Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Unique Garden Full of History

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Unique Garden Full of History

Article excerpt

Byline: By Sam Dansie

With a bout of the seasonal blues in full swing, SAM DANSIE went to Belsay gardens for a splash of summer colour in an unusual outdoors setting

NOW is the time when most gardeners put their feet up by the fire and make plans to invigorate their gardens in the spring and summer.

The weather is rough and the garden is made up of various shades of brown.

It seems like the right time of year to plan - the garden is a blank canvass where your wildest plans can be applied from the comfort of your armchair.

But for one horticulturalist in the North East, these rules do not apply. To Paul Harrigan, the winter is just another busy season in the annual cycle. He is the head gardener at Belsay Hall and Gardens. He oversees 30 acres of Northumbrian gardening history in the heart of the county. For him and his team of four permanent staff and one part-time trainee, there are always jobs to be getting on with on the estate.

However, landscaping is definitely not in his job description - that was taken care of by Sir Arthur Monck in 1807, and it has remained in its original format ever since.

The garden has its own natural shelter that needs to be attended to in the winter months. The barrier of Scots pine and other indigenous trees serves to shelter the garden from driving weather. "The winter is a good time to do the heavy work, like pruning and thinning out the belt," Paul says. No doubt all that sawing, cutting and dragging staves off the worst effects of the cold weather. It is also the time to re-gravel the well trodden paths used by the visitors.

"We have miles of paths here, and winter is the best time to renovate them, as there are a smaller number of visitors," he adds.

That is not to say it is all work and no play in the garden. When the hall was built in 1808, the founder, Sir Charles Monck, quarried the stone with the intention of making room for a garden that would be unlike anything in the region. Paul continues: "Owing to its setting, the Quarry Garden is blessed with its own set of unique weather conditions, allowing shrubs that are usually dormant at this time of year to flourish. The quarry face, which rises 30ft, and the shelter of the pines planted on top keep out the rain, and retain what little warmth there is to insulate the plants."

It is the vibrant rhododendrons that take most advantage of this microclimate. "From mid November right through to April, the Quarry Garden is full of colour from the rhododendrons," says Paul. The tree-sized rhododendrons display a large range of colour, from soft reds right through to deep violet.

The West Quarry, which was planted in a more traditional style, is made up of plantings that are native to Northumberland: conifers, hollies and scented heathers combine to create a spectacular garden view in strong contrast to the clipped elegance of the rhododendrons . …

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