Janet Queen

Brief History of Rose Castle Garden

Rose Castle has been the residence of the bishops of Carlisle for over 800 years. During this period of eight centuries, the castle has evolved to its present form, and the surrounding garden and grounds have evolved along with it.

Historical records concerning the castle’s garden are scarce. There is little documentation about garden layout, crops cultivated or plants grown for ornamental use. Even more elusive is information on the many gardeners who have tended this ecclesiastical site for hundreds of years.

One of the earliest mentions of the garden is recorded from 1400 when it is known that Bishop William Strickland maintained a small area known as ‘Le Herber’; which was set aside for growing vegetables. In 1480, during the episcopate of Bishop Richard Bell, it was noted that ‘apples, pears and plums grow in the orchard and around the castle’, and fruit is mentioned again in 1621 when the wife of Bishop Richard Milbourne sent apples from Rose Castle to Naworth Castle.

In a Commonwealth Survey of Rose Castle in 1649, it was noted ‘…the fish ponds about the castle are grown up with weeds…an orchard without the south and east quarter of the castle containing about three roods of ground…there are fine walks of oak and ash… the trees growing near and about the aforesaid castle being in number 120…there is in the midst of the square of the aforesaid castle a very useful fountain which runneth continually…’.

In 1703, Bishop William Nicolson recorded a list of plants that were sent to Rose Castle from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and he kept detailed records of wild flowers that he found growing locally. It is thought that Sir Joseph Paxton was commissioned by Bishop Hugh Percy, perhaps between 1850 and 1855, to design and set out terraces and rose gardens, but documentation or plans have never been found. It is thought Sir Joseph Paxton also designed the Dutch garden, an area of intricate parterres and gravel paths situated on the site of the present-day orchard. In 1887, Mrs Gertrude Ring Prescott visited Rose Castle during her honeymoon and wrote, ‘…there are velvety lawns, terraces of flowers, grand old trees, vast greenhouses of peaches, nectarines apricots, pineapples, melons and grapes, the melons hanging in bags. It must take an army of gardeners to keep it so perfect…’. During the episcopate of Bishop John Diggle, between 1905 and 1920, many improvements were made to the garden: overgrown laurel hedges were cut down, the old fish pond was cleared out and an island and bridge constructed, yew and beech hedges were planted, the moat area on the west side was excavated and filled with water. It was noted ‘…In all matters of horticulture the Bishop and Mrs Diggle have had the skilled advice of Mr Mutch, who is in every respect a worthy successor of John Twentyman, the gardener of bishop Rainbow…’.

In 1942, during the Second World War, Rose Castle was requisitioned by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and by the time Bishop Thomas Bloomer returned to the castle in 1955, the gardens were noticeably overgrown. He ‘drags the garden back from wilderness status’ and restores the main lawn. Garden improvements continue throughout the 20th century. Mrs Halsey, wife of Bishop David Halsey fondly remembers the garden between 1972 and 1988: ‘Rose had a typical northern garden, mainly lawn and a few flower beds. The lawns were useful for garden parties. Japonicas grew by the entrance gate from which we made jelly.’

In August 2016, Rose Castle was sold by the Church Commissioners for England. Rose Castle Foundation, an international reconciliation centre, then became established at Rose Castle. Its mission is to provide a secure space in which those who are in profound conflict can encounter one another face-to-face and develop critical skills and methodology to be emissaries of peace and reconciliation in their own contexts. Rose Castle Foundation is a charity and its work is three-fold, dealing with reconciliation across religious boundaries, within religious boundaries, and between religious and secular divides.      http://www.rosecastle.foundation/

Today, following tradition, scented roses thrive in borders and against ancient walls. Other features include lawns, mixed borders, a white and purple herbaceous border, productive orchard, ornamental vegetable garden, soft fruit garden, woodland walks, meadows and a recently planted woodland. But perhaps the most important function of the garden at the present time is to provide a haven of peace and tranquillity, further enhancing the spiritual nature and history of Rose Castle.


A small selection of the many garden images of Rose Castle taken over the past twenty years.