Last weekend I visited the Floral fringe Fair held at Knepp Castle near Horsham. Having lived in the area for 14 years I have to confess that I don’t really know much about the Knepp Castle Estate (www.knepp.co.uk) apart from it holds regular Polo fixtures and that there is a piece of wall standing on a small mound which is all that remains of the original castle dating back to around 1200 and visible from the main A24. So it was a complete surprise to me that there is a stately home surrounded by parkland and a beautiful lake quite literally over the hill, but completely concealed from view to passers-by.
Front facade of Knepp Castle
Knepp Castle as it stands today was built around 1802 by the Burrell family and was designed by the architect John Nash. The castle and estate remain in the hands of the Burrell family and is their private residence. A small plaque fixed to the wall facing the lake proclaims a date of 1809 and could be the date when it was actually completed.
The 750 acres of parkland surrounding the castle is believed to have been designed by Humphrey Repton and fell into disrepair over the years until it was restored in 2001 by the designer Georgia Langton to the specifications of the current Lord and Lady Burrell. In 1904 a fire devastated the house destroying all but the servants quarters, including a valuable collection of important artworks , including work by Holbein and Van Dyke; a great many important manuscripts as well as the personal effects and furnishings of the family. The current house dates from the rebuild after the 1904 fire and is built in the Victorian High Gothic style complete with castlations and turrets.
South side of Knepp Castle with Cedar trees
The garden is dominated by 3 large Cedar of Lebanon trees which are over 200 years old and are underplanted in the winter by Autumn Crocus. The south side of the house has wide open views of the lake, park (home to free roaming Longhorn cattle and Exmoor ponies) and the polo grounds beyond, bound by a Ha-ha (a turfed ditch with retaining wall which marks the boundary of the formal gardens without the need for a fence or hedge. It would also allow for animals such as sheep to be able to graze the lawns in pre-lawnmower days and stop larger animals such as cattle straying into the gardens.
The Ha-ha and a Cedar tree at Knepp Castle
Two views of the lake at Knepp with Longhorn cattle and the polo fields beyond
The main garden features an expanse of lawn, several large pots planters with removable liners for seasonal changes, clipped box hedges make amorphous patterns to blend in to the landscape. The pathways are planted with wild flowers such as Forget-me-Not, Creeping Thyme, Erigeron, Violets and Alpine Alchemilla; while the walls of the house are clothed in Wisteria, Clematis, Honeysuckle, Rambler Roses and Vines.
The kitchen garden was laid out in 2010 with a formal grid of pathways leading from the central Victorian water tank which collects rainwater from the roof of the near-by stable block. The are various raised beds growing vegetables for the house, together with a fruit cage containing raspberries, loganberries and peaches, while the restored Victorian greenhouse produces salad all year round and also houses orange trees, orchids and potted plants for the house.
Behind the kitchen garden wall is the Pool Garden which is the hottest part of the garden being south facing. It has been designed with a Mediterranean feel to it , the L-shaped pool is edged with Indian sandstone with the interior of the pool painted to match to give an enticing green/blue look to the water when the sunshines. Three old Spanish Olive trees stand between the pool and pergola while antlers from the deer in the park are mounted to look like crested shields on the pergola.
Walking back to the front of the house the visitor passes along the Acacia walk, a short stretch of grasspath bounded by a brick wall and lined by mop-head Acacias, Figs, Kiwi and Climbing Roses and Clematis. Halfway down is a strange looking carved soapstone sculpture from Zimbabwe featuring images that resemble hieroglyphics.
The Acacia Walk with soapstone statue
Back at the formal lawned area the visitor can marvel at the tranquility of the house, as well as be intrigued by some of the “quirkier” aspects such as the ‘hovel’ partly hidden by the terrace planting and the romantic and picturesque look to the side-front of the house.
The ‘hovel’ and the romantic looking side-front of the main house
Knepp Castle is a little gem unspoilt by the commercial enterprise of general public opening, and it was a real privilege and treat to be able to walk round the garden.
upturned pots, black Iris and Jekyll inspired white planting