Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Herterton House, Northumberland - a masterpiece garden created in just an acre

View from the gazebo at Herterton House in Northumberland
I had never heard of Herterton House before I headed north recently and only then discovered it because I happened to visit the walled garden at the nearby Wallington Estate in Northumberland. Both are within spitting distance of Cambo, birthplace of Capability Brown, yet you rarely see anything about either of these gardens in the press and I would never have found them, but for being told about them by friends in the vicinity.
The Nursery Garden at Herterton
Herterton House Gardens will come as a delightful surprise to anyone who visits them. Hailed by well-known British garden writer, Robin Lane-Fox, as “one of the most influential English gardens to be created since the end of World War II”, they have been created by a husband and wife team, Frank and Marjorie Lawley, over the last 40 years since taking on the lease of a run-down National Trust property in 1975.
Looking through the garden gate at Herterton
They have renovated both house and garden during their tenancy and created an extraordinarily varied landscape in less than an acre, but with five very different garden rooms and a range of plants that will astound any visitor. Marjorie Lawley was brought up in the area – her father was a stonemason on the neighbouring Wallington Estate, with its famous walled garden. Frank came from Staffordshire, and before moving into Herterton, they had a cottage at Wallington, where they first discovered the joys of gardening.
     The garden here is wrapped around a 16th century stone farmhouse and the Lawleys have made use of each different aspect of the adjacent land, so that every part of the garden enjoys different views. At the front of the property is the Formal garden, filled with topiary in shades of green and gold, and far-reaching views over the Northumberland countryside; then to one side of the house is a Physic Garden, and at the rear there are three different garden rooms, known as the Flower, Fancy and Nursery gardens. At the far-end of the property, there is a stone gazebo, built by the Lawleys, which gives wonderful views and enables visitors to fully-appreciate the design of the  gardens below.
The Fancy Garden at Herterton
It doesn't matter where you start at Herterton, to the front or rear of the house, because you'll be enchanted by the different rooms and the range of plants here. The Fancy garden (above) is accessed through the Nursery garden and leads into the Flower garden adjacent to the house. Climb the steps into the gazebo to get a bird's eye view of the different gardens and you will really appreciate the skill of the planting and the use of space here.
There was nothing here when the Lawleys arrived in 1975, just a ramshackle farmhouse needing a lot of repairs and a completely blank canvas around the house, with a few outbuildings. Frank and Marjorie had already learned about gardening at their previous cottage on the Wallington Estate, but this was a very different prospect. Forty years later, this charming garden is a colourful tapestry of plants and you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stepped into a landscape steeped in history.
View of Herterton's Flower garden, with the gazebo in the distance
Walk to the other end of the garden and you can climb more steps to see what lies below - this gives you a good view of the Flower garden, planted with many different herbaceous plants, interspersed with more topiary. Winding paths lead you through this part of the garden, which changes colour as you wander through it. You'll find many yellows, close to the house, orange and blue in the centre, surrounded by geometric topiary and rich reds and purples close to the gazebo, inspired by the paintings of Klee and Mondrian.
The Physic garden at Herterton House
The Physic garden surrounds an old granary building with fine Northumberland arches (above) and is planted with a very different palette, featuring many medicinal plants in intricately-shaped beds. Overlooked by two sides on the house, this has a very different feel to other parts of the garden and is much more minimalist in its planting.
The Formal garden (above) is located at the front of the house and features finely clipped topiary shapes in green and yellow - a perfect compliment to the hues of the stone farmhouse that has been the Lawleys home for 40 years. Herterton House is open daily from the beginning of May until the end of September, except Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 13.30 to 17.30 and admission is £5.00. Definitely worth making the effort to see and, if you can, combine it with nearby Wallington.
Frank Lawley, who is now approaching 80, has written a book about the garden he has created with Marjorie over the last 40 years: 'Herterton House and a New Country Garden'. It's a well-written account of what they have learned in their time here and gives a real insight into the creation of the garden.
For more garden visit ideas, click here.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Attadale - magnificent Scottish gardens with far-reaching views to the Isle of Skye

Attadale Gardens are situated overlooking the island of Skye at Strathcarron in Scotland and as soon as you walk through the gates you realise this is a very special place. The position of the property close to the Gulf Stream and the shelter from northern winds provided by the surrounding hills means that these are incredibly lush grounds, with a semblance of the tropics about them and a unique garden cherished and re-created by Nicky Macpherson and her husband Ewen since the terrible gales of the 1980s.
The water gardens at Attadale can be explored from ground level and a path above
Ewen Macpherson's father, Ian, bought the property in 1952. Previous owners had included Baron von Shroder, who had a real interest in trees and plants and imported many fine redwoods from overseas, as well as a substantial collection of rhododendrons, which flourish in the protected microclimate here. But it is Nicky who created the very personal garden at the house today, with help at the outset from Michael Innes, who had trained at Kew and the late Professor Douglas Henderson, who was formerly in charge of Inverewe Gardens. 
Meander along the higher path above the water garden at Attadale to catch the best light on the plants
When you arrive at Attadale, you have the chance to meander down the drive through the water gardens, to be enjoyed at both ground level with all the magnificent reflections and from above, by walking along a winding path that leads to a viewpoint over the main house and the sea beyond. You will find huge gunnera plants in this part of the garden, imported from Brazil and the Magellan Straits, as well as a carefully chosen palette to give colour throughout the seasons, a waterfall and several small bridges that tempt you back to ground level. 
The Sunken Garden at Attadale
Closer to the house you have the symmetrical Sunken Garden (above), surrounded by old walls, with another palette of carefully-chosen plants to ensure interest from April to October - astrantia, sedum, heuchera and rosa rugosa to name but a few - and with fine displays of bulbs early in the season. From here you wander across to a huge sundial supported by the Macpherson cat, and then through a wooded area to the peaceful Japanese Garden, which features a selection of traditional Japanese plants including bamboo, azaleas, cherry and maple, as well as miniature conifers. 
The Japanese garden at Attadale in Scotland
The rhododendron dell stretches away up a hill beyond the old wood adjacent to the Japanese Garden (above). Remember to look up at the fine Californian redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and the wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron gigantum),  as you walk through here. And although the rhododendrons were not in flower when I visited, it is easy to imagine the fine colour displays in springtime - a veritable legacy from Baron von Schroder's days, but added to by the present owners.
Ferns in the geodesic dome, built by head gardener Geoff, at Attadale
The Fernery, completed as recently as 2012, may come as a bit of a surprise as you emerge from this part of the garden - you will find a mini geodesic dome, resembling those at the Eden Project - designed to protect the plants that would not survive the harsh winter climate here. Many of the plants you see outside were given by a great friend of the Macpherson family, the late Peter Hainsworth, who loved this part of the garden. And head gardener, Geoff Stephenson, who arrived at Attadale in 2003, has also made a huge contribution to the collection by propagating ferns from outside gardens and various expeditions.
The kitchen garden produces all fruit and vegetables for the house, and the surplus goes to local restaurants
The kitchen garden (above) close to the house, is an impressive working area, with gravel paths and raised beds, which produces fruit and vegetables for both the main house and some local restaurants. Joanna Macpherson, Nicky's daughter, who also plays a major role in the garden today, credits both productivity and organisation of this part of the garden to head gardener Geoff, but having met Joanna and her mother, I suspect that they too, with their boundless energy, have made a major contribution to what you see there today.
Attadale's charm is indisputable, wherever you are in the garden. It is impeccably kept and filled with interesting plants and vistas, but most noticeable is the sense of calm and serenity here. Well worth making the effort to see and open daily, except Sunday, from April to October every year, 10.00-17.30. Admission is £6.00 for adults.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Scottish Castle Gardens II - Cawdor

Castle Cawdor, near Inverness, dates back to the 14th century
Another glorious Scottish castle - this time Cawdor, is within a stone's throw of Inverness. This one is much less imposing than Dunrobin, considerably smaller and has a colourful, well-kept garden and a well-publicised association with Shakespeare's 'Macbeth', in which the principle character is made 'Thane of Cawdor'. It draws visitors from far and wide and is one of the main tourist attractions in this area, so make sure to get there early to avoid the crowds. 
The Flower Garden at Cawdor Castle
The story of the castle is closely connected with the Thanes of Cawdor. 'Thane' is an ancient Scottish title, equivalent to Baron, and was once common across Scotland. It is thought that the third Thane of Cawdor started building the castle here as early as 1370, and it was later added to by successive generations. Records of the gardens date back to the 17th century, when the walled garden is first documented and much of the castle there today was already built. 
There are fine views of the castle from the flower garden at Cawdor
The castle has certainly made headlines in the past, thanks to various family feuds, and only re-opened to the public in 2003 following resolution of a major dispute. The Dowager Countess Cawdor (widow of the sixth Earl of Cawdor) still lives here and was instrumental in planning the gardens as they are today. There are three different gardens for visitors to see Walled, Flower and Wild gardens and, on two days a week, you can also visit the delightful small garden, which forms part of the estate, at neighbouring Auchindoune. 
'The Sun' slate sculpture at Cawdor Castle by James Parker
You can also see large sections of the interior of the castle, with its impressive trappings, but gardeners will want to be outside. The formal gardens are to the side of the property, set behind walls, but with fine views from the Flower Garden to the romantic castle beyond. Exuberant herbaceous borders are planted so there is colour throughout the seasons and are particularly colourful in July and August, but continuing to look good well into September. Immaculately-clipped hedging divides the different sections of the garden, but what will impress most is the density of planting wherever you look. Rose enthusiasts will love the rose tunnel in season.
The Paradise section of the ancient walled garden at Cawdor
The ancient Walled Garden at the castle was remodelled by the incumbent Lord Cawdor in 1981, with the help of his surviving wife Angelika, the current Dowager Countess, and is very different in character to the Flower garden, save for the Paradise section (above), although equally well planned to give colour and interest throughout the seasons. There is a holly maze here too, but it is often closed in August for clipping and maintenance.
The neighbouring gardens at Auchindoune are very different in spirit
If you visit on a Tuesday or Thursday during high season - May to August - you can either walk or drive to neighbouring Auchindoune (above) with its peaceful Tibetan garden and charming kitchen garden (below) which was laid out by Arabella Lennox-Boyd. It is very different in spirit and much less grand than the castle gardens, but well worth visiting. But only open from 10.00 -16.30, two days a week. 
The kitchen garden at Auchindoune was laid out by Arabella Lennox-Boyd
Cawdor Castle is open daily from the beginning of May until early October, from 10.00 to 17.30 (last admission 17.00). Prices are £10.50 for the castle and grounds, and £5.75 for the gardens and grounds (free to Historic Houses Association members). Auchindoune has an honesty box and entry is £3.00 per person.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Scottish Castle Gardens I - Dunrobin

Dunrobin Castle - former home to the Duke of Sutherland - and now a major tourist attraction
Scotland has some of the best castles in Europe, which rival those built by the French in the the Loire valley, but sadly the weather there is not as clement and, if you are going to visit, you need to go prepared with wet weather gear and wellington boots. Dunrobin in the Highlands, near Inverness is a fairy-tale castle of monumental proportions with an impressive formal garden, best seen from the windows above to appreciate the scale of the grounds below. 
The main parterre at Dunrobin - viewed through the windows of the castle
The castle was remodelled in the 19th century for the Duke of Sutherland by Sir Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of Parliament with Pugin. It is certainly one of the largest homes in northern Scotland and the dukedom once covered well over a million acres, but there is not a happy history here, because it was the Duke who was the instigator of the Highland Clearances - a major event in Scottish history - when more than 15,000 crofters were cleared from his land alone.
The secondary parterre divided into sections, with a pyramid garden at the centre
Dunrobin is perched high on a hill overlooking the sea and the gardens sit below a series of steep terraces, surrounded by walls. The garden is divided into a main parterre and a secondary parterre divided into two sections by a pyramid garden where you will see diverse plants climbing the wooden structures, ranging from roses to raspberries. In the central section, there is a grove of mature trees and a croquet lawn. Between the castle and the parterres there are terraces with borders.
View of the secondary parterre as you descend the terraces from Dunrobin Castle
The castle is certainly impressive and well worth taking a tour around, especially the library, drawing room and nursery (you cannot photograph inside, but are allowed to point your camera out of the windows into the garden below), even though you see only a fraction of the 189 rooms. There is a set entry price (£10.50 for adults) so you might as well enjoy the interior, because there is no discount for seeing only the gardens. The curatorial staff on duty are delightful and knowledgeable and will answer all your questions.
Standing on the terraces above the secondary parterre, across the pyramid garden
The gardens are very green, in the sense that there is relatively little colour at this time of year, except on the terraces, and whilst impressive from the windows of the castle, you will soon realise when you reach sea level that the box partitions are suffering badly from blight, and that the planting is a little discordant. But there is no disputing the fact that the views of the castle make up for any disappointment in the garden.
View across the secondary parterre, towards the pyramid garden
The garden is planted to reflect the seasons and is, I'm told, magnificent in springtime, when there is a spectacular display of tulips. This late in the season there is a profusion of geraniums, nepeta and other assorted perennials, but the overall impression of the parterre planting remains somewhat chaotic, given the grandeur of the design. But perhaps this will improve the box blight problem is solved.
Border on the terrace below Dunrobin en route to the parterre
It was clear from the parked cars that this is a major tourist attraction for overseas visitors, who come from all over Europe to see our landmarks. Dunrobin will delight in terms of a Scottish castle with astounding views over the garden below and the sea beyond and a collection of paintings and antiques to rival any other great ancestral home. But garden lovers may well be disappointed when they look closely at the verdant landscape below. 
In June, July and August Dunrobin Castle is open daily from 10.00 to 5.00. (last entry half an hour before closing). But check website for other times of year. If you are a member of Historic Houses Association, admission is free.
For more garden visit ideas, click here.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Yorkshire's 'Secret Garden' - Millgate House, Richmond

Millgate House is a fine Georgian house in the heart of Richmond, Yorkshire
In the heart of Richmond, Yorkshire there's a secret garden that's quite exceptional, but first you have to find it! Hidden behind a grey door in a small street opposite Barclays Bank is a magical garden created by the owners of Millgate House - a sumptuous bed and breakfast, famous for its morning meal - and a sheltered walled garden chosen from more than 600 for inclusion by Alan Titchmarsh in his popular television series, 'Britain's Best Back Gardens' earlier this year.  
The 1/3 acre garden at Millgate House is laid out like a tapestry, with fine views of open countryside beyond
Owners Tim Culkin and Austin Lynch moved here in 1980 and started creating the garden within the ancient boundary walls of the property. Their B&B ranks Number 1 in Richmond, offering a peaceful haven to guests at the end of a day's sightseeing in Yorkshire and instant access to the green sanctuary beyond, but few people realise the garden is open daily to non residents from April until October, daily 10.00-17.00. And it's definitely one to put on your 'Wish List' if you're in the area.
Millgate has two terraced gardens within the ancient walls of the property
Once through the grey gate, you walk down a narrow corridor, known as a 'snicket' in this part of the world and then another gate leads into the garden and the magical world beyond. Small terraces, steps and paths wind through the garden which is laid out on two different levels and designed to give colour and interest throughout the seasons. It's hard to believe you're at the heart of a bustling town here and the only noise comes from the tumbling waterfalls on the River Swale nearby. 
So dense is the planting at Millgate that you think you're in a much larger space
Richmond is a charming Yorkshire Dales market town steeped in history, perched on top of a hill and dating back to the 11th century, when a community grew up around the castle. You can see both the ancient castle above and the fast-moving River Swale below from the garden at Millgate, plus the green landscape beyond from various vantage points at the property. Guests in rooms overlooking the garden enjoy particularly fine views from their windows of both the garden below - laid out like a tapestry - and the countryside beyond.
Millgate House is a true plantsman's garden created by the owners
Gravel paths wind through the garden and a profusion of plants cover every inch of available space - notably clematis, hostas, roses and ferns as well as a treasure trove of perennials, shrubs and topiary. This is a wonderful plantsman's garden that thrives on the Yorkshire weather, behind sheltered walls, with carefully placed tables and chairs, allowing guests and visitors to savour time there.
There is so much to see in this tiny garden .... and the views are astounding
Garden lovers will be amazed by the variety and density of planting and rose enthusiasts will certainly be in heaven during June and July as there are well over 40 varieties on show. Particularly charming is the area at the far end of the garden, where there is an ancient stone building (below) virtually hidden by the plants surrounding it. But make sure you stop and admire the garden from the various vantage points, because only then will you appreciate the skilful planting here.
Prepare to be amazed by the density and variety of the planting at Millgate
Yorkshire has many fine gardens, but this one is truly worth making a detour for. And if you want to base yourself somewhere for a tour of the area, you would do well to see if you can stay at Millgate House. But you will have to book well in advance because it has become even more popular since appearing on Alan Titchmarsh's show. If you are coming this far north, make sure you drop in at York Gate on the way, because this is another remarkable garden.
Millgate House is an RHS Partner Garden and also a member of the Historic Houses Association, but it still remains one of Yorkshire's best-kept secrets. I was amazed by what I saw here and would thoroughly recommend a detour to see it. Definitely worth basing yourself at the house (but book well ahead to guarantee a reservation) to look at gardens in the area.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

August gardens - Up in the air with John Brookes at Denmans

The walled garden at Denmans - seen from above
Another view from on high into Denmans

John Brookes in his garden early this morning

In a determined attempt to get some new shots of Denmans early this morning, John Brookes (above) went and found a ladder and I perched on top to look at the garden. The walled garden was particularly interesting from above because you could see the lines and structure John has created there. Well worth a visit, particularly early in the day or later in the afternoon, so you get the best light. Open daily from 10.00-16.00.