Sunday, September 1, 2013

Harlow Carr Gardens

Continuing my saga of good and bad gardens, I visited Harlow Carr last week for the first time and am delighted to report that it comes clearly in the good category. This is the most northerly of the Royal Horticultural Society's properties. It was originally owned by the Northern Horticultural Society but on the merger with the RHS in 2001, the land changed ownership too. It was originally established in 1946 as a garden, having previously been the site for therapeutic baths, fed by natural springs. The bath house building remains and is used as an art gallery and study centre.

The estate extends to 27.5 hectares (67 acres) with formal gardens, meadows, woodlands, arboretum, rock and water features. No doubt much of the spring colour and interest comes from the streamside and rock garden areas although these were rather 'end of the season' last week. The northerly location of this property means that many plants are slightly later than the Midlands and south and on the day of my visit, the herbaceous borders were looking spectacular. These immense double borders run through the centre of the garden and unlike the Wisley borders, have no backing hedge, so can be viewed from both sides. Planting is primarily herbaceous perennials with grasses and a few shrubs. The scale is immense with huge drifts of plants.

Looking down the borders

Looking back up the borders

The small scented garden is packed with plants to the extent that even in the midday sun, the air was richly perfumed. Roses, mingled with sweet bergamot, lilies, anise hyssop,  lavender and a whole host more. The adjacent foliage garden was a little disappointing and clearly in need of refurbishment. There are so many excting plants with good foliage that could be featured here.

The Scented Garden

Foliage Garden

The kitchen garden demonstrates that edibles can be grown in very small spaces and can be mixed with ornamental plants. Raised beds allow for early soil warming. I particularly liked the woven spiral runner bean supports. Nearby and a slightly odd partner is the alpine house, a big airy modern glasshouse filled with beautifully maintained alpines. On the day of my visit, two volunteers were meticulously brushing dust and sand from the rock surfaces. I particularly liked the alpine gardens incorporating stacked tiles. Not only attractive but no doubt providing unique habitats.

Purple kale with nasturtium and marigold - the kale is too good to eat!

Beyond the Brammel Teaching Centre, there is an area described as the 'Gardens through Time' with  seven small plots, illustrating the changes in style since the early 19C.  Some of the gardens were good and illustrated the key features well, although others seemed to have lost the plot. The formal bedding in the mid-Victorian garden has been replaced with a meadow mix of annuals which really rather misses a key point! I think Victorian Head Gardeners would have been horrified by the scruffy informality of such a planting! The nearby Brammel Learning Centre itself is a fine building, set amidst meadow planting which here is entirely appropriate.

Regency Garden

Mid Victorian garden - a touch of Biddulph Grange?

Entirely un-Victorian meadow!
Edwardian garden

Festival of Britain 1950's garden
Outdoor Living 1970's garden

Contemporary 2004 Garden

Lovely and appropriate use of meadow planting
This was a lovely visit spoiled only by my visit to Betty's Cafe. The reputation of Betty's for superb patisserie and good bread was an added reason for my visit, as I have a real weakness for coffee and cakes. On my arrival I did have a half decent coffee at the garden tea house (a hut near the rock garden) and enjoyed a 'fat rascal', a sort of cross between a rock cake and scone. This was good but rather spoilt by being served in a paper bag with coffee in a cardboard cup. Lunch offered me the choice of the cafe or the restaurant. As there was a long queue for the restaurant and none for the cafe, I opted for the latter but in the overall melee, was confused and missed getting a table number. I queued for about twenty minutes before placing my order for a simple sandwich and cold drink, which then took another twenty minutes to be served at my table. The sandwich consisted of two small rounds of ordinary bread with the crusts cut off, a few slivers (not big enough to be called slices) of chicken and a single sprig of lamb's lettuce. Nothing to satisfy a hungry gardener! Together with my elderflower cordial, this cost £7.95. I decided not to wait another 40 minutes and take out a second mortgage for a desert. Despite all the waiting time, I still couldn't work out exactly how the system worked and which tables were restaurant, as opposed to cafe. It seems that waiting was obligatory whatever the option! Overall the garden is great and I recommend a visit but do take a picnic and don't be seduced by Betty's uncertain attractions, unless you are feeling very patient!

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