Out & About: Kiplin Hall gardens brought back to life with help from a 400-year history

  • Out & About: Kiplin Hall gardens brought back to life with help from a 400-year history
  • Out & About: Kiplin Hall gardens brought back to life with help from a 400-year history
  • Out & About: Kiplin Hall gardens brought back to life with help from a 400-year history

Kiplin Hall gardens and grounds are undergoing major restoration, based on the designs of the past 400 years. Head gardener Chris Baker tells Jenny Needham about the mammoth task

AS a boy, Chris Baker remembers being driven along the road past the gates to Kiplin Hall, near Richmond. Twisting vines were hanging over the top of the walls, but it wasn’t until years later that he discovered what lay behind them. “It all looked very mysterious and intriguing,” he says.

Decades later, and now a landscape gardener, he returned to Kiplin as the first head gardener there for around 100 years, with a brief to restore the gardens to their former glory, not a job for the faint-hearted as they had definitely seen more glamorous days.

“The grounds when I first saw them were a blank canvas, with just the bones surviving to give me a tantalising glimpse into what there once was,” he says. Thankfully, all the walls, gates, fences and hedges were all in reasonable condition, which gave him a starting point in terms of layout. “I was handed a box of photographs from the archives and asked whether or not I could identify and associate any of the 19th Century photographs with any parts of the garden as it had now become. A bit like a detective, each section had to be investigated and unravelled, if you will, in order to recreate it. It soon became clear that overwhelming evidence existed of a Victorian 19th century garden.”

The gardens were at their peak in the late 19th Century. Photographs show the walled garden with well-defined paths, what appears to be a cutting garden to the west and a highly productive vegetable garden to the east.

The Jacobean mansion was built during the early part of the 17th Century for the Secretary of State to James I, George Calvert, who later became the founder of Maryland in the United States, but in 1722, he hit hard times and sold the estate to his mother's second husband Christopher Crowe. By the mid-18th Century, the parklands were laid out, possibly by Crowe and then continued by his son Robert. Robert’s daughter Lady Tyrconnell and her husband continued to improve the landscape around the hall, with the addition of a 19th Century Gothic-style folly to the west, formal pleasure grounds that included woodland walks with ponds and a summerhouse, and a rockery built around a lily pond, a fashionable mid-19th Century garden feature. Work continued until 1881 including laying out the forecourt, the gardens to the east of the hall, the terracing, the sunken lawn to the south for croquet and tennis, planting of the hedges and specimen parkland trees.

The demise of the gardens began when Sarah Carpenter inherited the estate from her father Admiral Carpenter in 1904. Her sale of the land between 1904 and 1930 reduced the estate to 120 acres, and before and after the Second World War the walled garden was rented to local market gardeners. The gardens fell into disrepair, saved only when a charitable trust was set up in 1968.

“The decision by the trustees to sacrifice part of the historical parkland for gravel extraction in the 1990s was difficult, but necessary to get the hall and the estate a genuine chance of long-term survival,” says Chris. “The trustees did a superb job of maintaining the 19th Century bones of the gardens.”

Freelance garden consultant Chris and his team of dedicated volunteers look after about 150 acres of woodland, parkland and formal gardens including the walled garden, providing fresh fruit, vegetables and cut flowers for the hall. “The brief I was given at the start of the project was to make the garden more interesting, with the proviso that the budget would be small, very small! I saw it as a challenge, an opportunity not only to make the gardens interesting, but to bring them back to life.”

He was able to bring his extensive experience of all sorts of cultivation to bear. Now 43, he was brought up and raised in the Yorkshire Dales. “I guess my fascination with trees comes from long, hot summers working with my grandfather in the wooded estates of Berkshire, surrounded by sweet chestnut, hazel and huge ancient English oaks. Those woods always seemed so awesome and mysterious to a young boy who was used to the harshness of grouse moors of Swaledale.”

He studied Forestry Management and after qualifying found himself back in the Yorkshire dales on Gunnerside Estate, before going back to college a day a week to study Horticulture and Garden Design. Weekends were spent at the family business, Swanland Nurseries, near Hull, famed for their pelargoniums. “Inevitably, I ended up overseeing the development of the gardens and grounds at Gunnerside and was promoted to the position of head gardener,” he says. “A highlight of my time there was an invitation by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to view his private gardens at Highgrove.”

Chris moved on to an role as head gardener at Mount St John, near Thirsk, transforming the walled garden into a working market garden, but eventually decided to become a self-employed consultant and designer. “Which is how I came to Kiplin,” he says. I’m just as excited and enthusiastic now as I was when I first saw it; it's a magical place.”

So far Chris and his team have designed and planted the hot border, sensory garden, white garden, perennial border, parterres, bog garden and Play Ship area, and are continuing to plant around the lily pond and woodland pleasure grounds. Another project is the conservatory with sub-tropical planting, a contemporary structure designed to sit on the original conservatory site in harmony with its surroundings.

“The orchard was an interesting project, which has now been finished,” says Chris. “It was funded by the Wands Family of Illinois, direct decedents of George Calvert. As the orchard is clearly marked on early OS maps, I thought it would be interesting to see what varieties of apple were recommended to use for orchards in the 1800s and what was available still.”

His favourite corner of the garden, though, is a secret wood that is yet to be opened to the public called Willow Garth, originally planted as a water management system to control the flow of water into the 18th Century serpentine lake. “I find this really interesting as it is a look back at how the estate was run in the 18th Century and how crops were planted for multi-purpose use. The willow would have been used for weaving baskets, etcetera, as well as controlling the flow of the lake.”

This year Kiplin Hall will be holding its first Flower Festival from June 17-21 and it is hoped it will become an annual event. It is also opening for charity under the National Garden Scheme for the first time in July. Chris is looking forward to both occasions. “I love sharing the gardens with the visitors, and talking to the public and answering any questions – it's very satisfying,” he says. “Everything I do at Kiplin is for the visiting public to enjoy as much as I do.”

Kiplin Hall, near Scorton, Richmond, North Yorks, DL10 6AT.

T: 01748-818178

W: kiplinhall.co.uk

FAVOURITE PLANT

At the moment it has to be the Cymbidium orchid. I tend 60 of varying ages and sizes and bring them into flower for displays from Christmas to April.

FAVOURITE TREE

This may seem boring, but it has to be common hazel (Corylus avellana). It's such a versatile tree, providing fruits, an under-canopy for native woodland, and offering us a material that can be woven into hurdles, basketry, crates and hoops. I'll always remember cutting hazel bean rods and pea sticks with my grandfather when I was no more than six or seven years old.

FAVOURITE GARDEN TOOL

My Felco secateurs number 7. I've had them 20 years. They never leave my side when I'm at work.

Flower Festival, June 17-21

Free with admission to the Hall and Gardens Groups, call 01748-818178 to book.

National Garden Scheme opening

Sunday, July 23 (10am-5pm). Admission £5.90, child £3.20. Home-made teas.



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