Sizergh Castle
Historic house and garden south of Kendal. A number of local apple varieties in the orchard.

This National Trust property originates from a 1340 Pele Tower which was added to in the 15th 16th & 18th Centuries. Its 16 acres of gardens, which date from 1740, include a splendid sunken limestone rock garden, and, amongst others, a kitchen garden and orchard. It passed into National Trust ownership in 1950 along with an almost 1600 acre estate. The word Sizergh is of Norse derivation meaning summer pasture. Head Gardener John Hawley has been there over 10yrs now and manages the gardens along with one other full time gardener, seasonal gardeners and volunteers. The traditional orchard contains over fifty different apple varieties with a range of tree ages from over fifty down to just ten years old, grown as half-standards. No pesticides are used but trees get an occasional organic fertilizer.

The grass is allowed to grow so that wild flowers can flower and set seed before mowing in summer. This provides plenty of interest for the bees in the hives in the northwest corner of the orchard. In addition to apples, there are also pears, quinces, cherries, plums, walnuts, fig and crab apples both in the orchard and in adjoining areas. The trees carry labels but beware of some inaccuracies. The mostly heritage varieties were chosen for their suitability for the northern climate.

The old Fellside orchard outside the gardens in the estate was restored just after the turn of the century and was replanted in 2006 with traditional local varieties of apples, pears, plums and damsons. It is now part of the estate's garden walks. A more recent development has been the planting of 28 stepovers on M27 rootstocks around one of the kitchen garden beds in 2008. They are planted at 6ʹ spacing between short posts at 6ʹ intervals and trained on a single wire at 2ʹ height. This is just enough to keep the fruit above soil splash whilst providing an attractive border to the bed without excessive shading. The kitchen garden has a rabbit problem but so far the rabbits are more interested in the vegetables than the stepovers. Most of the varieties can be identified by copper alitags although they are hard to see. In contrast to the orchard, most of the 14 varieties (two of each) are modern.

If you are thinking about planting stepovers, the Sizergh Castle kitchen garden is a very good “how to” guide.

Gardens open daily 11am – 5pm from March to October inclusive (to 4pm to year-end). Entry £5.85 (free to NT members). Directions: From M6 junction 36, go 4 miles W on A591 direction Kendal, then turn S on A590 direction Barrow, then first right, follow brown signs. Postcode for Satnav: LA8 8DZ Tel: 015395 60951