Garden Journal 22.8.20

Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens

Beautiful Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens viewed from across the field
Beautiful Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens, taken on a previous visit.

Focussing just on the landscape, Belsay has 30 acres of Grade 1 listed garden to enjoy, not to mention countless surrounding acres of natural and semi-natural landscape. You could say I’m a fairly frequent visitor, for a someone who lives so far away, but it’s a pure delight from the moment I spy its Grecian style mansion to each moment spent strolling in awe through the quarry garden.

A view of the quarry garden at Belsay Hall, with shear rock faces and ornamental shrub planting
The Quarry Garden on a previous visit.

The mature trees are phenomenal and varied throughout the gardens with resilient specimens squeezed tightly into rocky crevices, others perched somehow atop the quarry, and many forest trees set in large plantations further afield. Including the trees, Belsay clearly possesses quite a plant collection from yesteryear, and its selection and quantity genuinely adds presence to the place.

Dan Pearson’s new planting  recently planted in the beds at Belsay
New planting mixes with selected originals on the terrace at Belsay.

The offering for plant enthusiasts doesn’t end with the quarry garden, with other areas including a small yew garden, long borders, and a large terrace with many more borders and raised beds amongst some substantial stonework. Furthermore, at the time of my visit last week, the recent ‘Belsay Awakes’ design work of Dan Pearson is also becoming evident, following many months of selective border clearing and fresh planting – there is yet more to come.

Foreground planting refreshed as Belsay Awakes, while the distant Rhododendron garden waits patiently.

Then what, for me, was special about Belsay, what flavour did it leave?

I hope it doesn’t sound wishy-washy when I say ‘atmospheres’. Not a general atmosphere or feeling, but the emotional effect each garden space triggered as I walked through – and especially throughout the quarry area.

Quarry garden exploring at Belsay Hall
Space to spread out in the Quarry Garden

Ultimately, Belsay is packed with horticultural heritage and character. It’s a layered and varied garden that expertly draws you through from one area to the next, and its planting is so very well executed. That’s not to say the planting is just OK, it is far more than that; it is different and unusual and unique. But when considering the whole, it’s the atmospheres that resonate with me; grandeur at the house, tenaciousness in the quarry garden, and boldness across the terrace.

Belsay just has to be one of my favourites, and I’d urge you to pop it onto your list of north eastern ‘must see gardens’.

Wallington’s Walled Garden

Golden Rod before the Hall at Wallington
Golden Rod before the Hall at Wallington

Second up on my short list just has to be Wallington. Again this was and is a vast historic estate with acres of woodland and open countryside. My immediate focus however, despite some significant gardening elsewhere at Wallington; is the ‘secret’ or walled garden.

Wallington Walled Garden Glasshouse and Owl House
Glass house range & Owl House at Wallington – with the Eddie & Maria for scale!

The walled garden’s creation in this location is linked to ‘Capability’ Brown, but I believe this remains unproven. What exists today is a long established and artfully formed walled garden that is discovered only after a walk through a mature, very substantial and natural looking woodland garden.

So softly spoken is the walled garden as a feature, that many would be forgiven for not hearing its call; and what a loss that would be. On stepping through the garden door you find yourself on an upper or raised level, leading initially to a series of Victorian looking glasshouses dressed in a deep skirt of herbaceous planting.

How’s this for a late summer border?!

On raised ground behind the glass panes sits another feature rumoured to be linked to Brown, an ‘Owl House’, and from its window a wonderful view can be had over the top of the garden walls to a stunning parkland bridge over the Wansbeck by James Paine. On the described view – I speak in memory as access to the Owl House is presently restricted.

Distant bridge placed perfect in the landscape 💚

Dropping from the glasshouse level, the remainder of the long walled garden slopes gently down to its lowest point with a path that twines through mixed border planting, before looping back at the garden’s lowest point, where an impressive wrought iron gateway is positioned to presumably let the winter chill escape. The main path leads you gently back up the garden and through a number of individually and delightfully assembled spaces to the original entry level, where you’re treated to what I’d describe as an Italianate water garden space, with sweeping stairs either side of a pond with a rill feature.

Wallington Walled Garden pond & rill
Top end of the Wallington Walled Garden – how does this grab you?!

The entire walled garden felt like an oasis; so different was this space to all else in the landscape around. I guess this is much the same with many walled gardens, for they do offer an enclosed and often inward looking space. At Wallington though, the woodland that hugs much of the garden, and the rolling fields beyond the one exposed wall, seemed to create even more shelter for the garden, or at least that’s how it seemed on the drizzle packed day I visited.

Again, I could continue to describe the garden in detail, but stepping back; what actually struck me about the garden, why did it leave such a mark?

After the calming stroll along a leafy path to the garden, I was delivered to a very full and independent garden brimming with charisma and vivacity. It was a destination within a destination, and was so very different to the rest of the site. It didn’t so much matter what the planting was, although obviously this added complexity to the scene, but that the garden, with its corners, naturalised pond, substantial urns and bountiful borders; united somehow as a garden in itself.

Coade stone urn, possibly?! Nicely planted whatever it is!

It was full of mystery in terms of its layout, its origin and its purpose, and was enjoyable because it didn’t reveal all its features in one open view, as many larger walled gardens often do. Wallington’s walled garden layout is permanently etched in my memory after just two visits, yet somehow I know it has more to reveal. I’ll definitely be going back for another serving, and hopefully in the not too distant future.

If you’ve made it this far, well done and thanks for sticking with my garden visit ramblings this week – this time next week I should have been back and actively working in the garden at Broadwell, where normal service will have resumed – although I shall be day dreaming of the North East and our family adventures for a good while I’m sure…

Until next time…. I’d be delighted if you’d connect with me on twitter, or on Instagram, to continue the discussion.

Links to: Wallington and Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens

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