Posted by: christinelaennec | August 6, 2012

Alnwick Castle Gardens

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:

The Grand Cascade, Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

One of the lower pools of the Grand Cascade, from the side:

The Grand Cascade in action, from the side. Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

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.

Alnwick Castle Gardens, entrance to the Ornamental Garden. July 2012.

The day I visited this part of the garden it was absolutely sodden, but the delphiniums didn’t seem to mind at all:

Delphiniums in the Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

These are not flowers I have ever succeeded in growing in my own garden, and I really do think the colours are sublime:

More delphiniums, Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

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.

Roses and blueberries in the Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

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:

“Doocot,” Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

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:

Walking through one of the bowers leading down from the Ornamental Garden, alongside the Grand Cascade. Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

You won’t be surprised to hear that my favourite part of the garden was the Rose Garden:

In the Rose Garden, Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

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.

L.D. Braithwaite roses, Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

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?

A wren singing to me in the rose bower. Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

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.

The entrance to the Poison Garden, Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

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?

Peeping over the hedge into the Poison Garden, Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

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:

Poison (not really) Garden Cupcakes in the tea shop, Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

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?

Nostalgic Silver Jubilee bunting made by children, Alnwick Castle Gardens cafe, July 2012.

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:

The Grand Cascade, seen from the tea room, Alnwick Castle Gardens. July 2012.

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:

The treehouse, Alnwick Castle Gardens, July 2012.

(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!



  1. Wonderful garden..

  2. One place I have wanted to visit since the Duchess created it. Beautiful photographs and excellent description. Thank you Christine.

  3. Please don’t stop blogging about Northumberland! This post has decided me, I absolutely must go to Alnwick this year. That garden is utterly stunning, and the cafe and loos sounds marvellous. The poison area looked very Harry Potter to me, and I would love to see that treehouse. You had already whetted my appetite, but now I have to act on it. Thank you for such a wonderful, inspiring and exciting post – Alnwick here I come! 🙂

  4. I’m new to your blog but I’m enjoying reading about Northumberland. Thanks for sharing!

  5. What a beautiful place, I really enjoyed the virtual tour, thank you! 🙂

  6. It looks like a wonderful place! Hubby and I would spend many a happy hour there, I think! I hope the kitchen work isn’t too stressful! And yes, it will be worth it in the end! 🙂 xxx

  7. absolutely fantastic! thanks for another great post about Alnwick. I think it would be a lovely trip. I love the rich color of blues in the flowers and my favorite has to be the bower. how wonderful it would be to walk under there. all the best with your kitchen work.

  8. Thank you for this tour of the beautiful gardens in your lovely Scotland! Every part of the garden was interesting, but I am with you and love the rose garden the best, although those delphiniums have to hold a close runner up. I see the little wren that sang to you, and the poison garden really interests me, as I love learning about medicinal herbs and potions. Your cupcakes looked too good to eat, but I suppose after the first bite you must go on… good to have a photo to remember them by. I do hope you get a chance to go back and maybe eat lunch in the treehouse! xx

  9. Please don’t ever think that we get tired of hearing about your travels!
    I, for one, love reading about where you go and seeing the wonderful
    photos. I know it’s doubtful that I will get to travel there as I live in the U.S.
    — how I would love to!

  10. I echo Denise! You’ve no idea how much I love these virtual field trips!

  11. just catching up and I loved the glimpses that you took into this garden. I am adding it to one of the places I’d like to travel to….the entire place looks wonderful. I’m glad you and your daughter were able to visit it…now you have wonderful pictures to look at when the weather (and life) get dreary!

  12. I don’t think I’d ever tire of your tours around Alnwick….breathtaking impressions from your photos….the bower, the tree house, the water gardens….gorgeous place.

  13. We just love the treehouse at Alnwick … glad that you’re having such a wonderful time and loving your posts Cx

  14. What an amazing garden. It must have cost a small fortune to build, but the ongoing maintenance costs would be huge! I’m not well traveled, but I’d be surprised if there’s anything even approaching a fraction of this scale in private hands in Australia. People with huge amounts of money at their disposal don’t seem to spend it on gardens.

    I wonder if the Duchess, like you, spends time sitting thinking and knitting as she looks out over the garden? I would have loved to have been sitting there when you were in the tea room and ask “A penny for your thoughts?”

  15. Dear everyone,

    I’m so pleased you’re enjoying the Northumberland chapters of my blog! It really is a lovely part of the world. There are lots of reasons to go back – lunch in the treehouse is definitely on the list.

    In real life, the work and upheaval of the kitchen is extremely tiring, but it will be worth it. It won’t really look all that different once it’s finished, but *we* will know the difference! Thanks for your good wishes with that.

    oldblack, I do hope the Duchess gets to sit and think and knit while enjoying her beautiful garden. It’s interesting what you say about Australian gardens. There was a television series that the BBC made a few years ago, called “Around the World in 40 Gardens,” and it did feature private and public gardens in Australia and New Zealand. (Details can be found on Wikipedia, The Botanical Gardens in Sydney are beautiful!

  16. Wow, what a quaint place. And that tree house! The delphiniums are stunning, they look like fireworks!

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