Behind the scenes at Dutton Hall near Ribchester

The design of the Knot Garden was inspired by 17th century leaded windows

The design of the Knot Garden was inspired by 17th century leaded windows - Credit: Linda Viney

When Catherine Penny took on a Ribchester dairy farm and set about developing the gardens, she didn’t do it by halves.

Herbaceous edging around the pond which was dug to aid the drainage

Herbaceous edging around the pond which was dug to aid the drainage - Credit: Linda Viney


Catherine and Andrew Penny. Catherine, who is known as the ‘Queen of Roses’, studied engineering at university but her love of horticulture took over and she went on to work at an experimental horticultural station before studying it at Pershore College in the Cotswolds and going on to start her own nursery. Stydd Nursery in Ribchester rapidly became renowned for its collection of old-fashioned roses. She sold the nursery in 2002.

In 1987 Catherine bought the historic Grade II* Dutton Hall in Ribchester, which gave her plenty of room to grow her roses. Since their marriage in 1998, Catherine and Andrew have sought to develop the garden, ensuring it blends with the surrounding countryside and retains the wonderful views.

Catherine admiring one of the roses is the gardens she developed at Dutton Hall in the Ribble Valley

Catherine admiring one of the roses is the gardens she developed at Dutton Hall in the Ribble Valley - Credit: Linda Viney


This significant 17th century house was built by a member of the Towneley family and has had only four previous owners. It was a dairy farm with very little garden when Catherine bought it and set about developing the gardens.


The stream running to the pond

The stream running to the pond - Credit: Linda Viney

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Within two years Catherine created the formal knot garden with its design based on the pattern of the 17th century leaded windows. It wasn’t long before the rest of the south facing sheltered garden was designed as the formal garden where stone walls make an ideal backdrop to the roses which are trained upward and are dominated by the rambling rose Paul’s Himalayan musk.

The long border mixes herbaceous perennials with the delicate old-fashioned shrub roses including the red rose of Lancaster (Rosa gallica officinalis).

A nationally important collection of more than 200 varieties of old-fashioned roses grow in the extensive grounds and a disused cattle shippon, now The Orangery, houses a collection of conservatory plants including scented leaved Pelargoniums.

The pond was created out of necessity to assist in draining the garden. Inspired by the landscape architect Charles Jencks, paths encircle the pond at rising levels creating an amphitheatre with the waterlilies forming characters and the surrounding plants the audience. The soil that was dug out was used to construct two snail mounds, which offer views over the garden.

Herbaceous edging around the pond which was dug to aid the drainage

Herbaceous edging around the pond which was dug to aid the drainage - Credit: Linda Viney

A fairly wild area where Catherine’s root stock was (and is still) is full of Rosa Multiflora and bees rise out of the delicate blooms as they search for nectar. Mown paths lead through the meadow grass which has been allowed to naturalise.

‘I was so thrilled when I spotted the wild orchid for the first time,’ Catherine says. ‘And I am even more delighted it has now colonised along with other wild flowers such as flax and spearwort.’


It is a garden to delight the senses, with fragrant roses, specimen trees and shrubs among carefully designed landscape features giving year-round interest. The garden gives Catherine space for her vast collection of traditional old-fashioned roses which, while they’re not available commercially, will go on for generations to come.

One of the spectacular planted beds to the side of the hall

One of the spectacular planted beds to the side of the hall - Credit: Linda Viney


Catherine is now building a collection of conifers and two ancient oak trees which stood firm through the storms at the start of the year were the inspiration for the couple to start a collection of oaks and the predominantly wet land is well suited to their collection of willow. They have recently added elm trees which are resistant to the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease.


Why not try making your garden eco-friendly and leave an area wild to encourage flora and fauna into your garden? Wildlife will soon discover it, and you can start counting the different species that visit.


When planting roses, ensure you plant them deep enough, while leaving the crown level with the soil. Like us they benefit from feeding and watering.


When possible, Catherine opens her garden as part of the National Garden Scheme. Dates for future openings will appear on her website,, where you’ll also find more information about the hall and gardens.

A low for the new High Sheriff

The Lancashire ‘Shrieval Year’ is normally packed with engagements, visits and events. But it has been a very different start to the year for Catherine Penny, who was announced as Lancashire’s High Sheriff in April, shortly after the lockdown began, writes Olivia Assheton.

And her frustration is clear. Her plan to focus on groups supporting children and young people across Lancashire throughout her term of office as High Sheriff has been severely truncated or, in many cases, cancelled.

The official installation at County Hall has been swapped for a limited ‘signing over’ in her living room and the ancient Shield Hanging Ceremony at Lancaster Castle has been postponed indefinitely.

‘I’ll be trying to use social media much more than I had expected,’ smiles Catherine who’s no-nonsense and straightforward view on life is more about meeting people and encouraging them face to face than tweeting. There is one bonus though – as for many with a love of the outdoors – there has been extra personal attention for her beautiful gardens at Dutton Hall in the Ribble Valley.

Catherine is chair of the Shepherd Street Trust – a Preston based charity that provides funding for children and young people in need of assistance. She is a staunch Lancastrian and has deep roots in the county. Her family, the Woodcocks, have been freemen of Preston since 1622. Catherine was delighted to take her place on the Roll of Honour at the 1992 Preston Guild, when they first admitted women. Her son Francis, who currently works for the Jersey government, was admitted to the Guild in 2012 and he and his Jersey-born wife Faye were expecting Catherine’s first grandchild to be born as we went to print.

She says: ‘I particularly feel for the charities, organisations and individuals that focus on young people in Lancashire. Now more than ever, in this time of uncertainty, support both immediately and in the future will be needed. I very much hope that when things return to normal I can do my bit to help a range of really important causes and carry out the role of High Sheriff to the best of my ability.’

Centuries of tradition

The original function of the High Sheriff was to run a county, overseeing local tax collection for the reigning monarch and generally ‘keeping the peace’. Since 1258, High Sheriffs have been appointed annually and the role is unpaid and voluntary.

In 1716, King George I was so proud and protective of his special County Palatine of Lancaster that he decreed that he would personally decide who should be the High Sheriff. To this day, the monarch selects the High Sheriffs of Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside by ‘Pricking The Lites’ or lists, of those eligible. The Shrievelty of the three counties that make up the original Palatine is announced more than a year later than those of the rest of the country and remains a closely guarded secret in the meantime.