sheltered visitors as they strolled through its different rooms. Set on a five-and-a-half-acre site, it’s one of the largest of its kind in East Anglia. Set close to the original Tudor house that preceded the Rotunda, the 1st Earl of Bristol enjoyed many a quiet hour in his ‘spring garden’.

Today you’ll find the walled garden as the perfect picnic spot for families, with spectacular views across the parkland.

View of the Rotunda from the path with newly restored roof at Ickworth, Suffolk

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