Arundel Castle Gardens
After entering the estate through the main gate, you see an attractive curved drive lined with shrubs and trees. Follow the drive, and a nice lawned area opens up, tree lined and with a pond at one end. But, of course, the landscape is suddenly dominated by the vast castle rising commandingly from what seems to be the first hillside to emerge from the coastal plain, stretching away down towards Littlehampton. The river Arun runs nearby and then meanders it's way down to the sea.
At the bottom of a slight slope up to the castle entrance you can choose to visit the gardens first or the castle (the entrance ticket is a combined one, you can't visit the gardens in isolation).
Walking up past the Fitzalan Chapel on your left you see a raised embankment on the right which is nicely mowed and has a variety of shrub and tree planting. It was good to see that the old trees are being supplemented with new plantings.
The Fitzalan is interesting, as it consists of the Catholic chapel within the boundary of the castle estate, with a central tower which links directly to the Parish Church abutting it on the other side. The Parish church is not accessible from the castle grounds, as the estate wall separates the two parts of the church structure. The Castle keep, high up on the mound, towers over everything. The mound itself is attractive and covered with what I think are the yellow flowers of wild parsnip or possibly lady's bedstraw, and in mid April the primroses still look lovely. I realise now that the 'Earl's Garden' garden is being re-built, and the main entrance is not in use, so we enter the garden through a small gate at the end of the wall.
Fortunately I am not too late for the tulips: they look very attractive. The small box lined beds, with the tidy gravel paths and the colourful tulips are beautifully set within this old walled garden. The long lean-to glasshouses look tidy and well maintained; it is a pity that visitors are not allowed inside, but that is understandable. There are numerous espalier or pyramid style fruit trees, some against the boundary wall, some trained along wires. They are just beginning to flower, and are a nice foil to the tulips. Down the centre of the garden is an attractive cordon arch, again with the flowers emerging from the trees.
Beyond the tulip beds is the well laid out potager and kitchen garden. There are some late vegetables here, and the beds are being prepared for the new season's plantings. I notice that some onions have already been planted out, and the fruit bushes are bursting into life. This area would merit a visit later in the season. Next to the vegetable garden is the 'Cutting' garden. This is the area for growing perennials and flowering shrubs. I can see that it will be very attractive later in the year, but the plants are only just starting to grow at this time. There is a great view of Arundel Cathedral from the garden; it looks at about the same level, but when approaching Arundel the Cathedral seems to stand out at a higher level than the castle.
Now on to the 'Earl's garden. The literature describes it as 'an exciting new garden based on early 17th century classical designs'. It is currently under construction, due for completion in 2008. Dominating the centre of this garden is a long wooden pergola. It has been built with beautiful hardwood, and has an arched top. It will be striking when completed and planted (there are a lot of palms and sub-tropical plants awaiting their opportunities in pots surrounding the area). There are small tower-like structures and gates all constructed with the same hard wood, and at first sight the block-like carving of these looks almost like stone. It will soon be a beautiful place.
Moving out of this garden and back down the drive, I almost miss the sign to the rose garden. This is a secluded yew hedge protected area with neat beds planted up with roses and edged with succulents. The large beds at the end planted with vigorous Rosa rugosa 'Blanc double de Couvert' will be delightful later in the year; I must re-visit this lovely garden in the Summer!
Location: West Sussex BN18 9AB
Geology: Surface, sand silt and clay. Bedrock limestone.
Disabled: partly; see www.disabledgo.info
Refreshments and toilets: yes
Opening: see web site or phone 01903 883136. Garden and Castle combined ticket.
Dogs: guide dogs only