With over 60 gardens spread over 30 acres, Capel Manor Gardens is home to London’s specialist teaching establishment for those who wish to learn about plants, animals, flowers, trees and the environment. With a history that dates back to the 13th century, Capel Manor, Enfield, is open daily throughout the summer for adults and children to enjoy the colourful themed gardens that surround the Georgian Manor house and its Victorian stables. The estate is also home to a handful of exotic creatures, a great attraction for animal lovers and children.
The history of Capel Manor begins in 1275 when the land was known as the Manor of Honeylands and Pentriches, alias Capels and owned by a man now referred to as Ellis of Honeyland. Little is known about the use of the land and its buildings during the 13th and 14th century, however, from the late 1400s, there are better records about the ownership of the estate.
Sir William Capel (1428-1515), twice Lord Mayor for the City of London, became the owner of the land in 1486. Again, nothing much is known about Capel’s use of the land, nor that of his son, Sir Giles Capel (1486-1556), who became the owner after his father’s death. It can be ascertained, however, that the family had an accumulation of wealth, thus Sir Giles was raised at and around the royal court. As an adult, he was a good friend and attendant of Henry VIII (1491-1547).
Despite Sir Giles’ favour with the king, the family was forced to surrender their estate to the crown during the 16th century. From here on, the land passed through a number of hands, beginning with a William Thorne in 1562, who was given the manor house by Elizabeth I (1533-1603). By 1642, the Capel Estate was in possession of Samuel and Mariabella Avery. Their granddaughter, Susanna Avery, became semi-famous after 1688, when she wrote a book about how to manage a country estate. Historians liken this publication to that of Mrs Beaton’s Victorian writings on cooking. It included recipes for various pies and cakes and a number of remedies for various ailments.
The house that the Capel’s and Avery’s inhabited is no longer standing thanks to Robert Jacomb, who demolished the original building when he took ownership in 1745. The following decade, another house was built adjacent to where the original building stood, which is the Capel Manor everyone knows today.
In 1793, Robert Jacomb dispatched the entire estate to the Boddam family, who retained it until the death of Rawson Hart Boddam (1734-1812), a former Governor of the Bombay Presidency during the rule of the East India Company in British India. For the following century, the estate was owned by a succession of owners until 1840.
Although the existing Capel Manor was built in the 1750s, its decor is the result of extensive refurbishment in the late 1800s by the Warren family. The first Warren, James, took ownership in 1840, and the last Warren, also called James owned the house until 1932. It was during his residence that the gardens were first, on occasion, open to the public.
The final owner of the estate, Lieutenant Colonel Sydney Medcalf, who had a passion for horticulture and horses, began breeding Clydesdale horses during the 1940s. Despite his love of agriculture, Medcalf decided to pass the estate on to the Incorporated Society of Accountants. Fortunately, Frances Perry (1907-93), a local horticulturist, suggested to the district council that it would be worth leasing the area to apprentice gardeners.
From 1968, buildings on the estate were used to educate its first group of students in what would become the famous Capel Manor College. The following year, dedicated work began on the 30-acre land to produce the stunning gardens that are kept and maintained today. Now with over 3500 students and celebrating its 50th anniversary, Capel Manor College provides hands-on experience and study in horticulture, arboriculture, floristry, animal care, and conservation.
Whilst having over 60 individual gardens, Capel Manor Gardens is split into eight main sections, which includes the old manor house garden and a woodland walk. After passing through reception and the restaurant, visitors have a choice of direction; they may either go via the National Gardening Centre or opt for a tour of Capel’s Creatures. Depending on the weather and time of day, the latter is often the first or the last section people go to on their visit.
Capel’s Creatures contains animals from various locations around the world and can be viewed in their individual enclosures or at special weekend talks, which can involve anything from joining a ring-tailed lemur for a mid-morning snack to finding out the secrets of barn owls.
All the way from South America are common marmosets, Azara agouti, Patagonia Maras and Huacaya Alpacas, and in the Australian Aviary are Rock Pebblers, an Eastern Rosella called Ruby and Clara and Ozzy, the king parrots. Say hello to lizards such as an African bosc monitor and a common green iguana named Barry, and watch terrapins cooling off in their small pond.
New to Capel Manor is a “tiger of the Highlands” in the Scottish Wildcat Conservation, which are currently in danger of extinction. A talk about the Manor’s conservation effort is also available at weekends.
Other projects at Capel Manor Gardens are taking place in the Which? Gardening Trial Gardens sponsored by the well-known review and advice magazine. Currently, several experiments are taking place, including, getting tulips to reflower, growing onions from seeds and testing for how long alliums flower. Regular visitors will be able to see the progress of these investigations and the results will be written about in the Which? Gardening magazine over the next couple of years.
The Woodland Walk can be accessed from the Which? Gardens via a path that travels past three totem polls and a monument on the hill. The woods provide shelter from the sun on hot days, and, in the shadows of the forest, it is rumoured that fairies dwell.
Although Capel Creatures may be the highlight of some people’s visits, the Historical Gardens contains something else that children and adults will enjoy. Made from holly bushes is an Italianate maze created by Adrian Fisher (b.1951), a man who has designed over 700 mazes around the world, including the mirror maze at the London Dungeon and the Leeds Castle Hedge Maze in Kent. After eventually finding the centre of the maze, a viewing platform provides beautiful bird-view sights of the rest of the Historical Garden and the Georgian manor house and clock tower.
After finding the way out of the maze, the rest of the maze-like gardens are still to be explored. The historical section includes a sensory garden, a koi pond and Japanese rock garden, as well as a walled garden that provides the Manor House with fruit and vegetables.
In the 17th-century garden are four statues that represent the classical elements: earth, water, air and fire. These were produced by Haddonstone Ltd, a British manufacturer of cast stone garden ornaments, however, they look as though they belong to the distant past.
Across the “equator line” is the Australian Garden, which won the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal. Another winning garden is Le Jardin De Vincent inspired by the Dutch impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-90). This won the Chelsea Flower Show Silver Gilt Medal in 2007.
Many of the gardens have been put together by different people or organisations, for instance, the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies. The most thought out of these creations, however, is, by no contest, the Growing Together in Faith Garden. Winner of the Silver-Gilt Lindley at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show, this faith garden combines four of the main religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism; and their appreciation of the natural world. Each faith tradition has a connection with or a use for the rose, which is also a universal symbol of perfection and beauty. In Christianity, the red rose symbolises Christ’s blood during the crucifixion. Also, the Virgin Mary is sometimes referred to as La Rosa Mystica, the pure one, which is a thornless rose. In Hinduism, it is believed the goddess Lakshmi was born from a rose, whereas, in Islam, roses grew where sweat dropped from Mohammed’s brow. Finally, in Judaism, legend says that each righteous man in heaven will have a tent and 800 roses.
Despite the differences in the four religions, it is refreshing to see something that they have worked on together. Putting aside their separate beliefs, members of these religions have found a connection within the natural world.
In the Temple Lake section of Capel Manor Gardens is, unsurprisingly, a large lake containing a water fountain. The area is reminiscent of ancient Greece with a reconstructed temple and amphitheatre. It is within the latter that many open-air theatre events take place during the summer months.
The temple and amphitheatre are, of course, modern constructions built to look like old buildings, and, over in the Old Manor House Garden, there is an ongoing project to add to remnants of the cloister and bell tower belonging to the old manor house church. Phase one was completed and opened in 2010 by the Queen.
These follies show the remains of St Ethelburga’s Bell Tower and Cloister which was named after the abbess of Barking who died in AD 675. St Ethelburga or Æthelburh is attributed to several miraculous events and was the founder of the double monastery of Barking. In Saint Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (AD 731), Ethelburga is described as “upright in life and constantly planning for the needs of her community”. She was also the founder of All Hallows Berkyngechirche, which is now known as All Hallows by the Tower in the city of London.
Having come full circle, visitors return to the National Gardening Centre (NGC) before reaching the gift shop and exit. Here, the NGC exhibits a variety of gardens to inspire keen gardeners and landscapers, as well as encourage the less green-fingered. On Sunflower Street, with several false facades of houses, are a handful of gardens designed by former students of Capel Manor College. The purpose of these is to show what can be achieved in a variety of locations or to match particular style houses. Examples include Victorian, cottage, Mediterranean, modern, family and minimalist gardens.
The NGC has also constructed memorial gardens for past members of the royal family, such as the Queen Mother. In 1997, work began on the Princess Diana Legacy Garden, which contains a variety of roses with meaningful names, i.e. Princess of Wales, The Prince and New Dawn. There are also other flowers that bloom in different seasons so that the garden has colour all year round.
Finally, gardens such as Secured by Design and the Low Allergen Garden reveal how nature and beauty can be enjoyed by everybody whilst keeping vulnerable and delicate people safe. The security of these gardens may encourage and inspire parents of young children to create safe areas at home for their family to play and work in, and also give hope and a piece of happiness to those who do not often get a chance to enjoy nature.
Capel Manor Gardens is a wonderful location suitable for all the family. Staff, volunteers and students work hard to maintain the gardens whilst also working on conservation projects and experiments to improve gardening and animal care. Visitors can purchase many of the plants and garden-related products in the gift shop and ask for advice from the visitor’s centre.
Throughout the year are a variety of special events and activities, details of which can be found on their website. Alternatively, guided walks can be arranged ahead of the visit and Capel Manor also caters for private functions including weddings and children’s birthday parties.
The user-friendly grounds allow everyone to enjoy the gardens throughout the year. Between March and October, the gardens are open daily from 10am until 5:30pm, however, in the winter they are only open on weekdays. Prices are a reasonable £6 for adults (£5 concession) and £3 for children, however, prices for special events may vary.
From a 13th century private estate to a public friendly garden and college, Capel Manor Gardens is a phenomenal work of cultivated and natural art. The dedicated hard work is evident from the moment of passing through the entrance right up until home time. Nothing is out of place or neglected; everyone involved should be proud of the creations they have designed and maintain. Capel Manor Gardens is a highly recommended place to visit for an enjoyable and/or relaxing day out.
Capel Manor Gardens, Bullsmoor Lane, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 4RQ