See also Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Garden is the inspiration of the present Duchess of Northumberland whose goal for the garden was one of contemplation, inspiration, education, and fun. The 20th century Alnwick Garden was officially opened in October 2002 by its patron the Prince of Wales, when the first phase of its development was completed. The garden is a charity “committed to changing the cultural landscape.” It stands for “contemporary gardening excellence and provides benefits to people through play, learning, the arts, and healthy activity”.
The garden is by no means the first in this location; that honour goes to the 1st duke of Northumberland who chose ‘Capability’ Brown in 1750 to landscape the castle parkland. Over the next 100 years the gardens continued to be developed. The 3rd duke collected plants from around the world and built a conservatory while his wife put in flower beds. In the 1850s the 4th duke revamped the gardens in the Italian Renaissance style, and, by the end of the century, topiary yew hedges, grape houses, pine houses, a double avenue of limes, acres of flowers and a conservatory were added.
16th century Venetian wrought iron gates, installed in the 1850s, now hang at the main garden entrance and the ornamental garden entrance. During the 20th century the garden fell into disrepair, and it wasn’t until 1996 that today’s garden project came into focus.
The garden as it stands today was created by Belgian designers Jacques Wirtz and his son Peter (Wirtz Landscape Architecture) and Sir Michael Hopkins (Michael Hopkins and Partners). It features water displays and special gardens. Sections include a rose garden, an ornamental garden, a poison garden (dangerous plants and their stories), a serpent garden (yew and water sculptures, among them one nestling in the coils of a topiary serpent), and a bamboo labyrinth. Other sections of the garden are the woodland walk, and the pavilion garden.
A 6000 square feet treehouse, of turret topped cottages linked by suspended walkways is accessed via a ramp, rope bridges and walkways. It is built of Canadian cedar, Scandinavian redwood and English and Scots pine. In the treehouse are resource rooms with technology for learning.
The grand cascade, constructed of Northumberland Darney stone, is the entire garden’s centerpiece. 7260 gallons of water flow per minute down the 21 weirs. A quarter of a million gallons of water are stored underground and filtered and recycled, then re-circulated. During the day the water displays change sequence four times, providing new interest every 30 minutes. 149,000 paving stones were used around the grand cascade and its pergolas. Underneath the grand cascade are the remains of tunnels that once sent hot air to the early greenhouses. Two earth banks on the sides of the cascade were part of the 1850s garden. 850 hornbeam imported from Holland frame pathways on either side of the grand cascade.
The ornamental garden, at the top of the cascade hill, is a walled garden planted with 16,500 plants chosen for their colours and perfume. Annuals, bulbs, cut flower species, small fruits, collections of hydrangea, and rose beds edged with boxwood enhance the garden. An herbaceous border is planted with tree peonies, shrubs, and ornamental trees. At the garden’s center is a pool from which a series of rills flow. Pleached crab apples create blossom ‘rooms’. Rose-covered arbours enhance the corners of the walled garden. Two secret gardens are enclosed by yews, one with a red theme and one with a yellow colour scheme. The gates at the entrance are from Venice and are 500 years old.
More roses are found in the rose garden with its pergola lined walkways, 3000 rose bushes, and climbers that include David Austin roses. He launched a new English pink rose at the 2001 Chelsea flower show, the Alnwick rose. The cup shaped buds open into deeply cupped flowers that becomes broad and full-petalled. Best of all it has an old rose fragrance.
The woodland walk, lined with mature trees, leads to the river Aln. It is replete with spring flowers and wild garlic. The serpent garden is home to a holly topiary serpent with eight water sculptures entwined in it. Designed by William Pye, the each show a different characteristic of water and how it moves. The sculptures are coanda, meniscus, vortex, reflectin, canyon, torricelli, starburst, and waterglass.
The poison garden contains dangerous plants. Here you can learn about ancient plant lore and plant dangers from trained garden wardens. Some of the plants are behind bars as they are very dangerous. The bamboo labyrinth, in a windy area, is planted with a new Chinese variety of bamboo, ‘Fargesia’ rufa. It was designed by Adrian Fisher, a leading maze maker.
The garden for the senses (set in raised beds and designed to be smelled and touched). The spiral garden, the quiet garden (with a large shallow pool), the cherry orchard (300 specimen trees) and grotto are extra attractions. Events and activities take place in the garden and grounds regularly and include theatre, performances, workshops, live music, and special art events.
The pavilion and visitor centre in the garden were designed by Sir Michael Hopkins, an internationally famous architect. He used the concept of merging the outdoor and indoor spaces in the design. Steel and timber columns and a timber barrel-vaulted roof are the main features of the transparent centre. A courtyard and terraces lead into the garden landscape. In the building are a shop, resource rooms, information centre, eating spaces, and relaxing spots.
The gardens are located in the grounds of Alnwick Castle, the second largest inhabited castle in England. It has served as the home of the Percys, Earls and Dukes of Northumberland since 1309. The earliest mention of Alnwick Castle in the history books appears soon after 1096.
Just off the A1
Tel. 01665 511 350
Open: April-end Oct, daily, 10am-6pm, Nov-first week Jan, 11am-5pm; shop; restaurant—check website for details
Web: Alnwick Garden
Parking; shop; self-serve restaurant; also Treehouse restaurant open 11.30am-3pm for lunch and also for afternoon tea; dinner on Thu, Fri, Sat from 6pm (booking advised at 01665 511 852)
Article and photos © by Barbara Ballard
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