Arundel Castle celebrates its 950th anniversary

Laura Cartledge looks into the past and the future as Arundel Castle sets to mark its 950th anniversary.

Thursday, 6th April 2017, 4:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 8:15 pm
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Jousting and dazzling flower displays are just two ways Arundel Castle is set to mark its 950th year. To reflect this dual approach, these pages look at the castle through the eyes of two men who have an extra special perspective. Head gardener Martin Duncan reveals how he builds on the past to plan for the future, while history man Paul Ullson shares his favourite stories in the castle’s timebank.

The head gardener

With a horticultural career which stems from his childhood in Africa and encompasses time studying in Ireland, work on the family business exporting orchids to Holland and includes being landscape designer for the Royal Palaces in Jordan, there’s little doubt Martin Duncan brought a wealth of experience with him to Arundel Castle.

The Tulip Garden Picture: Brighton Pictures

And this is just the tip of the trowel.

“On returning to the UK, I worked as head gardener for English Heritage at Audley End, Essex to gain knowledge and experience in historical gardening,” recalls Martin. “I was then approached with a great opportunity to work in Bermuda as senior superintendent for the island’s National Parks, Botanical Gardens and Government House, this included working with native and endemic plants.”

He reveals it was meeting the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, and their enthusiasm and drive to develop the castle gardens, which drew him to Arundel.

“The old car park had just been transformed into the Collector Earl’s Garden and I could see that there was enormous potential to work with their graces to develop further areas of the castle gardens and structures,” Martin enthuses, adding that since he started work in 2009, ‘the gardens and grounds have progressed’.

Arundel Castle. Picture: Chris Hopkins. SUS-170116-143622001

“The Rose Garden was planted up with additional historic roses and I was able to design new Gothic archways for the climbing roses and seating for visitors,” he lists, “all of which reflect the castle’s gothic windows opposite.”

A totally unique ‘Stumpery Garden’, which her grace asked Martin to design, has also proved very popular with all ages - something he puts down to its ‘magical appeal’.

It features old oak and yew stumps which were sourced through the estate forestry department and then placed to create an ‘exceptional woodland garden feel’.

In addition The Cut Flower garden has been enhanced, says Martin, by adding new plantings and structures which produce flowers for the castle’s arrangements which include new hazel archways for the sweet peas climb.

“In the formal areas, we display our roses, tulips, alliums, lavender, dahlia’s and iris,” Martin adds, explaining how reshaped borders and

yew hedging lead visitors through to the Organic Kitchen Garden which has had changes to ‘help to show off the produce grown organically for the castle’.

Add to the list the Thatched Roundhouse, which was created last year in the Wildflower Garden, and plans for the spring display which is set to feature more than 12,000 Dutch Iris, it certainly is not surprising to learn Martin’s favourite part of his role is the ‘challenge of coming up with creative ideas’.

“This can be as simple as just adding a new plant to an area or changing an area completely,” he admits. “The biggest challenge in gardening is to never become complacent and be prepared for the unexpected, this includes soil deficiencies, unwanted pests and diseases and diverse weather conditions.”

As for the element he isn’t as keen on, the answer is office work, which Martin reveals he tends to do in the evening in order to maximise the time he can spend out with the garden team being a hands-on head gardener.

As such, Martin, when asked if he has a standout moment or success, his answer is: “Seeing the garden team, including volunteers, developing year by year is extremely satisfying.

“And I loved creating and designing The Stumpery Garden and enhancing the English Herbaceous Borders,” he adds.

“With the gardens evolving year by year and yet us all being a part of its history is very rewarding for all the garden team,” Martin continues. “Arundel Castle Gardens are at the forefront of horticulture, in both design and plantings. Although the gardens are steeped in history, watching the gardens and grounds develop, grow and mature is being a part of its future.”

It will reopen to visitors on April 1 with a calendar of events which seeks to combine visitor favourites with the brand new starting on April 8.

For more information on this, and all events planned, visit

This first appeared in etc Magazine’s April edition out now.