English Gardens - North
The most ambitious new garden created in the United Kingdom since the Second World War
was my first visit to Alnwick Gardens and I’d read all the hype when it
first opened. It had a lot to live up to, but boy does it! This is an
amazing garden constructed on a monumental scale. Visiting in mid March
before the leaves come out meant that I was very aware of the underlying
structure of the garden and the massive effort taken to create it.
The garden is very much the vision of the Duchess who has turned a derelict garden not used since the Second World War’s Dig for Victory Campaign, into a world renowned garden. Not only has she created what must be one of the best contemporary gardens in the world, it also achieved the aim of providing much needed employment to the area as well as tourist money into the town.
The garden has cost an estimated £42 million to develop and is now run as a charitable trust, encouraging community involvement. Drug awareness programmes are run in the Poison Garden for local school children and there are horticultural programmes to improve the quality of life and well being for the over 55s or those with dementia.
The garden is a wonderful combination of different areas and spaces with something for everyone from golf in the forgotten garden to the largest tree house in the world, set high in the tree canopy with massive branches growing through the floors. and wooden walkways.
Entry to the gardens is through the original 1750 gates and leads into the Garden Pavilion, an attractive wood and glass structure opened in 2016. This has a cafe and one of the best views in the gardens, with the cascade made up of a series of steps falling down the hillside.
This is particularly impressive when the jets and fountains are turned on every half hour for 5 minutes. Starting at the top, a series of plumes of water run down the upper cascade culminating in a massive yet at the bottom.
There are smaller water features and fountains scattered around the gardens with water channels feeding into the cascade.
Massive trimmed beech hedges line the paths and divide the garden into discrete areas.
At the bottom of the cascade is the Serpent garden with hedges of trimmed yew forming a maze with more water features.
Next to it is the Bamboo labyrinth and beyond both of these is the rose garden. As well as rose beds, pergolas are covered with climbing roses,clematis and honesuckle in the summer months.
The Ornamental Garden is entered through a triple archway with metal gates and looks down on the top of the cascade.
The cascade begins here and there are water channels and small fountains feeding it. Hedges are carefully designed to provide different vistas of the garden.
There are a series of small beds lined with fruit trees trained to form a trellis around them.
Beyond the ornamental garden the path wanders through more trees to the Cherry orchard. There are over 300 trees and this is the larges cherry orchard in the world. The trees are underplanted with spring bulbs. Live streaming allows you to enjoy the blossom if unable to visit the garden.
Wooden swings have been placed at the top of the orchard to enjoy the blossom and the views.
The poison garden is near the bottom of the cascade, through a locked wrought iron gate decorated with poison ivy, and can only visited by guided tour.
Over 100 species of poisonous plants are grown in the garden, including class A, B and C drugs which require a Home Office licence to grow. Participants are warned not to touch anything as some plants are so dangerous, even touching them with your skin can cause death.
The guide talks about some of the plants growing in the garden, how they are used and their effects. It was sobering how many are commonly found garden plants including rhubarb, laburnum, helebores and rosemary.
I spent several hours wandering and enjoying the garden. It has been cleverly designed so there is something to enjoy throughout the year. The gardens are open throughout the year. The Post code for the gardens is NE66 1HB. The main car park is off the B1340. Alternatively there is plenty of disc parking in the town and pedestrian access off Greenwell Road. Tourist Information in Alnwick sell tickets to the gardens with a 10% reduction on the ticket price.
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