Seasonal Garden Highlights
Explore gardens that were among the largest and most opulent in Jacobean England. The garden views were originally created by Capability Brown, and today include a beautifully restored parterre. Take a journey through a year of seasonal garden highlights at Audley End House and Gardens.
Audley End Gardens in Spring
In spring there is colour everywhere at Audley End. The show begins with the appearance of thousands of naturalised daffodils in the parkland, followed by vibrant bedding in the Parterre and Pond Garden, finishing with an impressive display of fruit blossom in the Kitchen Garden.
As well as naturalised drifts of spring bulbs, the parkland contains several large horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) and a fine collection of limes (Tilia sp.) that flower in late spring. In late April and early May the Parterre and the Pond Garden are awash with colourful beds of hyacinths, primroses, tulips, daffodils and forget-me-nots. Every year the scheme varies but it is always a spectacle with around 16,500 bedding plants and 19,000 bulbs.
In the Kitchen Garden glasshouses, the young buds on the peach trees are beginning to swell and you can see pink blossom by early March. The most striking of the trees is the wall trained peach 'Flat China' dating from 1819. In the display house you will find an eye-catching array of multi-coloured butterfly orchids (Schizanthus pinnatus).
From mid-February through March the outside work begins in earnest. The soil is prepared in seedbeds to allow the earliest direct sowing of peas, broad beans, beetroot and lettuces. Any of the crops that have been overwintered are beginning to grow.
By late spring the Walled Kitchen Garden is beginning to respond to the lengthening days and growing warmth of the sun. The trained fruit trees all around the garden are smothered in blossom especially the plums and pears, with the apples beginning their display slightly later.
Audley End Gardens in Summer
The summer bedding in Audley End's Parterre is at its most vibrant during the hot summer months and the production of summer fruit and vegetables in the Kitchen Garden is in full swing, though a quiet shady spot to relax can be found in the Elysian Garden.
On the way to the Kitchen Garden is the Elysian Garden, with its Tea House Bridge, cascade and wonderful London plane tree (Platanus x hispanica). The garden is a great place to sit and, if you're lucky, to see the kingfishers. In the Pond Garden the summer bedding has a typically Victorian hot-coloured theme - banana plants, cannas, dahlias, zinnias, rudbeckias and the lovely Spanish flag ( Ipomoea lobata). The climbing and rambling old-fashioned English roses along the walls, give a romantic feel to this quiet oasis.
The park has an impressive collection of mature trees. Flowering in June and July the large tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is covered with yellow tulip-shaped flowers. Summer brings the sight of new green seed cones on the Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) along with developing acorns on the large oaks in the parkland.
The early days of summer always see a big leap forward in the Walled Kitchen Garden. Thousands of colourful bearded iris and heritage peonies flank the lengthy central path creating a glorious display during May and June. The Kitchen Garden is a hive of activity throughout the summer. Weeding, watering, planting, harvesting, and pruning keep the gardeners very busy. The Vinery Display House is packed full of pelargoniums that provide the main summer display as well as other tender flowering plants.
Soft fruit is grown outdoors in beds as well as in the traditional wooden fruit cage. Heritage varieties of raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries, red currants and white currants can be found in the Kitchen Garden.
As the summer advances a greater selection of produce becomes available. Peas, broad beans, carrots, lettuce, spinach, beetroot, potatoes, shallots, Florence fennel, tomatoes, fresh herbs and the first harvests of early pears as well as strawberries and gooseberries from the soft fruit garden. All of the organic food grown at Audley End is put to use; either in the restaurant or sold to other restaurants or box schemes.
By the end of summer it is time to prepare for the lifting and storing of fruit and vegetables for the autumn and winter as well as thinking about sowing for next spring.
Audley End Gardens in Autumn
In autumn, visitors to Audley End are greeted by the sight of strikingly beautiful trees, many from the late 18th century, displaying their autumnal hues of yellow, orange, red and bronze.
Throughout the garden there are noteworthy mature trees ablaze with autumn colour. On the north lawn there are numerous London plane trees (Platanus x hispanica), tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), oaks (Quercus sp.), and the showy sweet gum (Liquidamber styraciflua) on display. Near the Parterre, the Kentucky coffeetrees (Gymnocladus dioicus), the Howard oak (Quercus audleyensis), one of only two in the world, and the avenue of limes (Tilia sp.) are a sight to behold.
The Cloud Hedge near the house has its annual cut in October, taking approximately four weeks to complete. The hedge is comprised of mature yew (Taxus baccata) and box (Buxus sempervirens) and cutting such an unusually shaped hedge fascinates visitors. Other hedges and evergreen shrubs in the gardens and grounds are also being cut to form strong permanent outlines, most noticeable during the autumn and winter months.
Perennials such as rudbeckia (Rudbeckia fulgida) and verbena (Verbena bonariensis) provide flowering interest on the Parterre while the Pond Garden continues its colourful show well into the autumn season.
The shorter days of autumn signal the start of the major harvesting period in the Kitchen Garden. There are onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots and beetroot to lift and put into store. As the pumpkin and squash crop is harvested it replaces the pelargonium (Pelargonium sp.) display in the Display House. A large variety of pumpkins and squashes are grown in the Kitchen Garden making a colourful and interesting spectacle. In the Vinery the first bunches of grapes are ready to be harvested from the 'Black Hamburg' vines. Other vines on show include ‘Lady Down’s Seedling’ and ‘Gros Colman’.
At Audley End, autumn is associated with apples and pears. In the Kitchen Garden the harvest begins in September with the early dessert apples. As the season progresses more apples are picked to be put into store over the winter months. They may not yet be ripe, but they will improve in flavour during storage. Every year there is a special Apple Weekend at Audley End to celebrate the harvest. It is a popular event featuring apple identification and tasting.
Brussels sprouts, cabbages, curly kales, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli continue to grow in the Kitchen Garden providing a fresh supply of healthy greens during the winter months. The cut flower border looks remarkable from summer throughout the autumn. The impressive dahlia and chrysanthemum collections flourish in the cooler weather.
Audley End Gardens in Winter
Weekend visitors to Audley End find much to delight them in winter. There is something for everyone here, whatever the weather. Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) and winter aconites (Eranthus hyemalis) meander through the Lime Tree Walk towards the Temple of Concord from which there are great views over the valley and back to the house. Early daffodils are appearing around the parkland. The distinctive silhouettes of deciduous trees on site can be clearly seen in the winter and the London plane trees (Platanus x hispanica) on site are particularly attractive with their grey and cream mottled bark. With the absence of leaves, new vistas appear in the landscape.
Mature evergreen trees including Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) stand on both sides of the Parterre and tower over crisply outlined flower beds within the formal garden. In winter the architectural forms of the fan, espalier and cordon trained fruit trees in the Kitchen Garden express a simple beauty, enhanced on cold mornings when their design is picked out by hoar frost. The garden team continues to harvest cabbages, kale, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, carrots and leeks throughout the winter months.
The Vinery glasshouses are a welcoming spot to shelter from the winter weather. There you will find a charming display of forced hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) and daffodils (Narcissus sp.) as well as pot grown strawberry plants that have been brought into the Vinery for forcing. The strawberry plants soon break into growth under the gentle protection of the glass.
In winter the vines are lowered onto the Vinery floor and kept there until the buds break. This is done to aid the even distribution of growth and fruiting. While they are down the outer bark is stripped to expose possible bug infestations so they can be easily treated. Then they are carefully lifted back into position for yet another season of production. The age of the vines at Audley End is unknown but they are at least 100 years old.