Stars come out to share our delights

Alys Fowler
Alys Fowler

AN increasing number of high-profile gardening ‘names’ are visiting Northumberland and this can only be good for the local economy, let alone our standing in the horticultural world. They see what we have to offer, broadcast it through the media and more visitors come.

In recent years Alan Titchmarsh, Roy Lancaster and Rachel de Thame have visited north Northumberland, but who knows how many others have arrived unannounced and enjoyed our local offerings. Christine Walkden pops up on national television occasionally, and although she lives 200 miles away, is no stranger to The Alnwick Garden.

Quite recently, the iconic Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time team arrived to record two programmes. Apart from Christine, it brought Eric Robson, Bunny Guinness and Chris Beardshaw. Then just a week or so ago, I had the pleasure of taking Chris Young around the same Alnwick Garden venue. He is editor of The Garden, an influential monthly magazine sent to all members of the Royal Horticultural Society.

On holiday in north Northumberland with his family, and using Craster as a base, he was enthralled by the coastline and castles, loved Dunstanburgh and had also enjoyed a visit to Howick Hall Gardens and the Earl Grey Tearoom.

What a pleasure it was to take a tour around Alnwick Garden with no strict time schedule, only a Treehouse evening meal booking for the group, two hours hence. There were two eager youngsters included and didn’t they enjoy getting lost in Adrian Fisher’s Bamboo Labyrinhth, before emerging from William Pye’s Serpent Garden remarkably dry. How noticeable too that the excitement shown in these two features was replaced by an attentive calm as we examined the Poison Garden, then returned with a vengeance as they negotiated the rope suspension bridges that cross a deep gorge near the Treehouse.

There is an element of apprehension in showing anyone around a garden when spring has not yet fully asserted its influence, but true gardeners can see beyond the seasonal effect and lack of blousy blooms. The main structure, emerging plants and promise are what catch the eye. Chris Young loved the space and form of The Ornamental Garden, enthused over a spectacle to come in The Cherry Orchard and confirmed his overall liking of a place being visited for the first time. Alnwick and Howick are mentioned occasionally in the RHS magazine so let’s hope the present editor’s first hand experience of both has a positive result.

Next horticulturalist of note to visit The Alnwick Garden will be Alys Fowler. This name should be familiar to those who regularly follow the BBC Gardeners’ World programme. On Friday evenings in last year’s series she appeared on screen as a presenter. Alys is visiting the area as part of a partnership with Hexham Book Festival which runs between May 4 and 12. Her talk, How to Have Your Garden and Eat It, will attempt to prove that growing and cooking fruit is not as difficult as imagined. It takes place on Thursday, April 28, at 7pm.

She has transformed her garden into a place where lettuces grow alongside sunflowers and peas climb up roses, proving that vegetables and flowers can live happily together.

Tickets for this event are £8 (includes a glass of wine) and are available by calling The Alnwick Garden on 01665 511350 (option 4).

Beyond that, there is also the exciting prospect of an RHS-sponsored talk on Sunday, May 8, by Adrian Bloom, a real plantsman of the old school. The phrase gardening expert, which is so loosely used these days, could be applied to him if it related to a knowledge of conifers, heathers and herbaceous perennials.

His beautifully illustrated, Conifers for Your Garden, published four decades ago, is still a must-buy for enthusiasts. At his Bressingham Garden, near Diss in Norfolk, he developed them in conjunction with heathers as part of the famous Dell Garden. The latter being the work of his father, the late Alan Bloom, another great plantsman, who I recall, wore a single earring long before they became a fashion statement. I think the tickets are a snip at £7 to be in his company for an hour.