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Jacobean Extravaganza

Surprising, magical and spectacular are the best words to use when describing the Collector Earl’s Garden at Arundel Castle. As a Sussex native, I’ve visited the magnificent fairytale castle numerous times over the years and always found it a thrilling place to be, and the Collector Earl’s Garden adds a further dimension to the ancestral home of the Dukes of Norfolk.



The Collector Earl was Thomas Howard (1585-1646)14th Earl of Arundel, 4th Earl of Surrey and 1st Earl of Norfolk. He was a prominent Catholic, privy counsellor for James I and Charles I, a connoisseur and collector, patron of Inigo Jones, Wenceslaus Hollar, Daniel Mytens, van Dyck and Rubens. Lots of his collection is still at the castle; his classical sculptures, the Arundel Marbles, are now at the Ashmolean in Oxford; and his Leonardo drawings are in the Royal Collection. The Earl went into self-imposed exile in Italy when the English Civil War started, he died in Padua and his remains were brought back to the Fitzalan Chapel at the castle. The current Duke of Norfolk commissioned Isabel and Julian Bannerman to design a new garden at Arundel Castle and their initial inspiration came from portraits of the Earl and his wife Alethea Talbot that show glimpses of the gardens at their London riverside residence, Arundel House (long ago demolished but Arundel Street and Surrey Street mark the site). 17th-century garden design and architectural drawings also played a part in the creation of something that evokes the spirit of a grand Jacobean garden rather than a historical re-creation. The Collector Earl’s Garden was opened in 2008 and every year, it gets better and better.



Near the garden entrance, there's a fairy tale temple featuring the antlers of red and fallow deer; beyond this is a canal-like pool flowing from a rocky grotto, running past urns spouting water, finally cascading over a giant shell into a pool below. Nearby is the domed pergola and hornbeam tunnel. In Jacobean times, the gateways and pavilions would have been built in stone but here, all the structures have been carved from green oak.



Oberon’s Palace is based on Inigo’s set design for Prince Henry’s Masque on New Year’s Day 1611. As if by magic, the building emerges through tropical planting. The interior is lined with cockle shells and mosaics of blue mussel shells, and the centrepiece is a golden crown floating on top of a water jet. This kind of hydraulic extravagance was very popular in the elite gardens of 17th-century Europe, created to delight and amaze visitors. There’s much more to experience in this extraordinary creation: a rose garden, a herb garden and a wildflower garden; a grass labyrinth with tropical borders; Victorian glasshouses; and the stumpery, made of upended roots of ancient yew, sweet chestnut and oak.



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