As the small wall plaque at the entrance to the St John’s Lodge Garden on the Inner Circle explains, the garden was designed by arts and crafts architect Robert Weir Schultz for the Third Marquess of Bute.
A devout Roman Catholic, the Third Marquess wanted a garden ‘fit for meditation.’ Today, the garden retains an air of calm that many people value, whether they’ve been coming for years, or have just stumbled upon it.
Hylas Statue, St John’s Lodge Garden
Photograph by Edward Kellow
The only way into the garden is via a covered walkway that gives no clue to what lies around the corner. Like Alice you need a sense of curiosity to lead you down the rabbit hole, and into the ‘secret garden’. In summer the arches are covered with roses, clematis and honeysuckle. The narrow beds on either side of the path are replanted twice a year with annuals and bulbs. The tall purple salvia that keeps flowering into the autumn is Salvia Amistad. These borders are difficult to get right, because the soil has no depth, and there is a lot of shade. One of the most successful plantings recently (in the writer’s opinion) was variegated coleus which seemed to like being there.
This is the first garden you enter from the Arbour Walk. The 1994 Colvin and Moggridge design for the rose garden kept to the original design of four quarter beds around a central basin. Colvin and Moggridge cleverly used circular and semi-circular plantings in each bed to create pattern and variety.
The circular patterns repeat, but the plants in each differ. In fact, once you start to look, there are circles everywhere in the Lodge Garden. At the centre of each quarter bed is a magnolia tree surrounded by a curving line of Cotinus coggyria whose dark purple foliage provides an effective background to the mixed borders.
On the outside edge of each quarter are spaced three gondolas with white Wisteria sinensis, and in each outer corner there are pillars with climbing or rambling roses, and many different types of Clematis viticella. The Colvin and Moggridge design specified over 30 types of rose, mainly old roses, but not entirely. Some have lasted, but some have had to be replaced.
The soil in these beds is for the most part heavy clay, and in winter it is often water-logged. Many plants have quite simply drowned. Recent replacements and additions to the rose garden include Raubritter, a Kordes rose that has small pink globe-like flowers, the fragrant Ispahan from c 1832, and a climbing Etoile de Hollande which was a favourite of Vita Sackville-West.
The survivors include two c. 1930s hybrid musk roses, Ballerina and Felicia, both bred by Pemberton. The distinguished Financial Times gardening correspondent Robin Lane Fox once asked why Felicia is in all the best gardens. We couldn’t possibly say.
The sunken lawn is the backbone of the garden linking the courtyard of the St John’s Lodge to the rose garden, and to the garden encircled by espaliered limes beyond.
Recently the beds on either side of the lawn, which had become a little tired, were given a complete makeover. The old planting scheme was dug out and the soil was improved. The designer of the new scheme faced the challenge of creating a balanced colour scheme in two borders with different growing conditions.
While the border on the south side of the lawn gets a lot of sun, the north border opposite is overhung by trees, and gets a lot of shade. Happily, the gardener who redesigned the borders is a highly knowledgeable plantswoman, and the new arrivals are settling in well.