This is the area which makes the gardens of Levens Hall unique- a surreal and fantastic living sculpture gallery. It is the finest, oldest and most extensive topiary garden in the world. There are over 100 pieces here, each clipped to an unusual and individual design.
Some of the trees and bushes are three hundred years old and the layout of this garden has changed little since their planting and initial training in the 1690s. Then, it was really fashionable to have a garden in the Dutch style with clipped greens set in a pattern of formal box edged flower beds. Fashions changed by the 1730s however, and most similar gardens were ripped out to make way for the new trend of natural landscaping. Amazingly this garden survived that purge, was enhanced in the 19th Century, and continued even through the economic pressures of the 20th Century.
The shapes are made of those tight-growing, small leaved evergreens Yew Taxus baccata, Golden Yew Taxus baccata 'Aurea' and various forms of Box Buxus sempervirens. The low-edging to the beds is now of Japanese Holly, Ilex crenata.
Most pieces of topiary here are nameless abstract or geometric shapes but look out for the Chess pieces- King and Queen, the Judges Wig, the Howard Lion, the Great Umbrellas, Queen Elizabeth and her Maids of Honour, a Jug of Morocco Ale and four Peacocks.
Growing up some of the topiary, and particularly vigorously through the crenelated hedge nearby is Tropaeolum speciosum, the Scottish Flame Flower. This Levens favourite is a delightful scarlet flowered climber with blue berries and delicately divided green leaves.
The parterre beneath the topiary provides a magnificent floral display through spring, summer and into early autumn. It is bedded out twice a year with over 15,000 home grown plants each time. Pansies, Violas, Polyanthus, Drumstick Primulas, Double Daisies and Tulips are used in Spring. The summer bedding is more adventurous using lemon yellow Antirrhinums, Verbena venosa, Verbena rigida ‘Polaris’, Helichrysum petiolare 'Limelight', Heliotrope 'Chatsworth', Heliotrope 'Marine’, Nicotianas, Begonias and many others.
The topiary takes many months to trim mainly using petrol clippers and a hydraulic lift to reach the highest points. This careful crafting is carried out by the highly skilled Levens gardeners just once a year beginning in September.