The shape of a great garden

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Levens Hall is quite simply one of my favourite places in England.

The hall’s gardens in particular, are guaranteed to fill me with joy and inspire me on every visit.

Over the last few months I had been trying to pay a visit to the gardens but time and the weather conspired against me.

So last Wednesday, when I had a day’s holiday, I made the trip to Levens.

On the drive from Carnforth to Minlnthorpe, the car was lashed by torrential rain. Countless fields were flooded and I pitied the poor farmers who had to contend with such dreadful weather conditions.

The rain was just as heavy at Levens but my heart lifted as soon as I cast eyes on the tops of the massive topiary sculptures rising above the high stone walls of the historic Elizabethan mansion.

Even drenched by rain the hall and its grounds looked sublime.

A friendly chap at the main entrance explained that the house and gardens were soon to close for the season (October 11).

However, he added that the Potting Shed Gift Shop will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from November 10 until December 9 from 10am to 4pm. Entry on those days will be free and visitors will also be able to have a look at the gardens.

With umbrella and camera in hand I started my solo tour. My husband Mark (aka Sparky) was on holiday in France so I had the gardens all to myself.

Many of the trees and shrubs bore the rich reds, oranges and golds of autumn.

I caught my breath as I entered the main topiary garden. Bowled over by the sensuous shapes and towering geometric forms, I took dozens of photographs to inspire me when redesigning my own garden.

The rain continued to pour down so I sheltered underneath some of the bigger topiary forms. It was an other-worldly experience as I didn’t see another soul for at least an hour. I roamed the many terraces and admired the vast selection of plants and flowers. The flowers looked magical as all had jewel-like water droplets hanging from them.

Some of my favourite vistas were from the Fountain Garden which was laid out with pleached limes in 1994 to celebrate 300 years of the gardens at Levens.

I didn’t have time to visit the hall’s wonderful cafe –The Bellingham Buttery – but I have done so in the past and can assure you that it is superb. Before leaving I couldn’t resist buying a couple of plants – a crocosmia and a thistle-like plant.

Even if Levens is closed you can visit Levens Park – a wonderful expanse of trees and paths on the banks of the River Leven. The park is home to a herd of rather impressive goats and all sorts of wildlife.

The gardens reopen at the start of April but if you can’t wait until then why not pop along on Saturdays and Sundays in November and December. Call 015395 60321.