Garden Journal 21.8.21

Hello and welcome to my garden journal – a place for recording my gardening activity and tracking moments in gardens. This week (and especially last week) I breathe again through a garden visiting getaway where I’m wowed by the work of Sir John Vanbrugh, and I have a swift gardening observation for the moment.

Gardening Getaway


I count myself very lucky to have had the opportunity last week to getaway up to the northeast of England. On the whole it was time spent with family that was the most important aspect of the trip, but of course, there are always other benefits when a gardener gets to travel…

Box parterre Italianate style at Seaton Delaval Hall
Early 1950s Italianate garden at Seaton Delaval Hall

One important benefit is the simple exchange of my usual garden scenery for somewhere altogether different. A busman’s holiday it might seem, that of being a gardener and still wanting to visit gardens when I travel, but exposure to new places is essential for me, it keeps me growing you could say. Indeed, if I could have improved just one thing about my long established gardening groove, it would be to have jumped out more often and to have experienced more landscape and gardens – there’s time yet I hope!

It is worth saying though, that whenever I do visit another garden it’s not with critical, point scoring eyes that I scan but with investigating, discovering and often empathetic ones. I know that looking after gardens can throw challenges at us daily: pests, thieves, diseases, machinery issues, weather, visitors; any of these and more can turn up as and when they like to turn a day upside down. But visiting other gardens moves me further away from the associated responsibilities and I become, by and large, a spectator. I can stroll and explore and immerse myself. I meet new plants, observe people, and most importantly of all relax – like I rarely can in the gardens back home where there’s always something that needs doing.

A not insignificant detail in the diverse garden that is Seaton Delaval

So, after cleaning and sharpening and storing my tools, and after discussing tasks for the gardeners back home, I’m grateful to have escaped for a few proper days of rest with my family, where a couple of garden visits, naturally, were high on the list – plus a good deal of ice cream and beach time! I’ll be writing about just one particularly special venue below, in the simple hope that I can paint a picture which might entice you to visit there one day, or in the least to offer you a chance to mentally stroll along some historic pathways with me.

Seaton Delaval Hall

I remember very clearly the huge effort the National Trust exhorted towards the end of the noughties to secure the historic house, garden and estate that is Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland. For me it was untouchable and hundreds of miles away, but I still recall the evocative images and fully bought into the historic importance of the venue and the need for its preservation – a building that had been ravaged by fire way back in the 1800s.

Entrance front with sea views!

Fast forward then to the present and the Trust have not only pushed way through their tenth year of ownership, but have made a really impressive start with the preservation works and the addition of elements that support visitors. Further work continues on the buildings of course and I’m sure there is much left on the task list, but in every sense the place now offers a ‘we’ve got this’ message.

My first visit was in 2017 when, being honest, I mostly looked to gain an impression of Vanbrugh’s garden, yes the guy who also designed Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. A garden was to be found at Seaton of course, and very nicely kept at that, yet it was the building – its views and strong architectural qualities that delivered the wow factor for me.

Cavernous interiors of Seaton Delaval Hall

I remember a very strong sense of loss, similar in fact to my first visit to Witley Court in Worcestershire which was another preserved but largely empty shell of a building. Both Witley and Seaton of course were secured and stabilised long ago, but due to the grandeur and quality architectural features (both house and garden,) both venues deliver a strong spirit of place and possess enduring character.

Today, after reflecting on my visit to Seaton Delaval I’m reassured on the whole that the future of this architectural masterpiece is more certain. That huge push for public support and fundraising to secure the place was justified and most definitely worth the effort, and it’s clear that the whole venue is clearly moving forward with an innovative team behind the wheel. Internally, you need look no further than the beautifully illuminated and re-presented basement rooms, and externally the collaboration with Studio Hardie has brought bespoke woodland play equipment and some engaging and playful garden installations.

Cellar transformed as part of a National Lottery Heritage Funded ‘The Curtain Rises’ project.

On the whole, Seaton Delaval really opened up to me during this visit unlike on my last. The scale of the garden is already beginning to show itself and I was genuinely taken aback as I began to piece together the garden’s structure and realise its underlying qualities – some serious restoration gardening has been carried out whilst I’ve been away!

One of two playful additions Dark Matter Cube and the Mirror Cube.

I know that times are hard just now for many restoration type projects, but I hope the investment in this stunning property continues to flow, and especially for the garden that has the potential to become a very fine landscape garden indeed – even allowing for the integration of conservation initiatives and modern play features. I will now be watching with renewed interest and I certainly hope that it isn’t another four years before I can stroll along the leafy walks to admire the landscape vistas and charismatic bare bottomed statues!

Looks like Samson’s behind the rose garden.

Observations

A swift observation this week after returning from my long day travels. Summer – where’s it gone? Answers in comments please!

Many thanks for stopping by, you deserve a gold ⭐️ for reaching the end of another garden journal entry! Next time I’ll bring some big news (for me at least,) as my gardening activity sees not one but two new garden ventures! Until then, enjoy a garden near you, and if you’ve taken summer, please return it!

Kind regards
Gary Webb
Gardening Ways

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