Above my desk at work is a postcard sent by a friend of Alnwick Castle Gardens. It’s been there for a few years, and I’d wanted to go even before receiving it. So often at work I’ve taken a moment out of the various voices and demands in the office behind me, and in my inbox in front of me, to gaze at the peace of the scene in that card. My wish to visit finally came true during our week in Northumberland. The photos below are from two visits (the ticket allows you to come back for a year). The first time I went it was very rainy, and my second visit was one of the two sunny intervals we had all week.
The gardens were revamped ten years ago by the Duchess of Northumberland (who lives in the castle with the Duke) at great cost. The main feature of the gardens is The Grand Cascade, which comes to life with different displays every half-hour. It struck me as a kind of modern Renaissance garden, in the manner of the Villa d’Este:
One of the lower pools of the Grand Cascade, from the side:
There are many paths to take to up along the side of the Grand Cascade, giving different viewpoints back down, or across. At the top of the Grand Cascade is the Ornamental Garden.
The day I visited this part of the garden it was absolutely sodden, but the delphiniums didn’t seem to mind at all:
These are not flowers I have ever succeeded in growing in my own garden, and I really do think the colours are sublime:
I always think of A.A. Milne’s poem “The Dormouse and the Doctor”: “How lovely,” he thought, “to be back in a bed / Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)”.
I was very interested to see that part of the planting incorporated soft fruits. Below is a photo of blueberries planted amongst roses.
There were also beds of raspberries flanked by flowers at the edge. The trained fruit trees (apple?) are very formal but must be extremely beautiful when in blossom. And I had to say that the “doocot” looked too picturesque to be true, with its white doves posing:
Behind the doves you can see one of the many rose-covered bowers in the gardens. And here is a bower leading you back down the side of the Grand Cascade:
You won’t be surprised to hear that my favourite part of the garden was the Rose Garden:
It is full of English roses, many of them bred by David Austin. On the rainy day they were beautiful and on the sunny day they were breathtaking. The scents of the English roses are marvellous.
I have a bush of L.D. Braithwaite (named after David Austin’s father-in-law) in my own garden, though it isn’t so prolific as the one above. I also have “The Alnwick Rose,” another one by David Austin. It graces us with many beautiful blooms. On my visit to the garden a wren serenaded me. Can you see her perched amongst the thorns in the photo below?
One of the interesting features of Alnwick Castle Gardens is the Poison Garden. Here is the entrance, with its wee hut. I don’t know if the person guarding the gate makes potions over the fire in the hut, or just pots of tea to keep warm. Visitors have to wait to be taken inside in groups. The gate gives stark warnings: “These plants can kill” written above and below the skull and crossbones.
I didn’t go in but here is a sneaky peek over a hedge into the Poison Garden. You can see the opium poppy, and I wondered if they have a laburnum in there as well?
One of my favourite parts of the garden was the cafe! I had one of their poison-garden-inspired cupcakes, and can report it was delicious with no ill effects:
I was very amused by the bunting made by schoolchildren to celebrate the Silver Jubilee. I wonder if Derrick has ever seen or eaten Spam?
The tea and cakes were very good, I had a table to myself to knit and think (heaven!), and best of all a view of the Grand Cascade:
Ladies, if you do ever find yourself in the cafe of Alnwick Castle Gardens, I advise you to visit the wonderful loos downstairs, which boast glass sinks that change colours (via lights behind them). It’s the most mesmerising sight! I presume the men’s have them as well, but can’t guarantee it. Maybe in a few years such things will be common, but I’d never seen them before.
Last of all, I must show you another famous feature of the garden, which is the Treehouse. The Duchess of Northumberland wanted to build one of the biggest treehouses ever, and so she did. The photo only shows part of the treehouse, as the trees are in leaf. If you look at the supports below you’ll have some idea of how large it is:
(I hear that J.K. Rowling is now building treehouses as well, although not on this scale.) I didn’t go inside, and although it’s wheelchair accessible, the Dafter didn’t have the energy so we settled for taking a drive past so she could see. There’s a restaurant inside – booking advised! So there are more things to do and see Next Time. The garden has a website, in case you’re interested to find out more.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this wee travelogue. Apologies to anyone who is tired of hearing about Alnwick – I will put one final post up, about the castle, and then it will be back to Life in Aberdeen. I’m very pleased to be revisiting our holiday in my blog-life, as for the last week our house has been chaotic with work being done on the kitchen. However, it’s going to be worth the upheaval. I wish you all a happy week ahead!