One of the sketches from Repton's red book at Pentillie Castle
Repton's suggestions for the re-design of the Castle

Landscape Design at Pentillie Castle

Pentillie’s beautiful woodland gardens stretch over 55 acres around the castle and along the banks of the River Tamar, and are set in the heart of the 2,000 acre estate. They were originally laid out by Sir James Tillie in c.1705, and while they have certainly been well looked after and maintained in the past, our amazing gardener Chris Duke, and the boys who assist him for a couple of days a week have rather too much on their hands to make every corner of the gardens perfect. As a result Pentillie’s gardens are wilder than most, but because of this they also leave you plenty of opportunities to discover many of it’s secret spots for yourself.

While Sir James Tillie had grand ideas for the gardens and certainly spent a lot of money terracing the landscape when he built the castle in 1698, his designs were enhanced and embellished by Humphry Repton’s influence in the early 19th Century. Humphry Repton was commissioned by John Coryton in 1809 to ‘work his magic’ on the Pentillie Gardens, and much of Repton’s recommendations were based on changing the landscape as a whole (including the Castle), rather than re-designing flower beds. Unusually many of Repton’s ideas were implemented at Pentillie, and the changes his designs were to make on the landscape can still be seen today. Repton’s designs were often captured in a ‘red book’ and Pentillie’s copy (dated 1810) has been reproduced in order that all visitors to the gardens are able to cast an eye over this magnificent and rare work.

Humphry Repton (1752-1818) was regarded as one of the last great English landscape gardeners of the 18th Century, widely regarded as the successor to Capability Brown. Based on his ability to sketch, and some limited experience of laying out the grounds at Sustead he styled himself as landscape gardener to ‘the great and the good’. With his designs presented in a unique and individual ‘red book’ produced exclusively for each property, with masterful watercolours presenting a ‘before’ and ‘after’ impression of each landscape, he became an ‘overnight success’ among his contacts in the upper classes. His landscape designs were unique in the fact that he often utilised distant features of the landscape e.g. church spires, or rivers, to enhance and embellish the landscape that he had been commissioned to work upon.

Unlike Capability Brown, Repton did not carry out and oversee his proposed designs, but worked as a contractor to make the suggestions for improvement and generally then left the estate owners to get on with the work themselves. Thus, relatively few of the 400 gardens for which he produced red books were changed to take account of his suggestions. Pentillie is unusual in the fact that the alterations suggested by Repton to both the landscape, and to a certain extent to the Castle with the employment of architect William Wilkins in 1823, were carried out in full. Even more unusually, little landscaping has been done to the estate gardens since Repton influenced proceedings, therefore making Pentillie Castle’s gardens (even today in 2015) a true representation of a Repton landscape.

UPDATE OCT 2015 – Pentillie’s Red Book was reviewed by expert Rupert Powell on the Antiques Roadshow in October 2015 – the valuation was something of a surprise! Keir Davidson – landscape designer, writer and Repton specialist will be hosting a series of talks on Repton over the weekend of 12th March 2016 at Pentillie Castle. Day and overnight packages are available. Pentillie’s original Red Book will be available to view. Click here for more information.

While Repton’s designs looked at the wider landscape, another garden designer Lewis Kennedy was invited to re-design the ‘pleasure gardens’ at Pentillie. These became known as the American gardens due to the large numbers of plants and shrubs that were imported from America to fill the area. Kennnedy’s designs were drawn up in 1813, and demonstrate a more obvious ‘garden’ than that of Repton – perhaps more appealing to the ‘lady of the house’. Kennedy’s green book has also been copied, and is also available to view.



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