English Heritage Unveils Mountain Plant Garden At Brodsworth

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 27 May 2008
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a photo of a man leaning next to an alpine plant

Brodsworth Head Gardener Kevin Tansey in the alpine garden (the plant in the foreground is Lewisia leeana, a native of the Rocky Mountains).

A fascinating alpine garden has been planted at the 19th century country house Brodsworth Hall near Doncaster, hosting over 200 different varieties from across the world.

Brodsworth has one of the UK’s most authentic Victorian gardens and since 1990 English Heritage has undertaken a massive restoration project, reviving its historic character using period plants. But now sights have been set even higher and the new garden celebrates the hardy flora of the world’s greatest mountain landscapes.

The project has been inspired by the travels of the Thellusson family, who built the Hall in the 1860s, and enjoyed the trappings of wealth and privilege to the full.

The Thellussons spent some of their holidays in exotic far-flung destinations, from the Rocky Mountains in North America to the European Alps.

Charles Sabine Thellusson, who built the house, owned the world’s largest private sailing yacht, while his sons regularly journeyed up the western coast of Scotland in their steam boats and along the fjords of Norway.

a photo of an edwardian lady at the wheel of a of a boat

Constance Mary Thellusson at the wheel of the family’s steam ship, Carmela, in a Norwegian fjord. Taken sometime between 1905 and 1910. © English Heritage

Inspired by these travels, English Heritage has selected plants from the areas the Thellussons visited for the collection, which is located in Brodsworth Hall’s spectacular Rock Garden. Amongst them are edelweiss, stonecrop, moss campion, rock rose and gentians, some of which grow on the “Roof of Britain” in the Scottish Uplands.

“We have no firm evidence that an alpine garden existed at Brodsworth,” said Dan Booth, Brodsworth Hall Head Gardener and Visitor Operations Manager, “but a rock garden and grotto is mentioned in 19th century estate accounts, and it’s very likely this featured alpine plants.”

“Victorians were obsessive plant collectors and the garden pays homage to this unbridled zeal, which was the basis of some of present day Britain’s great collections.”

English Heritage began conservation work on the gardens in 1990 when the 15-acre grounds had largely vanished under a jungle of overgrown vegetation.

The neglect however meant the structure of the gardens had remained intact since Victorian times – allowing curators to unravel the grand design, clear overgrown areas, re-plant 19th century species and restore paths and garden structures.

a black and white photo of an iced over waterfall with a town perched above it

© English Heritage

(Above) Peter Thellusson took this striking waterfall image in the 1870s while on his travels. Curators have been unable to pin-point the location.

For the new Alpine Garden a total of 600 plants were used, geographically laid out with Scottish and Norwegian alpines on top, plants from the Rockies to the west and European specimens to the east. Most are small and slow growing, but also colourful and potentially long-lived.

Kevin Tansey, English Heritage Senior Gardener, trawled through weighty botanical encyclopaedias to research the garden.

“An alpine plant is defined as one that grows above the tree line,” he said. “But that covers a wide range and some of those we have used grow at altitudes of 10,000 feet high.”

“We have spent 15 months researching and sourcing the plants, with those from America proving the hardest to find. They’ll take some looking after, but with tender loving care, we’re confident they’ll thrive.”

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