Last week an opportunity presented itself to visit one of those gardens that has sat on my must-see garden bucket list for a very long time. Historically speaking, it is an important garden for being planted many moons ago by none other than renowned planting designer Gertrude Jekyll. However, it’s not the garden alone that made this visit special but the location in which it was born. I shall explain…
This relatively compact walled garden accompanies a castle on the tidal island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland. Lindisfarne Castle began life as a fort which was established around 1550. Over three centuries later the fort became the property of Country Life magazine owner Edward Hudson, who by 1901 had enlisted the help of Edwin Lutyens to remodel the castle, and Gertrude Jekyll to design the garden. It would also be remiss of me if I didn’t mention that Lindisfarne is also referred to as Holy Island; not an insignificant fact but a whole other story!
The garden, restored recently by the National Trust, appears to be very simple in plan and content. However, once you start to enquire, there’s much more to this ‘simple’ garden than first meets the eye. Jekyll’s planting plan although hard to decipher, still exists, showing that her creative mind was working hard in response to the architectural detailing of Lutyens.
I visited on the most exquisite of February days and sat for a while on the classic Lutyens styled bench shown below. The vista beyond the lowered, south facing wall was the castle itself, almost completely covered in artistically formed scaffolding and silhouetted by the midday sun. The castle itself is almost at the end of a lengthy restoration programme, and will re-open in April I believe.
The other stone garden walls around me were not the tallest of their kind but solid, firmly rooted, and providing a very essential wind break. At my feet stretched a network of crazy paved, natural stone footpaths that effectively contained a selection of planting borders – presently enjoying their winter hibernation.
Aside from four walls, a network of formalised stone paths, four obelisks and a bench, the only luxury was a lean-to garden shed, tucked into a shady northwest facing corner. I guess the shed, essential for tool storage and sheltering gardeners, was the only nod towards practicality, but for the compost area outside of the plot.
Interpretation on site explains how Jekyll’s selection of plants was every bit as skilful as Lutyens’s use of architecture. Whilst his paths utilised distant vanishing points so as to make the garden appear larger from the castle; Jekyll’s plant heights and colour were selected not only to accentuate the sense of perspective from the castle, but also to frame the castle when viewed from a bench before the south facing wall. An artful collaboration, as always.
As I sit and reflect on my visit, I can see that as beautiful as this garden oasis is, it is obviously a constant battle between the will of the gardener, and the coastal weather of northeast England. Gertrude would have known this instinctively, but a conscious decision not to establish a shelter belt of trees was clearly made, favouring the castle view towards a lone, squat walled garden that nestled amongst the sand dunes.
Whilst I soaked up the sun on that chilly day, I was considering all the evident benefits of working that plot. Potentially more important however, was the significant geographic and climatic challenges that any gardener there faced. If I’m honest, despite the isolation, it all made the garden much more of an attractive proposition!
Challenging – certainly; Beautiful – definitely; Sensible – probably not. But would I recommend a visit? It is the most unlikely of places to find a garden of this quality, but it works. I loved it for its elegance in a hostile environment, it’s apparent simplicity, and I most certainly would recommend a visit.
However, I find that I can only give it half a tick on my bucket list, as I need to return at least once more in summer (hopefully more) to see the garden in its full floral glory!
For more info and visiting details check out the National Trust website for the Gertrude Jekyll Garden.
This post utilises Information found at the garden, some of which may be copyright protected. Please do not use without prior permission.