There’s something for everyone to enjoy in the gardens at Chawton House Library. The quintessentially English memorial rose garden, lush haven of the walled garden, meandering paths of the wilderness, and perfectly manicured lawns with idyllic country views encourage exploration and contemplation. Complete with historic features, and lovingly restored and tended, this is an incomparable garden in a listed historic parkland.
Part of the South Downs National Park, the gardens are a small part of a larger estate belonging to the charity, and are open to visitors.
A brief history
The grounds and gardens continue to be in the process of restoration although a great deal has already been achieved. The focus of the restoration is the English landscape period of the 18th century together with Edward (Austen) Knight’s additions of walled kitchen garden, shrubberies and parkland. Edward (1767-1852) was Jane Austen’s brother. He inherited Chawton House after being adopted by relations Thomas and Catherine Knight, who were childless. We know from Jane’s letters that she was involved with the new plans, but sadly she died before the completion of the walled garden.
Even though their early 20th century date puts them outside the chosen restoration period, it was decided to restore the Library and Upper Terraces, both influenced by Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose influence can also be seen inside the house. Throughout the estate, locally derived native trees and shrubs that were introduced to Britain prior to 1840 are being used as much as possible. The promotion of nature conservation and ecology to create a wide diversity of the land and wildlife habitats remains a constant principle.
The garden is comprised of the South Lawn, in the English Landscape style, complete with Ha-Ha to allow for an uninterrupted vista of the park and grazing animals. The lawn retains its informal character, as originally intended. The Library or Lower Terrace is later, built between 1896 and 1910 (probably in 1904/05) by Montagu Knight (1844-1914). The terrace was actually an Arts & Crafts addition and almost certainly influenced by Edwin Lutyens. Follow the Serpentine Gravel Path from here to the Upper Terrace and Fernery, with the Walled Garden just beyond. In Jane Austen’s time, the kitchen garden was located to the north of the Rectory (opposite the current entrance to Chawton House). Edward (Austen) Knight had the idea to build a new walled garden during his sister’s lifetime, but his plans did not come to fruition until after her death in 1817.
Chawton House is registered with the Soil Association and is now certified as an organic producer. Everything grown is for use by the Library with any surplus being sold locally in aid of the charity.
The Wilderness across the lawn dates from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and was originally set out geometrically with trees in straight rows, a practice which was later dropped. It survived the English Landscape improvements. Informal paths were made through the Wilderness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The South Lime Avenue was planted by Montagu Knight during the second part of the nineteenth century and continues the view across to the parkland, over the Ha-Ha, where the original 1860s fence has been restored and reinstated.
Other areas, such as Church Copse and the Rose Garden, beg investigation. Call at the door during weekdays to purchase a garden guide for a self-guided tour.