Garden Visit: Gresgarth Hall

Herbaceous border looking towards the Pele Tower

While we were on holiday in the Lake District in September, I discovered purely by chance that one of my favourite garden designers was opening her garden to the public, a rare opportunity that couldn’t possibly be missed! So we hung up our walking boots for the day and headed off to Gresgarth Hall in Lancashire, the home of Arabella Lennox-Boyd. As a student at the English Gardening School, I was very much influenced by her individual style and as a lecturer I still make reference to her excellent use of design principles and show her work as a source of inspiration.

We approached Gresgarth Hall along a tree-lined avenue that led to a Pele Tower and formal courtyard. The main part of the house and garden were hidden from view by high yew hedges, which also acted an effective backdrop to the deliciously deep herbaceous borders. With its gothic characteristics and distinctive tall windows the main house appeared imposing, yet beautiful. This and the lake, which stretched to the front of the main house, made a strong architectural statement and set the scene.

The main house with Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ that emphasise the tall windows.

From the lake we walked over a Japanese style bridge into the Spring garden, that had been planted with different varieties of Rhododendron, Prunus and Malus and then we followed the river through the arboretum. Throughout the garden there were mature specimen trees that had been inherited from the previous owner some thirty years ago.

Stone water feature surrounded by silver birch trees in the Woodland Walk

After a good stroll it was time for a refreshing cup of tea and homemade lemon drizzle cake in the cobbled courtyard, while we talked about what we had seen and pondered over where to go next.

I was looking forward to visiting the walled kitchen garden and although it was nearing the end of the growing season, it certainly lived up to my expectations. This was ornamental and productive working hand in hand, with espalier apple trees and pears that were trained on a ‘goblet shaped’ framework, which I hadn’t come across before.

Ornamental stone bench in the walled kitchen garden.

Different varieties of pumpkin, gourds and squash were laid out on straw to ripen, while Dahlias and other cut flowers added vibrant colour.

Eventually we left the delights of the kitchen garden, through one of the bespoke wooden gates and walked on to the herbaceous borders, which were brilliantly executed and I thought, designed with the passion of a true plants woman.

Planting principles were evident, such as layering to emphasise depth, repetition of shape and form and a bold use of hot and cool colours. In the late summer borders we found large swathes of perennials such as Sedum, Aster, Euphatorium, Helenium and of course, grasses. At the end of the double borders graceful clumps of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ with its silvery, fountain effect, created an interesting and unusual focal point.

Helenium ‘Morheim Beauty’ and Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’ in the Hot Border

The structure and formality in this garden comes from the hedges, trees, individually designed gates, benches and paths detailed with elaborate mosaics, which were apparently put together using stones from the riverbed.

Mosaics were made by Maggy Howarth

All of these elements create cohesion and link the different ‘rooms’, however there is a constant awareness that the house and lake are never far away. Without a doubt this is a garden that must be visited on more than one occasion in order to fully appreciate the seasonal differences – I would love to go back there in the Spring.

So as we neared the end of our visit the icing on the ‘lemon drizzle cake’ was to roam around the plant stalls, take in the wonderful atmosphere and contemplate putting our well rested walking boots back on!

A glimpse of the lake … a quintessentially English scene!

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