The majority opted for a trip to Wynyard Hall Gardens, a mere 1.5-hour coach trip from Alnwick, and a good time was had by all.
This is a garden with almost 200 years of history.
Developed during Lord Londonderry’s ownership of the hall from 1822, it was a visitor attraction and productive unit, contributing ornamental, vegetable and fruit crops towards a sustainable estate. But in keeping with many such enterprises, decline came as war approached.
Fast forward to the present owner, Sir John Hall’s occupancy, and a most remarkable transformation has been achieved in such a short time.
It’s difficult to believe that the press open day, which revealed a recently-planted, two-acre walled garden, was just three years ago. Back then, the sloping site, hard landscaping and supporting structures caught the eye, but the potential was clear.
Now, we have a rapidly maturing garden with fountains, terracing, walkways and a gorgeous blend of roses and herbaceous perennials. Great credit to designer Alistair Baldwin, David Austin’s rosarian Michael Marriott, and the small, in-house gardening team for this brilliant transformation.
The nearby Marquee Garden offers a perfect foil of perennial borders and ornamental trees, copper beech hedges and distant views.
In the season after official opening, the Edible Garden and Victorian-type Glasshouse followed. These additions have clearly enhanced the visitor experience and were first point of reference on our arrival.
Warmly welcomed and ushered into the large Victorian-style greenhouse, which doubles for refreshments and retail, we were served elevenses at beautifully set tables, looking out over a series of raised beds planted with vegetables and fruits.
We later met Mark Birtle, head gardener, for a one-hour tour, prior to lunch in the Farm Shop Café. Such occasions are only enjoyable if the guide is knowledgeable, relaxed, and has a sense of humour. He is all three.
Mark and his assistant do occasional demonstrations, pruning, etc, by arrangement, and excess vegetables are used in the restaurant.
A healthy bed of the root vegetable salsify, with its globular seed heads, caught the eye, as did a row of runner beans struggling to regenerate growth, the result of hares jumping over a barrier and nibbling plants at the base, Mark confirmed.