Visit Harrogate column: ‘Capability’ Brown would be proud of our gardens

A superb show of Spring bulbs at RHS Harlow Carr.
A superb show of Spring bulbs at RHS Harlow Carr.

One of the features that brings visitors to the Harrogate District is its gardens, so we will be making the most of the Year of the English Garden, marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, writes Mike Newby.

He transformed landscapes across England in the 18th century, replacing the formal and enclosed gardens that had been typical before, using a new natural style, now considered quintessentially English.

Although there are no Capability Brown designed landscapes in the Harrogate District (the nearest is Harewood House) his influence can be seen in many places and of course the Harrogate District boasts many and varied fine gardens and two of the country’s most popular flower shows; indeed Visit Harrogate will be launching its Gardens Campaign and new gardens guide at the Spring Flower Show on April 21. Look out for the leaflet to help you plan your visits around the district’s gardens. In the meantime here’s a flavour of what the district has to offer.

In the centre of Harrogate town is the world famous Grade II listed Valley Gardens, which have drawn visitors ever since their creation. Covering 17 acres they are an important part of the town’s spa heritage. Don’t miss the newly restored Old Magnesia Pump Room which now houses a history of the gardens.

It will be open on March 6 from 10.30am to 3.30pm. Linked to the Valley Gardens by the Pinewoods is of course the 58 acres that make up RHS Harlow Carr, a treat for all ages with planting ranging from woodland to wildflower meadows, an Alpine House and a learning centre. Look out for news of Harlow Carr’s plans for the future over the next few months; there are certainly exciting times ahead. Awarded Green Flag status for their high quality maintenance and facilities, Ripon’s Spa Gardens are well worth a visit. As Mayor I had a very enjoyable time helping to celebrate the bandstand’s 110th birthday. Named after its German twin town, Knaresborough’s Bebra Gardens occupy a commanding position offering great views across the Nidd; a natural vista that Capability Brown would have been proud of. The Water Gardens at Studley Royal were created by father and son John and William Aislabie. Work began on the lake, canal and moon pond in the year of Capability Brown’s birth and half a century later William bought the Fountains Abbey estate to complete the garden and create the ultimate vista.

The estate is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Another example of the Aislabies’ work can be found at Hackfall Wood near Masham. It is a treasure trove of grottoes, follies, surprise views and a fountain in a naturalized setting.

As readers of last month’s column will know, Capability Brown shares a 300th birthday with Beningbrough Hall. There is much to see in its woodland, riverside and herbaceous border walks but there is also a fascinating, working walled kitchen which supplies the cafe.

It was one of the first kitchen gardens to be renovated by the National Trust and its 1.5 acres is home to a myriad of fruit, vegetable and salad varieties. The orchard has more than 50 varieties of apples and a striking avenue of pears to walk under – just make sure you wear a hat if you visit in autumn. Workhouse gardens are rare survivals so a visit to Ripon Workhouse is very much worth a visit. About an acre in size it uses Victorian horticultural methods with both original and access paths for all visitors to be able to enjoy the variety of vegetables, fruit and herbs that are all sourced from Victorian or older varieties including ‘Fellside Hero’ potatoes and ‘Dog’s Snout’ apples!

Just outside Ripon one of the longest herbaceous border in Europe can be found at Newby Hall. Newby’s award winning gardens, created in the early 1920s, have evolved over the years, making a major contribution to 20th century gardening. Details of all these gardens and more are on the Visit Harrogate website and will feature on our new Gardens Guide in April.

Taking the message overseas
One of Visit Harrogate’s stated aims is to introduce the world to all that the Harrogate District has to offer. I had the great pleasure of taking the Harrogate message to Brussels a couple of weeks ago at an event organised by Visit Britain. ‘Meet the Belgian Media’ was an opportunity to speak to journalists from print, digital and other media. Those I spoke to were very impressed by what we have and a number have already requested visits. There is definitely an appetite for Harrogate beyond our shores.

And finally
Look out for the formal launch of the Harrogate District Golf Pass later this month. Working with local golf clubs Visit Harrogate will be promoting the area as a golf venue.