Newstead Abbey Gardens
Newstead Abbey’s landscape owes much of its beauty to the River Leen, which feeds the lakes, ponds and cascades that ornament Newstead’s gardens. The grounds provide the perfect place for a relaxing outing all year round, with fabulous wildlife including peacocks, swans and geese.
Visit in the spring and enjoy the spectacular displays of colour from the rhododendrons, picnic by the lake in the summer, see the stunning Japanese maples in autumn or take an invigorating walk in winter…
- The Garden Lake
- Byron’s Oak
- The Stew Pond
- Japanese Garden
- Venetia’s Garden
- American Garden
- Rose Garden
- Small Walled Garden
- Sub-Tropical Garden
- The Great Garden
- French Garden
- Spanish Garden
- Boatswain’s Monument
- Herbaceous borders
- Monks Garden
1. The Garden Lake
Begin your tour along the path that runs along the edge of the Garden Lake. Created by Thomas Wildman in about 1820, this lake is bordered by fine veteran specimens of swamp cyprus, Luscombe oak, medlar and willow. More recent plantings include alder and a memorial swamp cypress planted in 1988 by the Mayor of Missolonghi, the Greek town where the poet Byron died in 1824.
The Garden Lake is rich in aquatic species including yellow water lily, wild angelica, water figwort, water forget-me-not, bittersweet, corn mint, bulrush, brooklime, lesser pond sedge, soft rush, toad rush, marsh marigold, water mint and many others. This is also an ideal habitat for resident waterfowl such as ruddy ducks, grey herons and kingfishers, as well as for many species of dragonflies and damselflies.
2. Byron’s Oak
The ivy-covered stump on the lawn between the Garden Lake and the Abbey is all that remains of the oak tree planted by the poet Byron in 1798. He was ten years old at the time and had just inherited the estate and his title. Nearly a decade later Byron found the tree in poor health and wrote his poem To an Oak at Newstead. However, the tree recovered and because of its association with the poet became one of the greatest attractions for Victorian visitors.
By 1915 the tree was dying, attempts to rescue it were unsuccessful and it was cut down a few years later. Next to the stump is a small oak tree planted in 1988 by the Earl of Lytton, the poet’s direct descendant, to mark the 200th anniversary of Byron’s birth.
3. The Stew Pond
The Stew Pond may have its origins as a monastic fishpond, possibly re-shaped by the Byrons in the early 18th century to form an ornamental canal. It’s flanked on each side by yew tree walks and in Victorian times was well stocked with carp. At its north end is the site of St Mary’s Well, marked by a stone slab. The well, also known as the Wishing Well, was in use until the mid-20th century and its icy waters were thought to have magical powers.
From the rustic wooden bridge you can see the Fernery, which lies beneath it on either side. It was laid out in about 1864 by the head gardener, Mr Anderson, under the direct supervision of Mrs Webb. At that time it contained hundreds of different species and varieties of fern. According to Victorian guidebooks, its banks were ‘built up of rough stones of various sizes, placed so as to admit of the ferns being arranged in the proper manner’. Pulmanite rock was also used in the construction of this garden.
The exterior of the grotto in the Fernery is formed of stones coated with cement and the interior is made from Derbyshire tufa. Some of the old carved stones used in the Fernery probably came from the ruins of the priory church. Built into the alcove and its wall are terracotta stands bearing the date ‘AD 1860’ and the manufacturer’s mark ‘WP/FB’. It is thought that these stands were used for the display of potted ferns.
5. Japanese Garden
The Japanese Garden was laid out for Ethel Webb in 1899 by a Japanese horticulturist brought to this country for the purpose. Work on its creation continued until 1914, when the Great War began. This garden is intended to reproduce in miniature the main features of a Japanese landscape. Small stone bridges cross tiny streams and stepping stones lead to little islands. Stone paths wind past the remains of a thatched teahouse and a draw-well which was originally fitted with double buckets. The stone lanterns were imported from Japan by Miss Webb, together with much of the original planting. This included shrubs and dwarf trees such as maple, quince and conifers.
A cascade overflows from the Garden Lake into the bed of the stream below and herons eat the crayfish that flourish there. At the far end of the garden are the remains of a Japanese door which, according to the 1916 guidebook, was once ‘crowned by a tiny roof of thatch, with an inscription in Japanese underneath’.
6. Venetia’s Garden
This was inspired by a wild garden in Benjamin Disraeli’s romantic novel Venetia, published in 1837. It was created in about 1874 at the suggestion of Geraldine Webb. A guidebook of that year explains that it was ‘constructed by Mr Belliss, the present head gardener. All kinds of rock plants are to be found here and additions are constantly being made by Mrs Webb and the Misses Webb, who all take a particularly strong interest in the garden.’ Conceived as a miniature rocky landscape, Venetia’s Garden is described in the 1916 guidebook as ‘a flower-grown gully, with a tiny stream trickling along its base and a curious little underground passage’. There is a naturalised area of birthwort and a fine specimen of a box tree.
7. American Garden
In 1855, this garden overlooked a Wilderness and contained an aviary with some splendid pheasants. The Webbs continued to maintain a fine collection of birds here but by 1874 had replaced the Wilderness with a rhododendron ground. The aviary, which was covered with roses and other climbing plants, has since been demolished. The garden has been known since Victorian times as the American Garden because it contains various trees and plants from the United States and Canada. These include magnolias, azaleas, a sweet gum (T27) and a tulip tree (T28) whose tulip-like flowers appear in June. The impressive yew hedge separating the American Garden from the Rose Garden was planted in 1868.
8. Rose Garden
The Rose Garden, together with the Small Walled Garden, originally made up the two compartments of the Kitchen Garden built by the Wildmans. They were ornamented with fountains and covered two and a half acres. The Webbs built heated glasshouses here for growing grapes, peaches, melons and winter cucumbers as well as ferns, begonias and many other plants required for decorating the Abbey. Many thousands of bedding plants were also produced here annually for the Webbs. Instead of being grown in pots the seedlings were dibbled into small squares of turf, in which they were later transferred to the gardens.
The Webbs built the Gardener’s Cottage at the southeast corner of this garden in the 1860s. In 1965 the glass houses were demolished in order to make a rose garden which was re-designed in 1998. The door in the west wall of the Rose Garden leads to the Children’s Playground and Picnic Area, which are built on the site of the Kitchen Garden outbuildings.
9. Small Walled Garden
This was the smaller compartment of the Kitchen Garden built by the Wildmans before 1850. By 1898 the Webbs had made this into a rose and carnation garden. The carnation was Mr William Frederick Webb’s favourite flower so, in addition to carnation borders, thousands of them were grown here under glass. It was probably the Webbs who planted the six arches of trained pear trees. The 1916 guidebook describes this as a rose garden and it remained a rose garden until the 1960s, when it was remodelled as an iris garden. The irises were recently replaced with a temporary planting scheme.
10. Sub-Tropical Garden
The Sub-Tropical Garden was first created in the early 20th century and was restored in 1990 from a photograph taken in 1917. It is described in the 1916 guidebook as ‘one of the more modern features of the grounds…in which during the summer may be seen bamboo, eucalyptus, pampas grass, plumbago, blue veronicas and other strange exotics.’ Mahonia, yucca and bamboo predominate in the current planting scheme. The Sub-Tropical Garden was originally set in a valley of rhododendrons planted by the Webbs. The handkerchief tree here is named for its curious flowers, which appear in late May.
11. The Great Garden
The Great Garden is a formal garden of terraced walks descending to a rectangular pond and enclosed by stone walls. It is in the Dutch-influenced style favoured during the reign of William and Mary (1689-1702) and was probably created during that period. A painting dating from about 1726 by Peter Tillemans, on display in the Abbey, shows this garden very much as it is. The Eagle Pond, also known as the Mirror Pond, is surrounded by walnut trees and may have medieval origins as a monastic fishpond. It measures 300 feet by 100 feet. Parts of the North Terrace wall (behind the Herbaceous Border) are thought to date from the 14th century. Half way along its length this wall curves downwards to reveal the site of the Forest Pond (called ‘American Lake’ by the Byrons) which was drained in the 20th century.
Originally, the planting in the Great Garden was mainly evergreen, with fruit trees trained against the north wall. Potted orange trees were probably also displayed during the warmer months and taken into the Orangery (located inside the Abbey) during winter. The two lead statues of male and female satyrs are attributed to John Nost and were erected here by the 5th Lord Byron in 1784.
12. French Garden
This has been known since Mrs Wildman’s time as the French Garden. Every spring in the 1830s and 1840s her gardener laid new red and white sand directly onto the soil in intricate patterns like those of a knot garden. The Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton referred to this as Mrs Wildman’s ’embroidery garden’ and wrote to her in 1841 asking for advice on how to make one of his own at his villa in Fulham. In 1877 the Journal of Horticulture noted that the French Garden was a parterre ‘laid out in quaint-shaped beds edged with box…the spaces between filled with white spar, blue slate, red brick dust, etc’. By 1916 all this was replaced by a simpler design of formal flower plots and gravelled walks around a central sundial.
13. Spanish Garden
Geraldine Webb laid out the Spanish Garden in 1896 in a geometrical design of ornamental flowerbeds divided by narrow paths originally of red gravel and edged with dwarf box hedges. The 1916 guidebook tells us that this parterre was intended to give ‘an impression of mosaic work set within borders of green’. The well head at the centre was copied from a Spanish original and it is from this that the garden takes its name. This parterre occupies the site of the monastic burial ground and a number of skeletons were said to have been unearthed while the garden was being made. The Spanish Garden contains displays of seasonal annuals and bulbs.
14. Boatswain’s Monument
The poet Byron built this monument and the tomb beneath during the winter of 1808 to 1809. They stand on the spot that Byron mistakenly believed to have been occupied by the High Altar of the priory church. The tomb was intended for himself and his Newfoundland dog, Boatswain, who died of rabies in November 1808. In the event, Byron was buried in the family vault at Hucknall and the dog’s remains have long since disappeared from this tomb. The monument bears an inscription, composed by Byron in tribute to his favourite dog who ‘possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices’.
15. Herbaceous borders
The Webbs followed the Victorian fashion for herbaceous borders. In 1877 the Journal of Horticulture reported that a few roses, tritomas, and peonies had recently been introduced to this border. In 1884 the same publication noted that the border contained ‘some gigantic examples of many really old-fashioned plants’. These included St. John’s Wort, aconitum, Alstromeria chilensis, Lilium testaceum, goat’s beard, hellebores, hepatica, columbines and campanulas. At that time the wall was furnished with jasmines, roses and Chimonanthus fragrans, replacing the pears that had been there in Wildman’s day. The border was remodelled in about 1896 and according to Country Life was stocked with ‘every leading family of perennials…and an abundance of other favourite varieties’. The present planting scheme dates from 1990.
16. Monks Garden
The Webbs named this ‘Monks’ Garden’, possibly because of its location next to the site of the priory church. The stone fountain is one of a pair erected here by the Webbs. The other was moved to the Rose Garden in 1965 but its original foundations on the path here can still be seen. These fountains replaced a simpler pair of jets d’eau (water jets) with circular stone basins that were put here by the Wildmans.
The Webbs had their pets cemetery in Monks’ Garden. The cemetery has disappeared except for the headstone, now preserved in the Abbey, of a favourite parrot.
In spring Monks’ Garden has a good display of snowdrops, crocuses, narcissi and daffodils. Monks’ Garden overlooks the stable block built in 1862 and the UpperLake. When the Byrons owned Newstead this was known as the Mill Lake and a mill stood near the dam. The cannon-fort on the far shore was built in about 1749 by the 5th Lord Byron as an ‘eye-catcher’. It was fitted with live cannons, fired during naval battle games on the lake in which the 5th Lord’s miniature naval vessels took part. On these occasions the 5th Lord re-named the lake his ‘Mediterranean Sea’.
The mock fort on the near shore, next to the Victorian stable block, was built in about 1770 as part of the same scheme. However, by 1877 the Webbs had converted it for use as a cowshed and the cannon fort served them as a boathouse. The Stable Block and the mock fort on the near shore are now privately owned.