• Helmsley Walled Garden - Cornfield Meadow

July 2020 – Back to work

There was much celebration on my part when I got the news that I was coming off furlough early. I came back to work in early June because of the enormous generosity of everyone who donated to #OurSecretGarden appeal to raise £50,000 to help secure Helmsley Walled Garden from closure.

We are within £1,000 of our target and it has been a roller coaster of emotions watching the total go up. Pride that so many people know the garden and excitement in the knowledge that the garden would survive this difficult and turbulent time.

The thing that struck me most, was how much the garden meant to people and how closure was not to be contemplated. I was reduced to tears many times by reading the kind and supportive messages that accompanied people’s donations.

Coronavirus has caused so much distress and heartache: physical, mental, emotional, financial. Yet so many (from all over the UK and indeed the world) thought it important to support one small garden in North Yorkshire. It’s been truly humbling and encourages all of us here to strive to make the garden a place where people can find rest and tranquillity, and to support those who need our help at difficult times in their life.

But as you well know, no garden stands still and although June and Tony had been doing sterling work in trying to keep on top on things, two people cannot keep five acres in tip top condition.

Some areas are looking the worse for wear and will need quite a lot of work to pull them back. But it’s good to see how much is looking good. The Kitchen Garden, The White Garden, The Physic Garden and the Garden of Contemplation amongst others are all blooming.

The areas I’m concentrating on are the Hot Border and Alison’s Garden. I put the last of the dahlias into the Hot Border in mid-June and continue to clear weeds and lift and replant some of plants into different areas. This was a bit tricky in the really hot weather. But after the welcome rain everything, particularly the dahlias have gone off like rockets.

I’m falling back in love with Alchemila mollis (Lady’s Mantle) after being thoroughly fed up with it and it’s because I have a plan. A striking plant with  hairy leaves that hold the rain on their surface like little diamonds and masses of frothy acid yellow flowers. But they self-seed everywhere and pop up where you don’t want them and it’s been driving me mad. Now I am on a mission to dig them up wherever they don’t belong and move them to a couple of areas around the garden.

One is at the back of the Laburnum and Rose arches, another the edge of Alison’s Garden. My favourite is the big planting in the Hot Border by the Dipping Pond. This is where A. mollis really comes into its own as a mass of colour and fizzing flower heads. It’ll make a brilliant foil to all the dahlias we’ve put into the beds around the pond.

We are working towards reopening by 1st August. It’s likely we will start by opening Friday to Sunday and then slowly expand our opening hours.

I’ll be updating our website to let you all know everything that’s happening and I know our friends at the Gazette will keep you informed as well.

Finally, I do want to make a shameless plug for The Gazette and Herald; their support during the time we have been closed has been incredible. It’s good to be able to say thank you to them and to you. Hopefully see you soon.

Tricia Harris July 2020


June 2020 – Gardening – is it good for you?

As the lockdown continues and still only Tony and myself in the garden it can sometimes seem a bit of a mammoth task to keep on top of these five acres.

Fortunately for us the incredible work done by the whole team before lockdown means that great swathes of the garden continue to look marvellous. The apple blossom has been superb, the irises planted only last year are blooming beautifully and the laburnum arch is just about to burst into flower.

Meanwhile, Tony is keeping the grass looking good and working on sharpening up the edges of all the lawns, no small task. I’m concentrating on getting all the remaining plants in the ground before lifting all the tulips round the Dipping Pond and replacing them with the dahlias that Tricia lifted, cleaned and stored so carefully last autumn.

Mammoth-size task aside, I can’t think of a better place to be right now than outside, turning the earth over, sowing seeds and watching things grow. These are difficult and stressful times for all of us and it is heartening to see how many of us have turned to our gardens. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) says searches on its website on how to make compost have gone up 500% whilst an initiative to share vegetable seedlings on the Isle of Wight (Green island Veg Economy or GIVE) has had 5,000 people sign up to it.

So plenty of people are saying they are benefiting but are we really? Well I’m happy to say yes we are. There is a growing body of research-based evidence showing how everyone benefits from being outdoors. Visiting a beautiful green space for a few hours is beneficial. Getting outside and getting your hands dirty is even better.

One of my real inspirations, the Nacadia Garden in Denmark undertook a study in 2013 to measure the benefits of working in a garden for people who were currently off work with a stress-related illness. They found that participants experienced similar gains from 10 weeks of gardening as those who had had ten weeks of talking therapy.

Here at the garden we see the benefits of regular gardening for all of us. Being outdoors and part of a team, working with plants where the timescale is weeks and months, not hours or days leads people away from the stresses of modern life.  Some of our volunteers have been involved with the garden since its very inception over 20 years ago.

Our ‘Over the Garden Gate’ initiative, partially funded towards the end of last year by Awards for All is our way of ensuring all our volunteers can benefit from their involvement with the garden, irrespective of age or ability. The approach is simple, pairing our volunteers up to help each other get the most out of their time in the garden.  Support might be instructive around certain activities, physical, giving a hand to haul out a stubborn weed, or emotional – just someone that you know is there if you need them.

Our volunteers look after the garden every month of the year and, of course, we are entirely dependent on our visitor income to do this.  To help us survive this year, unable to currently open to the public, we have launched an appeal, #oursecretgarden – you can donate on our website or at https://localgiving.org/appeal/hwgsecretgarden.

For £25 you can adopt a square metre of the garden and enable us to continue not only to maintain the garden but also to support the volunteers who benefit so much from this beautiful space.

June Tainsh, Garden Manager at Helmsley Walled Garden June 2020

May 2020 – Planting in difficult areas

I’ve hijacked Tricia’s column this month because she and Heather are furloughed to help conserve limited garden funds.

She is busy at home with her garden and I got a call from her asking a familiar garden query, ground cover for difficult areas.

I’m pretty sure that if Tricia was writing this, she would have a list of her own but, knowing I’m a garden designer she wanted my thoughts and plant list to see if I’d thought of anything she hadn’t.

Ground cover does several things: it covers the earth and acts as a natural weed suppressant, it helps to retain moisture in the soil rather than leaving bare earth to become parched and it looks lovely.

Tricia doesn’t usually get much time in her garden at this point of the year as we are all working hell for leather at Helmsley. Lockdown and furloughing mean her garden is getting a lot more attention than normal and she is looking to deal with those areas she hasn’t had time to consider before now. I suspect a number of you may be having the same experience.

The areas in question are a patch of very dry shade under a large Cotoneaster tree and a damp but very difficultly placed area by the boundary fence beneath a small apple tree.

Looking at the apple tree area first, this is tricky mainly because of the difficulty in weeding it. Currently Tricia slides herself between the upper and lower rails of the fence which makes me as her boss, feel a little faint at the thought of what it might be doing to her back even though she is very bendy!

Tricia’s garden needs low-growing evergreen perennials in both areas but there are plenty of plants that grow taller and would love to be in an area where they could romp away like Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) or Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis). But these are both too thuggish and tall to be useful in these relatively small areas.

I suggested Cyclamen hederifolium, the ivy-leaved cyclamen. It does well in shade preferably a bit damp. However, its happy in drier conditions if the ground is well-prepared with leaf mould, compost or well-rotted manure. Colourful flowers in autumn makes this a shoo-in.

Bugle (Ajuga reptans) would be another choice. Compact, evergreen and with a brilliant blue flower it will happily colonise this tricky area.

For the dry shade under the Cotoneaster there is more choice as taller plants could be used, but creeping ground cover would still work here.

I did think about Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) but it can be difficult to establish. Planted early and watered through the summer, it will be happy enough to romp away. But if you haven’t time to lavish care on it in its first years then perhaps steer clear.

My suggestions were Brunnera macrophylla, beautiful heart-shaped leaves with some lovely cultivars such as ‘Jack Frost’ and Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevans’, pink flowers plus foliage that tints red in autumn make both of these great plants for dry shade.

We are all lucky enough to have gardens and I hope you are enjoying every minute in them. I and the trustees are doing all we can to protect Helmsley Walled Garden through these difficult times.

We would normally be welcoming visitors and earning the income that keeps us going through the winter. But we are in strange and difficult times and as yet there is no clear end in sight. If you are at all able, would you consider making a donation to help keep this wonderful garden alive? Please go to https://localgiving.org/appeal/HWG, and thank you.

June Tainsh, Garden Manager at Helmsley Walled Garden May 2020

April 2020 – Difficult Times

I had already written my article for April about all the great things we were doing in the garden, the events we were running and workshops people could join. Since then, the seriousness of Coronavirus has put everything up in the air and into perspective.

Helmsley Walled Garden will now not be opening on Saturday 28th March as planned. We are saddened to have to do this but the health of all our staff, volunteers, visitors and supporters is the most important thing to us right now. We have cancelled our events and workshops up to the end of June and will assess what we do after that based on advice from the NHS.

I would add my own small plea to those of all our magnificent NHS staff in asking people to stay at home and not to make unnecessary journeys. We will come through all of this but let’s not take risks with either our lives or those of other people.

We do need to spend time outside if we can, it is so beneficial to our mental and physical well being. As I write, the sun is shining and I want to get out and garden. If you can, spend some time in your garden, grow herbs in pots, listen to bird song and take time to enjoy what’s growing. We all rush around so much (guilty as charged) so perhaps one small good thing in these difficult times is that we can allow ourselves a little more time to stop and give ourselves a bit of self-care.

June, Heather and I will continue to be at the garden working to make it as beautiful as we can so that when we can reopen you can come and enjoy this beautiful and tranquil garden. we will be working on planting up the Hot Border and the Long Border. I will be getting to grips with the Physic Garden and I definitely want to sow some salads in the Salad House in the coming days.

In the meantime for those of you who are on social media we will be doing everything we can to stay in touch. Over the coming weeks we will be concentrating on adding to our website and our social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

We’ll show you the garden developing, there’ll be hints and tips for your own garden and there will be some light-hearted material too. Those of you who follow us, particularly on Twitter will know I am addicted to cats, books and great art.

I love to share things and I hope you will too. Please stay in touch, contribute to any of our social media and suggest things you might want to hear about.

A big worry for us is that we are dependent on the income we get from visitor entry and our Friends to carry on maintaining and developing the garden and supporting those who need us.  

As we have no idea how long this will last we are asking that if possible you might consider making a donation to help keep the garden running. If you can, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Either send a cheque made payable to Helmsley Walled Garden or go to our website at helmsleywalledgarden.org.uk/how-to-help-us/donate-fundraise/

I’ve picked a couple of beautiful pictures out of the archive to remind us all of what there will be to look forward to. In the meantime, stay safe, enjoy your garden and we will see you when we reopen.

Tricia Harris April 2020

Coronavirus Update – Monday May 11th 2020

Join our Fundraising Appeal

Helmsley Walled Garden is still currently closed. We are saddened to have to do this but the health of all our staff, volunteers, visitors and supporters is the most important thing to us right now.

We will be watching the situation closely and will reopen when it is safe to do so.

We are of course dependent on the income we get from visitor entry and our Friends to carry on maintaining and developing the garden and supporting those who need us. Please join us in our fundraising efforts by clicking on the link below.

Please click here to find out more and donate

Alternatively, If you would like to make a donation please either send a cheque payable to Helmsley Walled Garden or follow this link to our donations page.


Coronavirus Update – Monday March 23rd 2020

Coronavirus Update – Monday March 23rd 2020

Helmsley Walled Garden will now not be opening on Saturday 28th March as planned. We are saddened to have to do this but the health of all our staff, volunteers, visitors and supporters is the most important thing to us right now.

This is a difficult time and we want in whatever small way to do what we can to help everyone to stay in touch. Over the coming weeks we will be concentrating on adding to our website and our social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

We’ll  show you the garden developing, there’ll be hints and tips for your own garden and there will be some light-hearted material too.

Please stay in touch, contribute to any of our social media and suggest things you might want to hear about.

We will be watching the situation closely and will reopen when it is safe to do so.

We are of course dependent on the income we get from visitor entry and our Friends to carry on maintaining and developing the garden and supporting those who need us. If you can  make a donation it would be much appreciated. There will be more information on ways to do that coming soon.

In the meantime, stay safe, and we will see you when we reopen.

March 2020 – Put that mower away and help bees

You’d need to have your fingers in your ears and over your eyes simultaneously, (never an easy feat) not to know that bees and other insects are having a hard time of it right now.

Some pretty bleak statistics show what they are up against. One-third of the UK’s bee population has disappeared over the past decade and 24 per cent of Europe’s bumblebees are now threatened with extinction. Yet 75% of the world’s food supply relies on pollinators.

Those are not comfortable numbers to read but there are several simple things we could do to help.

One of the simplest is to not to mow our grass so often or cut so closely. Leaving your grass a bit longer and dare I say, allowing the dandelions to flower (I know) will be a big help. Dandelions are a big source of nectar alongside fruit blossom (apple, peach, pear etc.) and some of the early spring flowers such as Pulmonaria.

I think we’ve probably all grown up seeing our parents mow the lawn to perfection and we’ve got used to thinking that is the way a lawn should look. But habitat loss, along with pesticide use and climate change are all having an impact on species numbers which means that anything we can do in our gardens is a big help. Scientists and charities like Buglife are now asking that we leave our grass longer or leave a strip that we mow once a year in autumn. It allows more wild flowers to grow in the grass and, particularly if you live in an old house likely to have been built on meadow, you may find a lot of interesting plants coming through.

We can’t change the world on our own but we can do our bit. Even if you don’t have much of a garden, something as simple as growing Lavender in a pot or a window box will be a help. The Royal Horticultural Society has a long list of plants that are good for pollinators and of course different bees and pollinators are active at different times of year so it always worth having a range of nectar plants in your garden.

Now, with the luxury of five acres we can grow all sorts of things, some of which are more bee-friendly than others. Dahlias are not particularly good. They put so much of their energy into producing petals there isn’t much nectar or pollen to go round. A really good rule of thumb is if you can see the parts of the flower that produce pollen and nectar, without having to pull lots of petals back then it will be ok for pollinators. So all my gorgeous dahlias I spent so long preparing for their winter snooze are no good but lovely Iris, Foxglove, Laburnum, Borage, Echinacea and Monarda to name but a few will make the pollinators in your garden very happy. One of my favourite sound of summer is that of a honeybee furiously mining a foxglove for its nectar and pollen. That prolonged buzz for me is a sign that things are as they should be at least in the garden.

And of course helping insects means we are also helping our also struggling bird and butterfly populations, again caused mainly by habitat loss, pesticides use and increased temperatures.

This can feel a hard time of year, particularly when the wind blows and snow blankets our gardens. But a little preparation now can have our gardens buzzing with life in a month or two’s time and we will know that we are doing our bit to support nature. Happy gardening.

Tricia Harris March 2020


February 2020 – More about the winter garden

I still can’t stop thinking about planning for the winter garden even though there are only a few weeks left of winter as I write. I’ve been thinking mostly about scent which is a valuable asset to a garden in any season but it seems particularly important in winter when there is less in the way of bright colours or leaf shapes to catch our eye.

One of my favourite winter scented shrubs is Sweet box (Sarcococca confusa). It has leathery dark green leaves and tiny white flowers which pack a richly fragrant scent followed by shiny black berries. I grow it outside my front door so I can really get the benefit when the rest of the garden is less active.

As if that wasn’t enough, Sweet Box is the plant that just keeps on giving. It prefers to be in shade so if you have a difficult corner or a slope that would benefit from greening up, it makes perfect ground cover as whilst it can grow to a maximum of 2m (six foot) it’s easily kept smaller by pruning and it has a very compact shape. It will also tolerate atmospheric pollution and neglect; as I said, keeps on giving.

There are other super scented shrubs such as Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima); Edgeworthia chrysantha, an amazing scent but not completely hardy here in North Yorkshire so needs a very sheltered spot and Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) with almost transparent, very fragrant flowers on bare stems and of course the vast range of Viburnums with their pink or white flowers and sweet scent. So there is lots to choose from if you want to add shape and form to your winter garden. True they are less showy in summer but no one can perform all year round, not even you dear readers.

That’s why we need other plants such as evergreen perennials and grasses. A favourite of mine is the genus Heuchera. There are so many varieties it is impossible to mention them all but my particular favourites (and you will see them dotted around Helmsley Walled Garden when you visit) are ‘Obsidian’ almost black leaves, makes a great foil for ‘Lime Marmalade’ which is as bright an almost acid green as you can get. Dark purple would be ‘Palace Purple’ or for a gorgeous raspberry darkening to rose purple go for ‘Berry Smoothie’. They keep their colour year round and make great ground cover if planted in drifts of three or five plants.

I must say a word for grasses here. I think they can be overlooked or if you are a certain age (like me) then you will remember when grass meant Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana) in the middle of the lawn. Now there is nothing wrong with Pampas but there are so many different grasses that can give you colour, height, movement whatever you need.

When I was at Kew, I worked for a while in the Grass Garden surrounded by a wealth of choice. From the beautiful Miscanthus sinensis with its creamy white plumes growing to 1.5m fading to silver in winter to Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Forester’ whose green stems fade to buff. Then there are the smaller grasses such as Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’, Japanese Blood Grass which is as its name suggests is a deep red. Only 50cm in height it needs to be at the front of the border but like all of these grasses lasts the  year round.

Yet again I haven’t even scratched the surface of what will make our garden glow in winter but I will cease and desist until next winter. Gardens are for all year not just for summer.

Tricia Harris February 2020

January 2020 – Planning a Winter Garden

sarcococca confusa flowering in february norfolkLast month I was at an RHS gardeners’ networking day down at Hyde Hall, their garden in Essex. They built a winter garden about four years ago and so it was a chance to see how it had developed and learn from the people who designed and built it. Winter is the season of short, dark days and long nights and a lack of vibrant colour. But there is a huge array of more subtle colours that add hugely to our enjoyment of our gardens.

At the moment we close at the end of October and although we are here every day working in the garden (weather permitting: it’s throwing it down as I write) we don’t open to visitors. Long-term we want to be open all year round but quite a bit needs to be done before we can get there both in terms of buildings and the garden.

So, off June and I went to Hyde Hall. It was inspirational to hear about how the space had been planned, what had been planted and then to go outside and see the space itself. It helped enormously that it was the most delightful day, clear blue skies and (even more unusual for November just gone) warm sunshine. I was able to cast a clout or two that day.

June told me that when she was training as a garden designer one of her tutors told her “plan for winter and summer will look after itself.” I hadn’t thought about this before but when I thought of it, it’s obvious. If you plan the structure of the garden for winter then summer simply develops around it.

This means thinking in terms of shrubs and trees, bark colour and texture, twig and stem colours, catkins, skeletal forms, berries and seed heads. So for example Prunus serrula (Tibetan Cherry) has fantastic deep cherry-coloured bark which also peels leaving even brighter colour beneath. Salix has bright yellow or orange stems.

I discovered that there are around fifty Cornus species which come in shades of red, burgundy, black, salmon pink, green, lemon and orange. Or you could, like Anglesey Abbey (and indeed us) plant silver birches with ghostly white bark for a real stand out display. We have Cornus  sericea ‘Flaviramea’ with its bright olivey green stems right in front for dramatic contrast.

Architecture planned, then add bulb and herbaceous so that the planting flows from one season to the next. Winter aconites are little globes of bright orange flowering from January onwards; crocuses flower from autumn (Colchicum autumnale) through to spring (Crocus tommasinianus and C. speciosum amongst others). And of course who could have a garden without snowdrops. There are so many to choose from this hardy little gem. Ted Hughes wrote about them having a “pale head heavy as metal” emphasising how tough they are to flower when they do.

Honestly I could go on but I am running out of space. I haven’t even talked about scent or herbaceous planting. I think I might have to continue this next month. What I will say is if you are anywhere near RHS Hyde Hall or National Trust property Anglesey Abbey do explore their winter gardens. I struggle with the really short days of winter and the lack of light and I’m sure I’m not alone. So the more we can make of the colour available in winter the more we can delight in our gardens, even if only looking out of the window whilst we toast out toes in front of the fire. Enjoy your garden.

Tricia Harris January 2020

December 2019 – Flowers to tell a story

Flowers tell a storyLadies and gentlemen let me take you on a little time travel as we go back to the middle ages and the time when plants were the only form of medicine and linked with myth and legend.

In an age when only wealthy people could read and church services were in Latin, people learnt the stories of the Bible through pictures painted on the interiors of church walls and through stories attached to flowers.

Here in the Garden we have our own medieval physic garden with each bed containing plants used for the ailments of a particular part of the body. In the same period many of these plants would be used to tell the Christmas story

Lady’s Bedstraw  (Galium verum) with its masses of foamy yellow flowers gets its common name from the legend that it was the straw that Mary lay upon to give birth to Jesus. Perhaps a more prosaic reason for the name would be that it was also used to stuff mattresses, presumably only for ladies! Corpses rested upon a bed of Bedstraw  in their coffins.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) believed to help with lung complaints and in its symbolic meanings bookends the life of Christ. The white splashes on the leaves represent the milk that Mary fed to Jesus and the flowers that open blue and turn to pink represent the Virgin’s blue eyes which turn red with weeping at His death.

According to legend Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) by God to guide the wise men to the Christ Child. Once the star’s purpose was completed, God thought it was too beautiful to banish from the earth. Instead, the brilliant star burst into thousands of pieces and descended to the earth. The fragments of star gave birth to beautiful white flowers that blanketed the hillsides which became known as Star of Bethlehem.

The common or garden Daisy (Bellis perennis) beloved of children for making daisy chains and the scourge of gardeners looking for a perfect lawn is seen in its simplicity to represent the innocence of the Christ child. Whilst the white Madonna lily (Lilium candidum) represents the Virgin Mary in her purity and grace. The altars of churches and chapels in religious houses would be decorated with lilies to glorify the name of the Virgin. It is one of the oldest flowers in cultivation and its name (candidum) means purest white.

Before Christmas was the older festival of Saturnalia and Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe all had meanings associated with the winter solstice, eternal life and rebirth. To the Celts holly (Ilex aquifolium) represented the holly king of the winter solstice and it had magical properties because of its shiny leaves and ability to bear fruit in winter. The druids believed it stayed green to keep the earth beautiful whilst the magical leaves of the oak had disappeared for winter and people used it along with Ivy (Hedera helix) around their doors to repel evil spirits.

Mistletoe (Viscum album ) symbolising  life and fertility by Celts was also seen as an aphrodisiac and protection against poison. In Norse mythology it was sacred to the Goddess of Love Frigga whose son was shot by Loki, Goddess of Mischief with an arrow made of mistletoe wood. Frigga revived her son and then blessed the tree so that anyone standing beneath it would be protected from death and would also deserve a kiss. And who can argue with that.

Have a wonderful Christmas, hopefully relax a little and maybe look again at the greenery we decorate our houses with and think of all those who have done so before us. Happy Christmas everyone.

Tricia Harris December 2019