Twenty-five years of giving TLC to garden

Scaffolding being installed on the east wing of the Orchard House in Cragside's Formal Garden. Picture by Louise Thain
Scaffolding being installed on the east wing of the Orchard House in Cragside's Formal Garden. Picture by Louise Thain

A stunning landscape which was totally transformed to showcase a magnificent example of a Victorian garden has reached a special milestone.

Last month marked the 25th anniversary of the National Trust officially opening the Formal Garden at Cragside to visitors, after its acquisition in September 1991.

The Italian Terrace with the loggia and Orchard House in the background. Picture by Simon Fraser

The Italian Terrace with the loggia and Orchard House in the background. Picture by Simon Fraser

Over that time, it has been looked after by a team of expert gardeners who have worked to keep it looking as special now as it did in the 19th century, in the time of Cragside’s creator Lord Armstrong.

Senior gardener Dale Stevens said: “When the National Trust first took over the Formal Garden, there were no flowers or borders, just lawns.

“The buildings were in a sorry state; the Clock Tower mechanism rusted, the Orchard House being held up by temporary steel supports, and the loggia in need of repair.

“We started restoring the garden by digging up new borders and planting bulbs to recreate how the garden would have looked in Lord and Lady Armstrong’s time, specifically the 1880s. We also installed wooden frameworks where the original Italian Terrace would have stood.”

There is little recorded history of the Formal Garden, so the design was thought up after talks between Andrew Sawyer, Cragside’s head gardener in the 1990s, and Ken Davison, also a former head gardener, whose father worked in the garden during the 2nd Lord Armstrong’s residence.

In addition, they also referenced an article in The Gardener’s Chronicle, dated September 11, 1880. The article stated there were ‘exquisite borders of shrubs and flowers’ and it also named specific ferns and flowers that were planted in the Formal Garden.

One of the first restoration projects after the acquisition of the garden was the Clock Tower mechanism. It was removed from the damp Clock Tower and taken to be fixed in Somerset.

The mechanism was rusted but salvageable, so only one cog had to be replaced.

The clock faces were then stripped and repainted a similar colour to the original shade of blue. The fixed mechanism currently sits under cover in the house, waiting to be reinstalled once the Clock Tower building has been restored.

Twenty-five years ago, the Orchard House was dismantled so the old structure could be replaced with new woodwork and the windows were reglazed.

Now, after another 25 years of functioning as a greenhouse, the damp wood needs to be replaced.

Scaffolding has been installed so joiners and painters can access all areas of the Orchard House. The restoration process begins with joiners cutting out and replacing old rotted wood with specially-treated accoya wood.

After all the old wood has been replaced, the Orchard House will be repainted with microporous paint. This project will take around 10 to 12 weeks to complete.

Repainting and repairing the Orchard House is just one of the building conservation projects that the team is carrying out.

To find out more about the work of Cragside’s gardening team, join a gardener Q&A session every Thursday at 11am and 2pm in the Formal Garden until Thursday, May 25, or join a garden walk every Tuesday and Wednesday at noon to learn more about the history of the garden.

Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside or call 01669 620333.