‘Why isn’t it open now?’ Is the refrain from my boys (two and six) in the back of the car every time we drive through Arundel. I explain that the castle is closed for the winter. They can’t wait for it to be open again. I love their enthusiasm.
Arundel Castle is our ‘local’, as castles go. We usually visit when they have their medieval encampment weekends, and while both boys love watching the knights in action, they always insist on trekking up to the top of the site to visit the Collector Earl’s garden. Hours fly by, and what I had expected to be a morning out, turns into all day. (I have even been known to have to go and move the car as my ticket had expired!)
The Collector Earl’s Garden is modern, opened in 2008, but inspired by a tantalising glimpse of an early 17th century garden in the background of a portrait of the 14th Earl of Arundel’s wife. The Earl was a great collector, especially of antique sculpture, and he visited Italy with Inigo Jones, the great architect of the day; hence the Collector Earl’s garden.
The garden was designed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman, who are best known for the stumpery they created at Highgrove for Prince Charles. At Arundel rustic details reminiscent of the stumpery, such as the antlers decorating the summerhouses and the hairy men flanking the central fountain, combine with Italiante features, such as canals, pergolas and fountains. The centre piece of the garden is the building known as Oberon’s Palace, based on a design by Inigo Jones for a court entertainment. It is a sort of grotto inside, with a central jet of water which keeps aloft a ducal coronet. The boys always stop to wonder at the little gold crown bobbing on top of the fountain. Below is a turf plat into which the gardeners mow a simple maze. We all love a good labyrinth in my family.
Strange, jungly planting that juxtaposes with the Renaissance inspired buildings gives the garden a dream-like edginess and suggests all sorts of adventures. This section of the garden blends seamlessly into the more productive parts of the garden. It too has been recently re-created. It had been the castle’s kitchen garden, but was desecrated by tarmac in the second half of the 20th century. So now one passes from the fantasy of the Collector Earl’s garden, through a flower garden, with a network of hedges and paths and intimate spaces great for hiding, and into the vegetable garden, which is just as well maintained and attractive as the other sections. From here it is downhill all the way back to the car, which is just as well, since we are usually all played out by this point.
So roll on Easter weekend. This is where we will be.