The award-winning gardens at Renishaw Hall
- Credit: Archant
Derbyshire Life speaks to owner Alexandra Sitwell as Renishaw Hall celebrates winning a prestigious national garden award
‘We are absolutely thrilled, my mother especially so,’ says Alexandra Sitwell, owner of Renishaw Hall and Gardens, on the news that the gardens have won the 2015 HHA / Christie’s Garden of the Year Award.
The announcement came in March that the beautiful gardens at Renishaw Hall, located just a few miles from Chesterfield, were made winners of the national award, bestowed under a partnership of two of the country’s heritage heavyweights: the Historic Houses Association (HHA) and the globally-acclaimed auction house, Christie’s.
A notable achievement for the county, Renishaw’s gardens were selected out of hundreds of other gardens from across the UK to become the HHA / Christie’s Garden of the Year, an award which has been presented annually since 1984 and recognises the importance of gardens with outstanding horticultural and public appeal.
When Alexandra learned of the accolade she immediately told the good news to her mother, Lady Sitwell, who has been integral to the success of the historic gardens visitors enjoy today. It was, after all, Lady Sitwell and Alexandra’s father, the late Sir Reresby Sitwell, who set about restoring the gardens at Renishaw Hall, having inherited the Estate from Sir Reresby’s uncle, Sir Osbert Sitwell.
‘My mother and father took on the house and its grounds which had become unkempt over the years,’ explains Alexandra, ‘and they worked tirelessly on the restoration and redesign of the gardens to bring them back to their original glory. It’s wonderful to think that in the 40 plus years since my parents came to live at Renishaw, the gardens have been recognised as winners of a prestigious national award like this. It’s a testament to their hard work and the continuous hard work of our gardening team here at Renishaw.’
Alexandra’s hard work should also be noted, for her keen interest in Renishaw Hall and its gardens since she took ownership following her father’s death in 2009, has seen her overseeing a continuous programme of development throughout the nine acre space, which has included exotic planting along the bottom terrace, a new rose garden surrounding the fountain, a new ornamental gate in the ballroom garden, and the thinning of wall shrubs to expose the magnificent architecture of the hall.
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Designed and created by Sir George Sitwell (4th Bt.) over the 50 years between 1886 and 1936, the gardens at Renishaw have, incredibly, been in the care of only three other owners: Sir Osbert Sitwell, Sir Reresby Sitwell and now Alexandra.
Sir George laid out the gardens as visitors still enjoy them today between 1886-1889 in the classical Italianate style, and they are a fitting memorial to his skill and taste. With yew hedges and pyramids framing the more formal areas of the gardens – which today feature many unusual plants, not normally expected to thrive in this part of the country – there are also more ‘natural’ spaces to explore, including the woodland with its sea of bluebells in spring and the two lakes below the gardens which host a multitude of wildlife.
‘I am certain that my great grandfather, Sir George, would have been delighted with this award for what is essentially his creation, one that has not only survived but which forms a beautiful framework for the development of the gardens we know and love today,’ muses Alexandra.
Peter Sinclair is Director of Operations of the Historic Houses Association (HHA), the independent organisation which exists to represent private owners of historic houses and gardens throughout the country. Representing over 1,600 owners and their properties, the HHA’s sites welcome an impressive 13 million visitors each year, making the organisation a key driver of tourism and economic activity in the UK.
It was Peter who recently broke the exciting news to Alexandra of Renishaw’s win, and comments on the decision: ‘The HHA / Christie’s Garden of the Year Award reflects public enjoyment of gardens and the beautiful gardens at Renishaw offer visitors a wonderful escape from the pressures of life, providing an hour or so of tranquillity in idyllic surroundings. It is especially heartening to see the gardens created by Sir George Sitwell in the late 19th century and loved and developed in the 20th century by his grandson, Sir Reresby and his wife Penelope, Lady Sitwell, now in the hands of their daughter Alexandra. With her passionate Head Gardener David Kesteven and his team, Alexandra continues the family tradition of presenting the gardens to a new generation of visitors.’
David Kesteven has been Renishaw’s Head Gardener for 17 years and works closely with Alexandra, and also with Lady Sitwell who, at 91, still walks the gardens with him when she visits her daughter. She is happy to share her knowledge and experience of the gardens’ different areas and advise on planting schemes and discuss her particular love – roses.
‘We are a small team here at Renishaw and to be given this award gives us a great sense of achievement. I am lucky enough to have worked on these gardens under two generations of Sitwells, and they have each brought great care for and understanding of the landscape that their ancestor, Sir George, designed at the end of the 19th century,’ says David.
In November 1900, the magazine Country Life featured Renishaw’s then recently-designed gardens, including the following description for a landscape new to receive national acclaim. Words which still apply today:
‘What is the character that we find here? That of spaciousness and yet enclosure in the first place, of broad descents, excellent in architectural fitness, of floral wealth, of a great outlook, and, above all, of splendid trees.’
Renishaw Hall & Gardens open from 27th March to 27th September, Wednesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays. For full details visit www.renishaw-hall.co.uk