Pick the brains of an expert...

Paul Cook, Curator of RHS Harlow Carr

Paul Cook, Curator of RHS Harlow Carr

Paul Cook is the curator of RHS Harlow Carr, the horticultural charity’s most northerly showcase garden. He manages a team of 18 garden staff, 4 students and 4 apprentices, plus many RHS volunteers.

How long have you been at Harlow Carr and how did you come to be there? I’ve been here five years. I did my training at Arley Hall in Cheshire and Kew Gardens, went back to Arley as Head Gardener for 10 years and then to Ness Botanic Gardens, near Liverpool. Then I met someone at the Chelsea Flower Show who told me there was a job going at Harlow Carr to develop the woodland.

When was the Winter Walk first created? It was created just over 10 years ago to bring a concentrated burst of colour and interest to the garden. It also shows how the garden doesn’t need to be ‘put away’ for winter and that it can be a stimulating landscape of colour and scent.

Does it take much looking after? It’s a great end-of-winter task to prune the dogwoods and willows and we get everyone involved. We have a staggered prune to leave some colour and structure, so some stems are left for two years rather than having an annual cull.

The Winter Walk at RHS Harlow Carr

The Winter Walk at RHS Harlow Carr

What can readers with smaller gardens do to recreate it in their own garden? I’d suggest they try layering their planting – using perhaps a colourful-stemmed dogwood underplanted with bergenia and early-flowering bulbs, such as snowdrops, to extend the season of interest.

How is the Winter Walk evolving? The range of plants has extended and we are constantly trying new varieties and plant combinations. Rather than looking to make a specialist snowdrop collection, we’ve added to the snowdrops with a mix of really good garden varieties, such as ‘Magnet’ and ‘S. Arnott’. Both have the RHS Award of Garden Merit, so they’re proven to be robust and reliable.

We’ve also tried a range of the Iris reticulata hybrids including ‘Katherine Hodgkin’, ‘George’ and ‘Harmony’, and we’re hoping they reappear, but some can be tricky and don’t flower in their second year. We also have a vole population and they seem to find the flowers very tasty, which is something we didn’t plan for!

Several years ago we also added to the daphne collection with new cultivars like ‘Peter Smithers’ and ‘Darjeeling’.

How do you manage with a heavy clay soil? We’re on really sticky marlite clay and have sulphurous wells – which made Harrogate a popular Victorian spa town! – that pop up around the garden. We have to do a lot of groundwork before planting, so we dig out some of the clay, add grit and lots of compost. We’ve also found that the topsoil just washes away so adding lots of compost is crucial. We’re also in the process of reinstating the ditches in the woodland to help with draining the site.

Any special plans for this winter? We have about 30 acres of woodland here and five years ago we set about clearing sections to give us opportunities to add more winter colour in this area. We’ve already planted lots of bulbs, but the plan is to add lots of winter-flowering shrubs to create a fragrant winter walk through the woodland. Some shrubs have gone in already, but we’ve got another big planting session this winter, when we hope to add another 1000 plants.  

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RHS HARLOW CARR

The Winter Walk at RHS Harlow Carr

The Winter Walk at RHS Harlow Carr

Treat your senses to a walk around this dazzling winter garden, says Louise Curley

We all need a pick me up in winter, and after months of being cooped up indoors a lovely winter garden offers the perfect tonic. Harlow Carr’s Winter Walk is one of the best examples in the country, offering a bold fix of colour, texture and structure that’s a treat for all the senses.

Lying on the outskirts of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, Harlow Carr is the Royal Horticultural Society’s most northerly garden. The charity acquired the 68 acres in 2001 when it merged with the Northern Horticultural Society, which had created a botanic garden on the site in 1950, primarily as a place to trial plants in a northern climate.

The garden sits in a valley on acidic clay soil and has high levels of rainfall and cold winters, but despite this there’s plenty to see throughout the year. There are leafy woodland glades and a streamside garden – one of the longest in the country, annual meadows, large herbaceous borders and a well-stocked kitchen garden.

In spring the gardens are awash with vibrant unfurling leaves, colourful rhododendrons and a profusion of bulbs. There’s also a spectacular collection of alpines in a purpose-built alpine house. Summer sees perennials and annuals take over, mingling with grasses. The grasses fade as autumn approaches, their bleached-blond blades joining the fiery tones of acers and late-flowering asters.

At this time of year, though, it’s the turn of the Winter Walk to wow visitors. The clever combination of colourful bark, berries, stems and fragrant flowers offers a fillip for any gardener’s soul. The main walk consists of two long borders running either side of a path that snakes through a central part of the garden. It lies in an open area on an east-west axis that maximises the low angle of the winter sun, which lights up colourful stems and trunks and makes the glistening seedheads of honesty positively glow like  discs of silver.

Dogwoods are especially prized in a winter garden. At Harlow Carr the orange-red ‘Midwinter Fire’, yellow-green ‘Flaviramea’ and vibrant red ‘Baton Rouge’ are planted in bold drifts and blocks to create dramatic pockets of colour.

Punctuating the planting are trees chosen for their fabulous bark. There’s the mahogany-coloured, polished trunks of Prunus serrula; the purple-and-white striped bark of snakebark maple Acer davidii ‘Serpentine’ and crisp white silver birches. Evergreens add structure in the form of clipped yews, sarcococcas, pines and conifers, such as Japanese cedar Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’, which has branches covered in masses of tiny, narrow needles that give the tree a lovely soft, tactile quality. It also adds colour with the green foliage turning to burgundy in autumn, then rusty-red in winter.

Scent is crucial in any winter garden and Harlow Carr’s Winter Walk doesn’t disappoint. There are fragrant sarcococcas, spicy-perfumed witch hazel and yellow mahonia flowers, with their lily-of-the-valley aroma. But perhaps most potent of all are the daphnes, planted close to the path for maximum sensory impact.

Late winter is the Walk’s peak, when early-flowering winter aconites, cyclamen, iris and snowdrops join the winter throng to form carpets of colour around the base of trees, shrubs and evergreen perennials. The unusual deep red flowers of Parrotia perisca start to burst from their buds, and there are the striking black catkins of pussy willow, Salix melanostachys.

It’s easy to retreat indoors when it’s cold and grey outside, but tear yourself away from the fire, wrap up warm and you’ll be inspired by a walk through this winter wonderland of plants. *

Fact File

LOCATION RHS Harlow Carr, Crag Lane, Beckwithshaw, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG3 1QB
OPEN All year except Christmas Day. 31 Oct-28 Feb 9.30am-4pm, 1 Mar-30 Oct 9.30am-6pm
CONTACT 01423 565418; www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/harlow-carr

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BATEMAN'S, EAST SUSSEX

The lily pond at Bateman's c. NTPL/ANDREW BUTLER

The lily pond at Bateman's c. NTPL/ANDREW BUTLER

Set in the rolling landscape of the Sussex High Weald, Bateman’s is a 17th-century manor house surrounded by fields, woodland and ancient hedgerows. With its oak beams and mullioned windows it’s a handsome building, which became the home of novelist Rudyard Kipling from 1902 until his death in 1936.
   Much of the character and design of the 12-acre garden was created by Kipling himself. He was a keen gardener with much to say on the topic in his poem The Glory of the Garden (1911):

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing ‘Oh, how beautiful’ and sitting in the shade
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives.


The formal garden close to the house includes a raised path and lawn, which became known as The Quarterdeck [part of a ship’s upper deck near the stern]. Kipling couldn’t join the navy due to his poor eyesight, but in gardening he must have found a rewarding physical release from his written work. There are remnants here of his borders around the edges. In spring the exquisite blooms of Magnolia soulangeana and M. veitchii are joined by flowers of pulmonaria, scilla, hellebores and primroses. Summer-flowering shrubs include exochorda ‘The Bride’ follow, with colourful herbaceous perennials that keep on blooming well into autumn. Wisteria sinensis, with its scented purple cascades of flowers, and the orange and red tubular flowers of Campsis grandiflora (Chinese Trumpet Vine) clothe the walls of the house.
   Autumn is a fabulous time to see patches of pink-flowered autumn crocus, Colchicum autumnale, dotted about the garden and to appreciate the abundance of the vegetable beds. The orchard is filled with heritage varieties of apples, pears and plums alongside more unusual fruit such as medlar and quince. One of the oldest apple trees, ‘Beauty of Bath’, died in 2014 and had to be removed, but grafts of this tree were taken so that some of its genetic stock can live on.
   In 1907 Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first English-speaking author to do so. Along with the prize came £7,770, which he put to good use at home – creating a lily pond and rose garden. Visitors can still appreciate this tranquil spot, which bursts with fragrance and colour in summer.
   In his time at Bateman’s Kipling gradually bought up more of the land that surrounded the house. When his widow gave the house and estate to the National Trust in 1939 it totalled a whopping 300 acres. It’s still possible to wander through the wider estate on waymarked paths, and to experience the fabulous Wild Garden (a tennis court in Kipling’s day). This tamed wilderness is now filled with trees such as amelanchier and ornamental cherries and a mass of spring-flowering bulbs that are followed by summer wildflowers and the jungly foliage of gunnera and Darmera peltata.

   Perhaps the real beauty of Bateman’s lies in the effortless way the garden blends with its rural location. Climb up the steps in the Quarry Garden and you’ll enjoy fabulous views over both garden and the surrounding countryside. It’s here that you’ll appreciate why Kipling loved this place so much. 

FACT FILE
LOCATION Bateman’s Lane, Burwash, East Sussex TN19 7DS

OPEN Daily except 24-25 December. 10am-5pm until 28 October; 10am-4pm until 31 December.
CONTACT 01435 882302; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/batemans

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Gardens and Estate Manager Len Bernamont shares his experience of Bateman’s. Len works across three National Trust properties in East Sussex: Bateman’s, Bodiam Castle and Monk’s House. He’s worked at Bateman’s for five and a half years and manages a team of two full-time gardeners, one seasonal part-time gardener, an estate ranger and a team of around 25 volunteers.

What jobs do you tackle in October? A normal year will see us clearing our annual display from the Mulberry Garden, which is a massive fusion of flower and veg and a highlight of the garden throughout summer and into autumn. There’s tidying up to do in perennial borders and we generally start the process of putting the garden to bed, forking over borders and filling gaps with plants for next year.

Do you have any special projects for this winter? We’re putting an extra focus on our spring bulb display, so we’ll start with the first of the narcissi for naturalising before the later cammasia, bluebells, wood anemones and ornamental bulbs go in. The other major project for this autumn is a wholesale refresh of the main borders in the front and formal gardens. We’ll be planting new shrubs and perennials to extend their season of interest.

How important is it to maintain the gardens as Kipling planned them? Bateman's is a 17th-century Jacobean house typical of the period, and would have had gardens, possibly including a parterre built into the original design. Unfortunately none of this remains, and today the Grade II listing for the garden reflects the significance of this being Rudyard Kipling's garden. The structure, as laid out by Kipling, is still quite intact, but we have very little detail of his original planting plans. Kipling spoke of the garden as being uncluttered and not showy, which presents us with the challenge of staying true to that spirit, while making sure there’s plenty of horticultural interest for visitors.

How does this impact on the management of the gardens? We try to source plants that would’ve been available to the Edwardian gardener of the day, but we also take the view that gardens are living, growing things and should be able to evolve. We quite often use cultivars better suited to today’s climate and better able to deal with the growing number of pests and diseases. With an ever-increasing number of visitors, the biggest challenges are meeting the conservation needs of the garden and keeping the garden looking its best all year round.

Do you have any of Kipling’s garden plans, notes or photographs? Although it’s less than 100 years since Kipling died we have very few letters or documents relating to the garden. We believe many were destroyed after he died, so all we really have to go on are a few black and white photographs and some tithe and OS maps. We do have a lovely plan sketch Kipling made of the Lily Pond and Rose Garden he designed in 1907, which can be seen in his study, and his poem The Glory of the Garden gives us a glimpse of how Kipling felt about his garden and the work it took to look after it.

What makes Bateman’s so special? It’s located in the most beautiful setting of rolling hills and hay meadows grazed by cattle, and it’s managed in a way that means Kipling would still recognise it and the river running through the bottom of the garden beside his beloved watermill. But it’s the sense of peace and tranquillity of what was very much a family home that visitors comment on most when they visit the garden.

PASHLEY MANOR, EAST SUSSEX

PASHLEY MANOR GARDENS Tulips wisteria and new balustrading by Kate Wilson 1 (004).jpg

Head Gardener Keith Boylett is looking forward to Pashley Manor’s Tulip Festival (24 April-8 May 2018). Keith has worked at Pashley Manor for 23 years and manages a team of four full-time gardeners, six part-time gardeners and one volunteer...

Keith Boylett, Head Gardener

Keith Boylett, Head Gardener

How did you come to be head gardener at Pashley Manor? I started here in 1995 as a 15-year-old looking for a job in the school holidays. I loved it so much that after college I came here to work full time. After a couple of years as deputy head gardener, I became head gardener at the age of 22.

What are the main jobs you’ll be tackling in April? The early part of April is focused on tidying the spring borders. Because the borders are full of tulips it’s quite a slow, delicate task to weed, tidy and add fertiliser around the perennials and shrubs. After that it’s predominantly preparing for the festival and making sure we can accommodate the volume of visitors we get during that time.

What other garden highlights are there this month? Although the bulk of the daffodils flower in March when we’re not open, we also have a lot of plantings of later-flowering narcissi, such as ‘Pheasant’s Eye’. They bring that last bit of early spring through into our open season. And, depending on the weather, the wisteria might be in flower on the back of the house. If it’s flowering at the same time as the tulips it’s a really stunning view, with the tulip borders below and the whole of the back of the house dripping with wisteria flowers.

How do you plan for the tulip festival? We’ve planted 30,000 tulips each year for the past couple of years, but this spring, with the redevelopment of some of the borders, there’ll be about 40,000. So, 2018’s display should look spectacular. We can’t leave them in the ground because we’ve got summer plants to put in, such as the 1,500-2,000 dahlias for our late summer Dahlia Days show. We treat the tulips as annuals.
Also we want fresh bulbs so we can guarantee they’ll all flower and it allows us to change the planting designs every year. So we lift them all and donate them to nursing homes, hospices and schools. Some are often replanted in local village greens.

Do you have a favourite tulip? We grow about 112 different tulip cultivars, but my favourite ever since I started gardening is ‘Abu Hassan’ (below). I just love the colour combinations – rich mahogany red with golden edging.

Are there any other special projects planned for 2018? There are some borders with old plants in them, and these plants can’t be cut back. They’re big plants, though, so we need a mini-digger to get them out, which makes it a lot of work to completely renew a border. So, rejuventaing one of these borders will probably be an autumn or winter project this year.

FACT FILE:
● LOCATION Pashley Manor Gardens, Ticehurst, Wadhurst, East Sussex TN5 7HE
● OPEN 31 March-29 September, Tues-Sat plus Bank Holidays and special events, 10am-5pm. Tulip Festival open daily 24 April-8 May.
● CONTACT 01580 200888;
www.pashleymanorgardens.com

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GREAT DIXTER, EAST SUSSEX

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Fergus Garrett first visited Great Dixter as a student, then joined the team in 1992, working closely with garden creator Christopher Lloyd. Now Fergus heads up a small team of gardeners and volunteers as the garden's Creative Director. Here he shares his insights with Melissa Mabbitt
 
How did you come to work at Great Dixter? Christo was interested in anyone who was interested, and I was keen, there with my notebook, making drawings. I ended up being invited, along with lots of other people, to the house at weekends. Life was centred around the house and there could be anyone there, from musicians to just someone he’d met on the train! Many years, when I was between jobs, Christo offered me the role of head gardener. I turned it down initially as I didn’t want working there to spoil my relationship with it, but Christo told me to stop being childish. He said: “Just say yes and we’ll take it from there”!

How big is your team? We have the equivalent of about three full time gardeners, including a person who grows all the veg and looks after the house. We always have four to six students, who are highly committed and motivated, and they become the catalyst for it all.

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What are the main jobs that the gardeners need to do through the seasons? Seed sowing and propagating happens throughout the year - we grow thousands and thousands of plants. Planting in autumn carries on through winter right through to August. In October the meadow cutting is finished and we rip apart the garden to get the tender stuff into the greenhouses. Sometomes we have to lift the whole bed as the plants have become integrated. We replace it with bedding for winter and spring, which takes us right through to December. In the New Year we start at one end of the garden starting pruning and weeding, through to the middle of March when we’ve finished the whole garden. Then we start sowing, pricking out and getting creative with our pot displays.

What’s the main thing you do in August? By then most of our plants are in the ground so we’re watering them. We start cutting the meadows as the common spotted orchids, the last ones to flower, have gone to seed, but we always leave some areas uncut to be a safe haven for insects. We cut the hedges as they won’t grow much after this so they’ll look sharp through winter.

What’s your favourite part of the gardens and why? If I had to choose one thing and take it a way to another world, I would say probably the meadows because they’re slightly out of my control. They’re like being on wild horse than being on something tame, and contain another world within them – a bug world – that’s dark and mysterious and where you never quite know what’s going on.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? There’s a fine balance between keeping something familiar to the family that knows it but also staying dynamic. If I still did the same stuff that Christo did the garden would die a death, so I have to make changes, following my gut feeling, but without being gimmicky either. Always with any place that’s old fashioned, there’s a sense of place about it, but we have to fight to keep it quirky.

Are there any special new planting projects for 2017/2018? I’ve started using more conifers. They’re a material that loads of people are uncomfortable with but there are so many striking looking ones, there’s no good being a snob about them. I’m picking out interesting ones with interesting textures. It’s striking what one plant can do – in the exotic garden they can turn the subtropical into the Jurassic.
 
What’s the best bit of your job? You’re in a heavenly place that’s alive with wildlife, lovely atmosphere and history, the wood is cracked, the York stone paving is worn down. The people here love it – they’re there to make a difference to the place. The students are bright eyed, making use of a place that you love to be in. And I get to meet inspirational people, whether that person is a national collection holder or a student, I meet extraordinary people, many with a heart of gold, and it’s a privilege to be alongside them.

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