Lowther Castle and Gardens -

A garden conservation project

by Charlotte Fairbairn

All images courtesy of Lowther Castle and Gardens, and Tony Rumsey MBE

Death warrant for Lowther Castle Gardens

On 4th April 1957, the first of several auctions took place at Lowther Castle in Cumbria. Up for sale was the fabric of the building itself – from timbers to slates to downpipes to doorknobs. The event followed the removal of the Castle’s roof and was instigated by James Lowther, the young and newly ‘crowned’ Earl of Lonsdale. It not only signalled the end of Lowther Castle as a house and a seat for the family but it also signed the death warrant for Lowther’s extensive and ancient gardens. For 50 years, these gardens were abandoned – the only attention they received given to the building of pig pens, commercial chicken houses, plantations of commercial spruce.

Lowther Castle chicken sheds and spruce plantations

Jim Lowther to the rescue

But as things can, things changed and in 1999 the castle was singled out as a national treasure and placed on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register. At that point, Lord Lonsdale’s son Jim Lowther became involved and threw himself into a programme of fund-raising, talking to public bodies and drawing up strategic plans. In 2007, Lowther Castle & Gardens Trust was incorporated as a charity and the momentum to make both Castle & Gardens into a tourist attraction of note took hold.

Restoration of the South Lawns begins
Restoration of the South Facade
Restoration of the Courtyard

Dan Pearson appointed designer in chief

4500 tons of rubble, dozens of chicken sheds, 100s of square metres of concrete, 2000 spruce trees – these were among the numbers that had to be crunched before constructive work could be embarked on. In 2012, landscape gardener Dan Pearson was appointed as designer in chief for the reimagining of the gardens. Dan’s principal premise was that restoration as such would not take place. Instead, since Lowther has so many stories woven into its fabric across over 800 years of occupancy, the policy would be to add more layers, leaving the old stories untouched.

Dan Pearson, Designer in chief (left) and Martin Ogle, Head Gardener

Step by thoughtful step a new garden emerges

Firstly, Dan Pearson created the parterre - an echo of a threadbare tapestry where control and wilderness sit side by side – a splendid complement to the south façade of the ruin. In 2015, planting took place within the castle ruins, a combination of shrubs, trees, climbers, bulbs and perennials scattered with broken masonry.

Next came the creation of the piazza within the former stable courtyard. Pearson created a plan where the turrets and castellations of the castle were echoed by 32 trimmed hornbeams. And most recently in the gardens, the new Rose Garden.

Throughout this time, extensive work was carried out on the castle itself. Hundreds and hundreds of tons of masonry were taken down and put back up. Meticulous workmanship ensured that the castle remained a ruin, but a safe one. In 2017, a permanent historical exhibition telling The Story of Lowther was installed in the old stables.

© Val Corbett

From unloved wilderness to a garden-centred visitor attraction

The scale of the vision for the gardens at Lowther is ambitious. With owner Jim Lowther, designer Dan Pearson and head gardener Martin Ogle, the gardens at Lowther Castle have been and continue to be transformed – from an unloved wilderness to a garden-centred visitor attraction, one to make Cumbria and the north west proud.

by Charlotte Fairbairn

Lowther Castle & Gardens

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The Lowther Castle Loop - Blog describing the 7.5 mile walking route linked to the Ullswater Way