The Northumberland gardens that keep on giving

Blagdon Estate, Blagdon, which opens as part of the National Garden Scheme 2016.
Blagdon Estate, Blagdon, which opens as part of the National Garden Scheme 2016.

As spring seems to have finally sprung into action, busy birdsong fills the air, bluebells are flourishing and our thoughts turn to outdoor pursuits.

We are a nation of garden lovers and many of us will be visiting horticultural delights around the county.

Lilburn Tower, near Alnwick

Lilburn Tower, near Alnwick

The aim of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) is to highlight the unsung heroes of the gardening world – the private gardens that open to the public and make a huge contribution to charity.

It was founded in 1927 to raise funds for nursing and caring charities. Individuals were asked to open up their gardens for ‘a shilling a head’. In the first year, 609 gardens raised more than £8,000.

Since its foundation, the scheme has donated over £45million to its beneficiary charities, of which nearly £23million has been donated within the last 10 years.

Its commitment to nursing and caring remains constant and the charity continues to grow and blossom. Last year, almost 4,000 gardens in England and Wales opened for the NGS.

Ingram House, Ingram

Ingram House, Ingram

In 2015, the NGS donated £2.637million to the charities it supports and this year that figure is set to shoot beyond £2.7million, the main beneficiaries being Marie Curie, Macmillan, Hospice UK and the Carers Trust.

The NGS is the biggest single donor to these four charities, having given more than £15million to Macmillan and almost £7.5million to Marie Curie.

The 2015 donations to Hospice UK and Perennial (The Gardeners Benevolent Society) were the largest in the history of those charities.

The scheme’s county organiser for Northumberland and Tyne & Wear, Maureen Kesteven, explained how these impressive figures were achieved: “By owners of interesting, well-maintained gardens being willing to open them to the public. By help from their friends and family in providing home-made afternoon teas and refreshments. By owners growing plants for sale to garden visitors. By a small volunteer county team co-ordinating the openings.

Fallodon Hall, Alnwick

Fallodon Hall, Alnwick

“But most importantly, by the general public going along to garden openings, buying plants, having tea and enjoying a day out in a beautiful garden.”

For many years, garden owners in Northumberland have contributed to the scheme and beautiful gardens throughout the county have opened to the public. This year, there will be 20 NGS garden open days in Northumberland, most of them private gardens, but including two gardens that normally open to the public, Mindrum and Whalton Manor, and two National Trust gardens.

Maureen said: “Northumberland is a county rich in history with sturdy castles, stunning coastline and a wild landscape threaded with sheltered valleys. Gardeners have learnt how to make the most of the land; terracing hillsides, enhancing the soil and often using the wonderful architecture as a backdrop, such as at Bichfield Tower, near Belsay, and Lilburn Tower, near Wooler.

“Garden owners have managed to create gardens whatever the conditions.”

Stanton Fence, Stanton, near Netherwitton and Morpeth

Stanton Fence, Stanton, near Netherwitton and Morpeth

At Coldcotes Moor Farm, at Ponteland, the solution has been to calm an exposed position by mass plantings of trees as a wind break; while a steeply sloping site has been terraced and provides a channel for gently flowing water at The Beacon at Stocksfield.

An eclectic range of gardens open for the NGS and reflect the style and character of their owners. Some have added attractions – such as a play area for children or stalls selling local produce.

Many more have historic features, such as Fallodon Hall, near Alnwick, with the grave of Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the First World War, who lived at the hall, and Lilburn Tower, near Wooler, with the ruins of a pele tower and a 13th century church.

The entry fee for adults for most gardens is £4/£5, with free entry for children under 16 years.

For those wishing to visit a garden, for full details of each of the gardens, visit the website http://www.ngs.org.uk/gardens/county-pages/visit-north-east-gardens.aspx or pick up a copy of the NGS North East booklet at tourist information centres, libraries, cafés and garden centres.

All gardens offer home-made afternoon teas and most have plant sales.

Longwitton Hall, Longwitton, near Morpeth

Longwitton Hall, Longwitton, near Morpeth

If anyone has an interesting, well-maintained garden, regardless of size, and wants to help the many good causes supported by the NGS, they should contact Maureen on 0191 4135937 or email maureen@patrickkesteven.plus.com

CALENDAR OF OPENING DAYS THIS SUMMER

May

Sunday 8: Wallington

Sunday 22: Blagdon

Sunday 29: Lilburn Tower

June

Sunday 12: Ingram House, Ingram

Friday 17: Wallington (evening)

Sunday 19: Mindrum Garden

Saturday 25: Fallodon Hall, Alnwick

Sunday 26: Stanton Fence

July

Sunday 3: Longwitton Hall; Whalton Manor Gardens

Sunday 10: Bichfield Tower; Wallington

Saturday 16: Cragside

Sunday 17: Adderstone House, Belford; The Beacon, Stocksfield

Sunday 24: Loughbrow House, Hexham

September

Sunday 25: Halls of Heddon, Heddon-on-the-Wall

Gardens open to the public

Capability Brown’s Kirkharle Lake Courtyard; Cragside, Rothbury; Halls of Heddon, Heddon-on-the-Wall; Mindrum Garden, near Coldstream; Wallington; Whalton Manor Gardens

By arrangement only

Coldcotes Moor Farm, Ponteland; Skara Brae, Stocksfield

Also open by arrangement

The Beacon, Stocksfield; Lilburn Tower, near Wooler; Loughbrow House, Hexham

Here are some of the private gardens in Northumberland that are taking part in the National Gardens Scheme this summer:

BLAGDON

Blagdon is the home of Viscount Ridley, who opens the unique 27-acre garden to the public for charity several times a year. This year, it opens for the NGS on May 22, from 1pm to 4.30pm. NGS volunteers will provide home-made teas and there will be stalls and trailer rides around the estate. The large grounds are ideal for a woodland walk, a wander along the stream admiring the abundance of wild garlic in flower, looking at the unusual plants in the Quarry Garden or admiring the Lutyens-designed features. At the front of the hall is a new border designed and planted by Northumberland garden designer Natasha McEwen.

LILBURN TOWER

This private garden of 10 acres has been developed by Sarah Davidson over more than 30 years and shows a good understanding of the landscape and climate of north Northumberland. It is set above the river, with awe-inspiring views of the beautiful Northumberland countryside. It offers so many different aspects – a large formal walled garden, huge glasshouses with exotic plants, a working kitchen garden and orchard, producing fresh fruit and vegetables, a meadow and a woodland area with a wide variety of shade and moisture-loving plants. There are 30 acres of woodland walks and historic church and pele tower ruins in the grounds. The garden is open on May 29, from 2pm to 6pm, and also for visits by arrangement from April to October for groups of six or more.

INGRAM HOUSE

A traditional 18th century farmhouse in the stunning Breamish Valley in the Northumberland National Park. Set in an idyllic spot beside the river, the two-acre garden was completely overgrown when Adrian and Jane Levien moved into the house. After carrying out building work, they tackled the garden and say this has been the greatest challenge. They have informally landscaped it to create a tranquil, sheltered spot with a walled garden and other sections that take advantage of the site, with large flower borders, an orchard and kitchen garden, a pond and a stream. There is a summerhouse and seats dotted about, so one can sit and appreciate the display. The garden is open on June 12, 1.30pm to 5pm.

FALLODON HALL

Fallodon is a garden with history. The hall was the home of Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of WW1, who was also a lover of wildlife and the countryside. This garden of more than 10 acres has a woodland, lake and arboretum to explore, as well as a late 17th century walled garden containing a cutting and vegetable garden and greenhouse within it. A 19th century sunken garden was restored a few years ago. Fallodon Hall garden was one of the original gardens that opened in 1927, when the NGS was established. It is now home to the Bridgeman family, who generously continue the tradition and open the garden each year for charity. This year, it opens for the NGS on June 25, from 2pm to 5pm.

STANTON FENCE

Stanton Fence, home of Sir David and Lady Kelly, opens its garden for the NGS for the first time this year, on June 26, from noon to 5pm. This three-acre garden, between Stanton and Netherwitton, is set within the gentle rural landscape. It was designed by Chelsea gold medal winner, Arabella Lennox-Boyd. Robert Iley, who built the garden to Lennox-Boyd’s design, and also the current gardener who maintains it, will both be available for questions, so providing a unique opportunity for visitors to learn more about the garden. Although split into different areas, or what designers now call ‘rooms’, there is a cohesion that gives a natural transition from one part to another – from the formal parterre and courtyard garden to the orchard, wildflower meadows and woodland. There are rose-covered arbours and a clematis-draped pergola walk which give colour and style.

LONGWITTON HALL

The gardens at historic Longwitton Hall, near Morpeth, are being opened to the public by Michael and Louise Spriggs for the first time. The six-acre garden is protected from the wind by trees and rhododendrons strategically planted and strong hedges. This has allowed creation of a sheltered, mature garden, with many lovely scented roses and fine acers, an azalea glade and rhododendron walk, plus glorious views to the south. In addition, there is much work in progress, with the main border having been replanted in 2015, new borders being developed and a laburnum tunnel planted. It opens on July 3, from noon to 4pm.

BICHFIELD TOWER

Bichfield Tower, near Belsay, opened to the public for the first time last year. It is a six-acre garden in its second year of major renovation, split into two walled gardens, an open area with an impressive stone rill and modern fountain, from which there are fabulous views to the south, and a lovely woodland. There is also a glasshouse, a cutting and vegetable garden and extensive lawns, sitting around a medieval pele tower. The owners, Lesley and Stewart Manners, are enthusiastic about transforming the garden and welcome visitors to see the progress they are making in creating a lovely garden. Bichfield Tower opens on Sunday, July 10, from 1pm to 4pm, and, as well as teas and plants for sale, there will be some local businesses with pop-up shops.

COLDCOTES MOOR FARM

Spread over 15 acres, this garden north of Ponteland, has landscaped grounds which contrast the formal with the informal. The informal is a woodland, which makes a lovely place for a stroll to lead down to a large grassed area, surrounded by ornamentals, shrubs and trees, with a huge lake as the centrepiece. The formal is a courtyard garden leading to an ornamental walled garden with vegetable beds, an orchard, flower garden and rose beds. There is also a play area for children. This garden is only open by arrangement to groups of 10+ in the week of July 11 this year because new work is being undertaken.

ADDERSTONE HOUSE

The garden, near Belford, is opening to the public for the first time. John and Pauline Clough are developing a garden within the 10½-acres of what was, until a few years ago, agricultural land. They are conscious that the garden is in its very early stages and the transformation from farmland to garden is a big undertaking, but they have created a vineyard (and grape juice will be for sale), a rose walk and a small, walled garden with mature shrubs and herbaceous perennials. There is a mill pond and an orchard. The garden is geared to sustainability and wildlife. A sunken garden is a new project, being developed with Sean Murray, the RHS Chelsea Challenge winner. It has a children’s house in which to play and children are welcomed in the garden, which opens on July 17, from 1pm to 5pm.

Bichfield Tower, Belsay

Bichfield Tower, Belsay

Coldcotes Moor Farm, Ponteland

Coldcotes Moor Farm, Ponteland

Adderstone House, Adderstone Mains, Belford

Adderstone House, Adderstone Mains, Belford