Behind the scenes at Harewood House: Early autumn in the gardens

Harewood House
from CD
Harewood House from CD
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The gardens team at Harewood are responsible for maintaining over 100 acres of beautiful Grade 1 listed gardens, grounds and woodlands writes head gardener Trevor Nicholson.

From the elaborate colour schemes, flower borders and fountains on the Victorian terrace gardens, to the naturalistic planting around the lakeside and in the Himalayan garden, the team and I work extremely hard to ensure that every space is not only looking its best, but also being planned and developed to eventually reach its full potential.

The Victorian parterre, on the south front of the house, is the jewel-in-the-crown among Harewood’s well-known gardens. With over a mile of box hedging clipped into an intricate pattern and filled with thousands of seasonal plants and bulbs, this formal garden takes a great deal of precision and care to maintain.

At this time of year, Tom and Harry, the terrace gardeners, are busy pruning, dead-heading and weeding, as well as implementing a programme of turf improvements in preparation for the winter months. The tall hornbeam hedges have been clipped and, in the coming few weeks, we will start lifting and dividing tender plants in the herbaceous borders, moving them to other parts of the gardens and making way for the planting of thousands of tulips.

The Archery Border, situated at the foot of the terrace wall, is in its prime at this time of year. The south facing aspect coupled with the 15ft high sandstone wall provides the right environment for growing a range of exotic and tender plants.

The hot colour scheme for late summer interest includes Mediterranean and tropical plants, and is a bold and vibrant display. We’ve just had a visit from two gardeners from Kew who have written to me describing the Archery Border as being “amazing” at this time of year. The 12-foot-high giant Dahlia (D. imperialis), flowering gingers, red hot pokers and Mexican sunflowers, as well as the ‘Devil’s Tobacco’ (Lobelia tupa) are all making the most the mild conditions of early autumn.

The Himalayan Garden is one of my personal favourites; I have spent more than 20 years researching Chines and Himalayan plants and sympathetically developing this charming and tranquil garden. Helen, the gardener who maintains this area, is busy weeding the primula glades ready for new planting to be incorporated for spring colour. These boggy areas are being enriched annually, and with the candelabra primulas in late May and early June creating a vivid carpet of colour alongside the waterfall and stream, it’s a wonderfully vibrant display, which I would recommend visiting every year.

Beyond the formal gardens, Harewood is also home to an historic Walled Garden. It may not be widely known that the Walled Garden was in fact one of the first structures Edwin Lascelles had built when setting about constructing the Harewood you see today.

Built in stages from 1755, a couple of years before the first stones were laid for the house, the warm red brick walls are worlds away from the formal Terraces many of our visitors are so familiar with.

At the time, the Walled Garden, with its double-brick ‘hot’ walls, was cutting edge cultivation technology. The desire to have soft fruits and exotic foods out of season, which was at the height of Victorian fashion at county houses like Harewood, which would host lavish dinners with grapes, figs, and melons normally only grown in warmer, European climates.

The enclosed space with high walls acts perfectly as a suntrap. The south-western angle of Harewood’s Walled Garden captures the sun’s rays, warming the soil quickly to create perfect growing conditions for fruit, vegetables and flowers. They also act as protection from wildlife such as deer, and as a visual barrier between the designed landscape and the functionally arranged spaces necessary for intensive production.

Spanning an acre of land, the Walled Garden currently houses 12 plots and a fruit orchard, all of which is maintained by Jen, our gardener, along with Tom, our new horticulture apprentice from Askham Bryan College. The mixed flowers and vegetable beds create a strong visual impact as you arrive through the old wooden door.

This year, the harvest has been particularly good. The warm weather has created a long growing season, and with high soil temperatures has supported bountiful yields of such things as potatoes and brassicas.

Before Harewood closes to the public on October 30, visitors should come and see the beautiful dahlias in full bloom and enjoy the wonderful orchard bearing autumnal fruits. The late tender and hardy perennials are looking great too.

Across the entire gardens, we are also turning our attention towards our spring bulb planting schemes. It’s a huge undertaking each year which is made possible with the help of many of our garden volunteers. I am busy designing new tulip schemes for the Terrace, daffodil glades along the lakeside and bluebells for the woodlands.

Maintaining this wonderful space is a real privilege and one that we enjoy sharing with our visitors. We hope that you can join us and enjoy the last of the autumnal summer sun.