I’ve just come back from Yorkshire – the South Pennines, Brontë country – a wonderful landscape of moors and hills studded with stone-built towns and villages and mills- some abandoned, some still in use adapted to modern industry, converted to galleries and shops, housing and offices.
Whilst there I took a trip to Harlow Carr, the RHS garden in the North, tucked into the much prettier and more obviously picturesque landscape of North Yorkshire, just outside Harrogate.
It’s a beautiful garden in a very fine setting, with some lovely planting. The autumn borders are splendid, well-maintained, a magnificent example of their kind. There’s a lot to be learned from studying perennial planting done this well – contrasts of colour and form, lasting seed heads and brilliant foliage ensuring interest and structure well into the late autumn. The borders were replanted in 2005, with sustainability and ability to resist drought in mind – given the weather we’ve all had, especially Yorkshire, this summer, they’ve done remarkably well. One might expect the prairie-type perennials to be looking a sodden and woebegone, but they’re standing proud, showing off their colour and their form.
I think that a lot of this can be attributed to the great attention paid to soil preparation and protection of soil structure in the planning and maintenance of these beds. I was very interested to hear that Harlow Carr are experimenting with Strulch (a University of Leeds developed soil improver made from composted wheat straw): I’m trying it for the first time this Autumn, I’ve heard great things about it, and am looking forward to seeing similar results in my gardens and allotment.
If you’re sensing any sort of a ’but’ there is one – the planting and the borders are all just a tad too much like the borders at Wisley, no distinct personality. The same could be said for the extensive streamside planting; think Beth Chatto, think Kiftsgate, there’s nothing here that shouts Harlow Carr, Yorkshire, moorlands! But maybe RHS Harlow Carr will introduce a distinct personality with the new landscaping they are planning around the Queen Mother’s Lake, or the new show gardens that they will introduce later this decade.
Which sort of brings us to the shed! One distinctive, although not regional, feature of Harlow Carr is its ‘Gardens Through Time’ exhibition – apparently developed for a television programme in 2005. It’s not meant to be permanent, and will be replaced in a few years, but whilst it’s there, it’s well worth a visit. It starts with a regency garden, and works through major periods – Victorian, Edwardian, 1950′s Modernism, 1970′s ‘Room Outside’ and a ‘Contemporary’ 2004 Garden designed by Diarmuid Gavin.
It was the Victorian and Edwardian gardens that really caught my imagination – in the Victorian garden there was a gaudy Autumn planting of Dahlias, and the most beautiful potting shed: a pale washed blue inside setting off the clay pots and terracotta stands; tools hanging neatly from the walls, and beautiful copperplate handwritten plant labels propped up ready to use.
I don’t know how many Victorian potting sheds were kept in such glorious order, but this one would give any gardener a bad case of shed-envy!