Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A day out to Calke Abbey

Did you enjoy the May Bank Holiday weekend? I hope you had lovely weather, we certainly did – weather that makes the fresh green leaves zing and bees and butterflies come out to enjoy the blossom and flowers.

We decided to visit Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, it's been on my list of places to visit for years. The house and estate of the eccentric and reclusive Harpur-Crewe family were gifted to the National Trust in 1985 in lieu of death duties – I remember the news coverage at the time. What was actually acquired was a house in desperately bad repair with rooms stuffed full of things that hadn't been touched for decades. With a grant from the nation to make the house sound and waterproof, the decision then had to be made about how to restore the mansion, stables, workers' cottages and gardens . . . and it was decided that the fascination of Calke Abbey was its state of decay – so that's how it has been conserved, an example of a great country house that no longer fitted with the times after WWI and has slid into a state of dishevelment.

Although the house itself is fascinating (especially the tunnel!), it was the gardens that we enjoyed the most. Imagine this vast area filled with vegetables, fruit and flowers for cutting and all the garden staff working – in fact my photo above shows barely half of the walled garden which has been left as a giant walled meadow over which the swallows were swooping low.

However the charming small Physic Garden is now planted with vegetables and fruit bushes . . . where you can meet some genteel scarecrows.

And pop into the gardener's workshop (probably my favourite room on the estate!)

There is something very very special in the garden at Calke Abbey that at this time of year is unmisable – it's the biggest, swankiest Auricula Theatre in the land! It is so special that the National Trust spent a long time carefully restoring it to its full glory . . .

And it's full of Auriculas in old terracotta flower pots, lined up on bright blue wooden shelves. In fact they are more like an audience sitting in a theatre waiting for you to walk onto the stage in front on them.

The Auricula Show will soon be over, but waiting in the wings to replace them are these Scented Leaf Pelargoniums.

The estate and surrounding countryside are beautiful, so we enjoyed a lovely stroll and sat on a grassy hill to eat the fruit cake we'd brought with us.

There was also a huge Craft Fair in the grounds, we had a look around but apart from a handful of stalls it was disappointing. However that wasn't the reason for our visit – we had a really enjoyable and relaxing day in the sunshine.

The plant stall at the National Trust shop didn't have any specialist Auriculas for sale, but I sniffed out a few pots of border Auriculas – they were all similar yellow flowered ones. I picked out one that seemed to have slightly larger flowers with green edges – I think with a little TLC it has potential, and it's a perfect souvenir of the day.



  1. That auricula theatre looks amazing and I'd love to sit in the gardener's workshop. Oh to be able to rummage through those drawers - what reassures they might hold!

    1. there was a great temptation to rummage in those seed drawers!

  2. My younger daughter visited Calke Abbey about a week ago and said it was fascinating with rooms crammed full of stuffed animals etc. She said they describe it as an 'unstately stately home'. Your description and lovely photos make me think I may have to plan a visit myself in the near future!

    1. there are a lot of stuffed animals! and peeling paint - but it is more interesting than an immaculately restored house.

  3. Love the gardeners workshop, it reminds me of my grandad Ben. He had a shed full of bits & bobs, all tools were carefully greased & well looked after and everything he built was held together with 6inch nails! Nothing ever fell down!

    1. I like the sound of your grandad's shed :-)

  4. I have yet to visit Calke Abbey, least of all for the huge auricula theatre! It looks like the kind of place that the NT do so well. Those 'scarecrows' are so charming.


    1. I think the NT are rethinking the approach - for instance we were given a CD to listen to in the car as we drove through the park to the car park - it was really informative and perfectly timed too.

  5. Calke Abbey looks lovely! I adore the idea of leaving it all higgledy piggledy (while making sure the roof won't fall in on anyone!) the gardens look lovely with their slightly abandoned look too and that auricula theatre is amazing - I too thought they looked like an audience waiting for a performance to start.
    We'll have to put Calke on our To Do list when we're next over in the UK.


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