Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Beatrix Potter's World

During the dark, cold, often damp days of winter many a Lakeland garden is at its lowest ebb and as garden lovers we seek a little shelter from the elements in which to pursue our interest...

Fortunately we can spend a happy hour or two looking into the life and work of that most famous Lakeland resident and benefactor Beatrix Potter and her literary progeny Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck, Tom Kitten, and all the rest. Through them and the simple tales they tell we gain an appreciation for nature and the Cumbrian countryside. Through her legacy, the National Trust, we can all share in the beauty of this wonderful natural asset.

At the World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness, we can explore indoors the recreated scenes from all her stories and see those larger than life characters brought back to life. Then on to the real surprise here - a charming, newly created garden guaranteed to look good 365 days a year.

The garden is small but full of detail and of course packed with references to the people, places and events in the celebrated books. A wonderful and evocative lean-to Victorian greenhouse with old tools and a lovely collection of clay potted, scented geraniums completes the scene.

Beatrix Potter herself would have felt at home in this garden. Peter Rabbit and friends certainly do!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

High Close

DSC04261The Lake District’s glorious landscape is wonderful to experience at any time of year but surely a fine late autumn day sees it at its settled best. With luck, deepest blue skies and low sunshine will set the last golden leaf colour ablaze and the fellside bracken aglow in richest russet shades.

It is a time to appreciate the sublime beauty of the managed landscape and those who help create, cherish and safeguard it for the future. Lakeland’s largest landowner is the National Trust and a fine example of their stewardship is at High Close, Langdale.

Once a Victorian gentleman’s residence, with ten gardeners, incuding a full time path sweeper, covering as many acres. The house is now a wonderful, welcoming youth hostel and its dramatic hillside garden has reverted in part to wild woodland.

It is a real joy to explore though, as winding pathways and terraces cut their way down the steep slopes, giving views out across to Loughrigg and down the valley to distant glimpses of Windermere.

There are some magnificent old trees to be seen here, but what is important is the garden’s natural and seamless integration out into the wider landscape, and its easy and comfortable position within it.

A staff of ten may be only a distant dream to Pete Tasker, the Trust’s sole part time gardener here, but all that is done is done with such sensitivity and respect that this most charming of Lakeland idylls is set to survive and prosper for the enjoyment of many generations to come....

Sunday, 11 October 2009

October at Acorn Bank

The garden visiting season may be slowly drawing to a close for this year, but there is still time to catch a real gem in the north east of the county....

Acorn Bank, a National Trust property near Penrith is a beauty! There, a series of small enclosed gardens contain within their walls a multitude of rare and interesting plants. One area houses an unique and most extensive gathering of poisonous, healing and culinary herbs. There are over two hundred and fifty species and varieties in all, including a semi-tender collection in a lovely old lean-to greenhouse.

Elsewhere late flowering clematis line the walls, and the last generous flowers of the season, especially the Sedum spectabile, provide welcome nectar to dancing clouds of butterflies.

Ancient local apple varieties including the charmingly named ‘Lemon Square’ and ‘Lady’s Finger of Lancaster,’ and a huge perry pear dominate the old orchard. Unusual medlars adding extra interest with their strange fruit and the first glowing hints of orange autumn colour.

Perhaps best of all though are the enchanting natural woodland walks which lead down wild flower banking to the Crowdundle Beck, and finally on to a fascinating and functioning old watermill.

As always, wonderful homemade offerings from the tea room complete a visit to what must be one of the most satisfying and naturally idyllic gardens in Cumbria.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

September- Lakeland's 'Riviera'

Grange PromenadeWhen lakeland fells are wreathed in mist and the rain is tumbling down, take some comfort in the fact that it is greening the grass, and filling the lakes, becks and waterfalls that make this county so special. If you are looking for better weather though, then head south to lakeland’s own ‘Riviera’... There you will discover the small town of Grange-over-Sands on the edge of Morecambe Bay which boasts more sunshine and a much milder micro-climate than the rest of the region.

Favourite garden destinations there for young and old alike are it’s twin public parks and promenade, all exuding Edwardian charm. Toddlers and older legs taking a break from the hills will enjoy the firm, flat, wide walks, old fashioned floral displays and other gentle entertainments...

A beautifully restored bandstand plays host to a series of concerts throughout the season. It is unique in being surrounded by a mini-moat and is reached by bridge over the water’s lily strewn surface. There is also an enormous spring fed serpentine lake, home to an astonishing population of ornamental waterfowl. This is the destination with which to share with children the timeless pleasure of feeding the ducks.

There is more too along the nearby ‘prom’ for all ages and abilities including a super playground. This mile long, wide walkway is backed by a beautiful and fascinating ribbon of colourful and tender seaside plants. It overlooks, depending on the tide, the sea’s waves or the waving sea grasses of Morecambe Bay. The view is immense- a vast vista stretching from the Cumbrian foothills to Yorkshire’s peaks and across the sands to Lancashire.

Having enjoyed these traditional public park pleasures, there are plenty of opportunities nearby for a reviving cup of tea, cakes, or ice cream. So, if you are looking for a milder climate or a gentler day of garden interest, head for Grange-over-Sands, on Lakeland’s ‘Riviera’.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

August at Graythwaite

Graythwaite Hall

Part of the pleasure of this garden begins before you even reach it. The narrow, little used road along the western side of Windermere is a joy to drive down, twisting and turning its way up and down through stone walled pasture and woodland, giving occasional glimpses of lake and fell.

The garden at Graythwaite Hall is one of Lakeland’s undiscovered gems. From its fresh, bright and colourful springtime splendour to its mellow melding of greens as summer slips into autumn. It was laid out by fashionable designer of Edwardian elegance, Thomas Mawson. The century old Italianate styling of terracing and statuary has here naturalised into the wider landscape and treats us to one of the most beautiful, quiet and unspoiled gardens in the region.

Step back in time for a gentle stroll around a garden unpressurised by the demands of visitor centre, tea room or ticket office. Pass only an old fashioned honesty box, then feel free to wander at will- to explore and discover for yourself the subtle charms of this larger Lakeland garden.

Slate surfaced paths wind down to a rushing stream. Rolling lawns link shady shrub lined ways and woodland walks. Ancient trees lead the eye out and up to forested fellside and down across farmland to the valley and lake shore beyond. Close to the house, time and growth has softened the formal features of steps and terrace, sundials, statues and ballustrading. All is now blended into one comfortable whole.

Simply stunning in spring, when the massed rhododendrons give a dazzling display. This garden mellows through summer to lush greens, perfectly in tune with the Lake District landscape.

Catch it while you can... its season  draws to a close at the end of August.
See www.graythwaitehall.co.uk for details.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Hill Top

Hill TopThe garden at Hill Top is surely one of the best loved and well known in the Lake District. Generations of children throughout the world have grown up with the tales of Jemima Puddleduck, Tom Kitten, Samuel Whiskers and Pigling Bland- set here in the house and garden Beatrix Potter bought with the help of her most famous character of all - Peter Rabbit.

This is a small corner of Lakeland set as it was a century ago. It feeds a sense of nostalgia in us all that craves for simpler times and a slower pace of life, when horse and trap would have been the fastest form of transport and good food was grown at home.

The garden at Hill Top is atmospheric and entirely charming. The narrow walk up to the house is lined with a jumble of old cottage garden favourites all jostling for space- yellow loostrife and lady’s mantle, sweet peas and soapwort, foxgloves, cranesbills and evening primrose.   All are backed by old roses tumbling down over trellis- it paints a magical picture.

In front of the house, through the old gate, lies the small square kitchen garden. Enclosed and sheltered by walls to keep the predations of Peter Rabbit’s friends at bay, it is still laid out as the author had it... Rows of beans and onions, a plot of potatoes, scarlet runners up poles, and a rhubarb patch where you might just catch a glimpse of Jemima Puddleduck’s egg!

Discover for yourself the timeless pleasures of a house and garden that inspired books which have delighted millions, and share in Beatrix Potters legacy- the National Trust, protector of all that is best in the Lakeland landscape she loved.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Lose Yourself at Levens Hall

Living Willow Supporting ImageLevens Hall’s world famous topiary garden has celebrated three centuries of trimming and training trees with a new twist – a ‘Living Labyrinth’!

Over four thousand willow rods, four metres long were snatched from the jaws of a biomass boiler this winter. Reprieved and relocated, they are now rooting in, shooting out, and growing into impenetrable green screens.

Woven into sinuous swirls and spirals, this is no square cut maze with defeating dead ends. Instead, it follows the organic, fluid form and continuous curves of the ancient labyrinth.

It is no simple task to reach the secret space at its heart…. Dare you take the challenge, test your skills and sense of direction? Will you spin successfully to its centre or, befuddled and bemused, end up back on the outside?

Head Gardener, Chris Crowder says, “We had great fun making it, and our visitors love it. It’s the ultimate in eco-entertainment – a home for birds, bees, bugs and bunnies, and of course an occasional lost soul seeking that elusive exit….”

The low-down on the labyrinth...

Two gardeners took two months to create the puzzle of pathways, weaving rods vertically, horizontally and diagonally together to create over 500 metres of ‘fedging’- a cross between fencing and hedging.

Amazingly, the long thin willow sticks root when pushed down into wet winter soil. They then send out masses of fresh green shoots in spring.

This extremely vigorous willow, Salix viminalis, grows up to 4 metres a year and the prunings are used as ecologically friendly, carbon neutral fuel in wood burning boilers.


Friday, 1 May 2009

Wordsworth House

Stroll through Georgian Cockermouth. Step off the street and step back in time to discover the poet’s childhood home. Discover his house and garden laid out as an authentic, living, breathing, 18th century experience. Walk out into the walled back garden and see the world through Wordsworth’s eyes.

There are old fashioned flowers in profusion here, including the promise of fragrant roses and lavender to come, with borders brimming with old medicinal herbs such as feverfew and hyssop. Period favourites like pot marigold and soapwort can also be seen in the cut-flower bed.

The great thing about this garden though, is that its a productive plot- a place for food as well as all the floral delights. This month of May is apple-blossom time and the beautiful Greenup’s Pippin trees are covered in flowers and busy bees. Sure sign of a bountiful harvest of fruit by autumn. It is the vegetable beds that are the most fascinating though... Heritage varieties grown the old fashioned way. Row after row of ‘roots’ and ‘brassicas’ punctuated by ‘peas and beans’ climbing a tracery of sticks and poles. All overlooked by the friendly and protective sackcloth scarecrow.

At the end of the garden, steps lead up to a long viewing terrace. Look back to the house across an old garden, full of interest. Or, look forward across the River Derwent and imagine the water meadows beyond where young William and his sister Dorothy played.

Yes, Wordsworth House- and Garden- is an education, an inspiration and a gem- Well worth a visit!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


Which is the best garden in Lakeland? That is a tricky question... There’s such a choice- small or large, formal or natural, and then of course it varies from season to season.

But for now, my number one choice is Mirehouse, North of Keswick. This most peaceful and beautiful of places encompasses all the elements for perfection...

Here is an outstanding lakeland landscape- the House nestles in a breathtakingly idyllic setting. Walk down through lush meadows leading to the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake, or along trails that lead up through its backdrop of forest and mountains. No wonder those rarest of Lakeland visitors, the Ospreys, chose here for their first home in all of England.

If the setting is superb, then the garden experience is superlative. Long drives lined by ancient pines, beneath which choice rhododendrons bloom. The area around the house, relaxed and natural, yet beautifully kept and a real joy to explore- don’t miss the wild wood tunnels or the fascinating ‘snuff garden’.

There’s poetry in a lovely covered walk for the literary minded, and for younger visitors intent on adventure, not one but four adventure playgrounds. They are hidden in the woods and include a most excellent adventure island, and a thrilling zip wire skimming inches above the Skill Beck.

It is the old walled garden however which pleases most- simple yet stunning. A haven for honeybees and a focus of peace and beauty. Cherry blossom abounds and later avenues of Buddleia and an intricately carved heather labyrinth keep the nectar flowing. For visitors too, it is guaranteed to keep a beamingly wide smile on your face.

Yes, Mirehouse is simply wonderful- my Number 1 Lakeland Garden.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Sparkling Spring Gardens

This month of March sees Spring burst forth in gardens right across the country, and those in Lakeland are no exception... The grass is growing again and turning a deeper shade of green. Bright pansies, and fresh sparkling crocus jostle for our attention at every turn.

Its over 200 years since Lakes poet William Wordsworth penned what have become some of the most famous lines of all time....

“...all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden Daffodils”

Now there is hardly a garden, grass verge, pot or planter that doesn’t cheer us with these indispensable, happy golden symbols of spring.

The days are noticeably longer now, and as the clocks change, there’s more time to get out and about, and to enjoy the interest and excitement that visiting good gardens gives. Kicking off the new season in Cumbria are:

Brockhole- Terraced Edwardian splendour leading right down to the shores of Windermere.

Holehird- An immaculately kept garden with superb views across lakes and fells, and a superb collection of plants to match.

Muncaster- Wild woodland set aglow with breathtaking clouds of colourful rhododendrons billowing down steep hillside.

Holker- Impeccable formal gardens giving way to pleasure grounds and woodland that are a plantsman’s paradise.

Sizergh- Home to the National Trust’s biggest and best rock garden- an absolute delight in the springtime.

Don’t forget too, those private gardens’ very special charity openings through the ‘Yellow Book’ scheme... Topping the listings in the Lake District is that Great Langdale stalwart ‘Copt Howe’. A truly great, eccentric and individual creation with marvellous mountain views.

So, if the sight of a swaying host of golden daffodils draws you near to their spiritual home- Cumbria, the Lake District. You will be thrilled too by the host of spectacular springtime gardens waiting to be explored....

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Aira Force

As winter’s icy grip is finally released from the high fells, the becks fill with clear, cold meltwater, and rush down to replenish the waiting lakes below. The bravest flowers of Spring now push through to brighten the lengthening days. First come the white drifts of snowdrops, which at length give way to colourful crocus, and earliest daffodils.

Cool conditions call for brisk, warming walks... Explore Aira Force on the banks of Ullswater, and you will discover one of Lakelands greatest gems. This spectacular waterfall is surrounded by a huge arboretum- Victorian gardening on a vast scale with thousands of broadleaves and hundreds of now enormous specimen conifers lining the steep sided valley and streamside walks.

Follow the path as it winds its way up through this wonderful ‘natural’ woodland. Don’t miss my highlights on the way... The base of a monkey-puzzle tree whose ancient bark seems to have sagged down, like the leathery surface of a gigantic stump footed dinosaur. See also the vast fallen tree trunk which has half a hundredweight of old coins irretrievably jammed in its every crack.

On up to Aira Force itself, seen best from the old packhorse bridge spanning the spectacular, seventy foot waterfall as it drops near vertically down to the icy plunge pool below.

Lakes poet, William Wordsworth, knew and loved this place too- his most famous lines on ‘Daffodils’ were inspired at Glencoyne Bay, just a stone’s throw away.

This garden of vast proportions was thankfully saved for the nation by the National Trust in 1906 when shockingly it was to be sold for housing plots! Now its thoughtfully provided with all the essentials for a great day out- Parking, toilets, information, and best of all a warm and welcoming tea room to refresh you on your return.

We may not have a thousand acres to play with, like the great garden makers of the past, but having visited Aira Force, we will return to our own small plots enriched and inspired having shared their vision of the true Spirit of Lakeland.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Honister Slate Mine- Go High! Go Deep!

Lakeland’s dramatic scenery is an inspiration to all garden makers. It can be seen set in sharpest relief on a bright, cold, clear winter’s day.

Make your way to the top of Honister Pass, an incredible 1,167 feet above sea level. You will experience all of Cumbria’s highlights on the way... still reflective lakes, peaceful pastures, wooded fellside, wild moorland, boulder-strewn becks, craggy outcrops and majestic rocky summits.

This dramatic Lake District landscape is carved out from its bedrock- the stone beneath the surface, rising above, and threading throughout in its myriad miles of signature drystone walling.

From this high mountain pass its just a short walk to the tops, or for adventure seekers there is the thrilling, exposed scramble of Lakeland’s first ‘Via Ferrata’. The daring can descend there too, into the depths of the mountain to enter the dark, cathedral like caverns where slate has been hewn for centuries.

Whether tramping it underfoot, clinging on to it by your fingertips, or exploring deep beneath its surface, here we are intimately engaged with the very backbone and bedrock of the natural landscape.

Its inspirational stuff for every garden maker and better still, its a piece of Lakeland’s spirit that you can take home to flavour your own garden setting. The stone quarried here has made many an award winning garden and it could be a part of yours too. From walling stone to path surfacing; from seats to fountains to slate monoliths- its all here.

Flowers may be few and far between in January, but if you fancy a bit of hard landscaping and love Lakeland for inspiration, then take the trip to the top of Honister Pass. “Fill ya Boot!” and ground your garden in a little Lake District magic.....

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