Gunby Hall: The Glory of the Garden
‘Our England is a garden,” wrote Rudyard Kipling in his book, The Glory of the Garden. “And such gardens are not made by singing, “‘Oh! How beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.” A hard-working team, headed up by Natasha Johnson, which keeps Spilsby’s Gunby Hall looking beautiful would concur with Kipling, a regular visitor to the beautiful National Trust estate which offers more than a little autumn interested for those who enjoy gardens in October…
A haunt of ancient peace is the strapline by which Spilsby’s Gunby Hall is described. Created in 1700 with later editions including the estate’s walled garden the house sits within 1,500 acres. Its landscaping was commissioned by Peregrine Massingberd and his wife Elizabeth, landscaping being completed by William Pontey, with eight acres of Victorian Walled Gardens enveloping a 42-room Grade I listed hall and II* listed clocktower.
Tennyson, to whom the previous quote can be attributed, is not the only literary figure with whom Gunby Hall is associated. Rudyard Kipling – a school chum of Field Marshal Sir Archibald Montgomery Massingberd, fellow alumnus of Cambridge and old mucker from India during the Raj – also visited.
His take on gardens is that beautiful gardens are ‘not made by sitting in the shade.’ You don’t have to tell Natasha Johnson or her fellow gardeners. Keeping the gardens neat and tidy is an undertaking requiring great industrious, even when the blazing sunshine during our visit would make less steely gardeners retreat into the shade with a G&T.
And there’s no respite from the workload of maintaining the place during the autumn months. In fact, during October when most gardens are losing the final flourish of late summer colour to the copper hues of autumn, Gunby is, by contrast, looking at its best.
“We’re a really busy team but we’re so committed. Alongside 12 very dedicated volunteers and four garden hosts who show visitors around, we maintain the garden and delight at the way the landscape changes throughout the year. Every single day yields the sight of something new and beautiful.”
“Our three full time gardeners are Clive, who has been at Gunby for 27 years and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the garden. He’s also the resident vegetable expert and garden machinery mechanic. Sam is the lawn expert and works hard to maintain the ruler-straight lines that Gunby Hall is locally famous for. In October I will be starting the process of dividing the herbaceous borders with Clive straight after Apple Day, we will be taking cuttings and sorting out the gardens and greenhouses for the winter months.”
Gunby Hall comprises two walled gardens. The soils of the easterly garden heave with kitchen garden produce, and flowers, whilst the west garden is full of cut flowers, herbs and over 50 different varieties of roses.
This month though, Gunby Hall will attract an audience keen to see the garden’s 54 varieties of apples from native fruit trees – the oldest of which, Catshead dates from 1629 whilst the most recent is 1985’s Winter Gem.
Apple Day at the stately home takes place on Sunday 6th October with garden volunteer Trevor Rogers, who’s also the founder of the Northern Fruit Group, present on the day to identify apples on the day by appointment; it’s usually one of the most poplar elements of the annual event, hence why the team has had to implement appointment shots which must be booked in advance. Alongside craft stalls, visitors will be able to enjoy apple pressing and can purchase some of the estate’s kitchen garden produce and there’s a display of the Hall’s own varieties in the Orchard Gallery.
“Gunby Hall sells produce from the gardens when available. Inevitably we do get windfall apples which are utilised when possible. Apples that are too badly damaged will be left on the ground to provide a winter food source for birds such as Fieldfares, Red Wings & Blackbirds.”
“Therefore nothing goes to waste as the apple orchard provides a huge role in the ecosystem. Orchards are a fantastic habitats for wildlife from the apple blossom that provides the nectar for the bees, the tree bark which hosts lichens & mosses to wild flowers that grow around the trees on the ground. A small selection of produce will be available on the day from the gardens”
Natasha was born and raised in Skegness before living in Northumberland, volunteering in Howick Hall Gardens just three miles from Anwick in Northumberland before returning to the county via York where she gained a Level Three National Diploma in horticulture at Askham Bryan.
“When I returned to the county I volunteered at the National Trust’s Gunby Hall. I jumped at the chance when a seasonal position arose here, an eventually, the position of Head Gardener. I love working for the Trust as they’ve conservation in mind and do a great job preserving both house and garden.”
The very fact that Gunby Hall endures as a local visitor attraction is in itself nothing short of a miracle. Back in the 1944 swathes of Lincolnshire were being torn up to be used as airfields. Gunby was under threat until Archibald Massingberd petitioned the King to save the place. Hitler, he reasoned, had destroyed quite enough of the country without tearing Gunby Hall down too.
Sir Archbald and his wife Diana were the last owners of Gunby Hall before gifting the estate to the National Trust in 1944. This year, represents the 75th anniversary of Gunby Hall enjoying the custodianship of the Trust. Open throughout autumn, we think October is the perfect time to rediscover Tennyson’s Haunt of Ancient Peace.