• Helmsley Walled Garden - Cornfield Meadow

January – The whole year ahead

Seed collectingSo the presents were opened, the Christmas dinner was eaten, the Christmas films were watched, the walks taken, the sofa snuggled in and now it is all over for another year and the whole of 2019 stretches ahead.

Here at the walled garden we are focusing on clearing and cleaning. All the glasshouses need a darn good clean to help get rid of any lurking unwelcome bugs. A good wash with horticultural soap, Jeyes Fluid or a sulphur candle are all ways in which you can clean your greenhouse. We’ll also take the opportunity to give all our terracotta pots a bit of a scrub. It’s hard work and when it’s old it can be murder on the hands but it is both worthwhile and important.

There are more and more non-native insects coming into Britain in various ways and they have no natural predators. We’ve probably all seen Red lily beetle and it’s disgusting offspring by now as well as Horse chestnut leaf miner. Less visible up here and if at all possible even less welcome would be Oak processionary moth a real threat to our native oaks, entrenched down south and heading our way.

Now more than ever we are really thinking about plant hygiene and the threat of pests to the Garden. We stopped accepting plant donations about four year ago after a disastrous winter where we had to dispose of everything in the Orchid House after a pathogen from a donated plant infected everything. We also no longer accept donated plant pots for the same reason although that of course is the subject for a whole different column on plastic and how we all deal with it. Good news, nurseries are starting to act and black pots will hopefully become extinct!

So what can we all do at home? Well a few tips: only buy plants and seeds from reputable providers or UK nurseries (which hopefully amounts to the same thing). Personal garden disclosure here, we get all our plants from UK nurseries and we plan to propagate more of our own plants in the coming year. Check plants you buy carefully and reject any that look sick. If you must buy them, keep them in a quarantine area away from your garden for at least six weeks. And please, please, please don’t bring anything back from abroad in your bag. It really does matter; even if it looks ok. A lot of the bugs are miniscule and just not visible with the naked eye. But get them under a magnifying lens and it’s like some sort of dog eat dog Armageddon in there.

So if you make one new year’s resolution make it to buy gorgeous healthy plants and seeds and have a beautiful garden. It’s the perfect time to put your feet up with a seed catalogue so make your plans and purchases now for a colourful and pest-free 2019. Happy new year to you all.

Tricia Harris January 2019

December 2018 – Flowers to tell a story

Holly leavesLadies 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 both the only form of medicine and also had myth and legend attached to them. 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 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 to heal specific ailments of a particular part of the body.

Lady’s bedstraw – Mary’s bed in the stable

Lungwort – was thought to help complaints of the lungs and with its polka dots of white on a dark green background bookends the life of Christ. The white splashes 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.

Star of Bethlehem Ornithogalum Umbellatum – According to this legend, God created the Star of Bethlehem 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 bits of the Star of Bethlehem gave birth to beautiful white flowers that blanketed the hillsides. They became known as the Star of Bethlehem flower.

Daisy represents the innocence of the Christ child

Iris and white lily represent the Virgin Mary

Tricia Harris December 2018

December 2018 – The best fruit trees to attract bees and how to plant them effectively

As a special Christmas treat I thought I would give you an extra blog piece. This is a guest blog by Julien de Bosdari of Ashridge Nurseries, a mail order plant nursery, specialising in hedging, trees, fruit, roses & shrubs. Julien has written about something close to all our hearts here at the garden, how to attract bees to your garden by planting fruit tree and which might be the best trees for your garden. Sit back, relax and enjoy.


The best fruit trees to attract bees and how to plant them effectively

Fruit-Tree-ShapesBees are not only a beautiful addition to any garden but a welcome and necessary one. The role they play in the environment as pollinators make them fascinating little creatures. We need bees and other useful insects and pollinators to produce colourful garden displays and tasty fruit.

Planting fruit trees not only gives you homegrown food but also provides a natural habitat and food source for wildlife. Pollinators, particularly honeybees, love fruit trees so think about adding some new fruit trees to your garden to help its ecosystem.


The best fruit trees to attract bees

Bee-friendly fruit trees are a great addition to your outdoor space which both you and the bees are sure to love. Avoid using pesticides if you can as bees are very susceptible to them and can cause damage to the species.


Apple and cherry trees

Early-Rivers-CherriesDuring the warm, summer months apple and cherry trees are a fantastic choice for attracting bees. The majority of varieties perform well during the hotter weather and will keep bees interested during the earlier part of the growing season. Cherry trees, in particular, make for a brilliant addition as they are usually quite large with lots of flower buds, attracting a large number of bees.


Peaches, plums and nectarines

To keep bees busy all year round, planting fruit trees that bloom and fruit at different times help to provide a more sustainable source of food. You’re also more likely to receive visits from a variety of bees as they can eat and be active at different times. Plum trees tend to bloom in late winter to early spring with fruit ripening from early May all the way through to September. Nectarine and peach trees tend to flower early in the year with fruit being ready in July for early varieties. Later varieties will see fruit produced through August and early September.


Plant bee-friendly plants

When you’re thinking about planting a fruit tree, you need to think about cross-pollination. Some fruit trees require a pollination partner to produce fruit so this needs to be a consideration. If you’re not sure where to start, this fruit tree pollination checker tool will help you find the perfect cross-pollination partner for your fruit tree.

To attract more bees and encourage pollination, grow some bee-friendly and colourful plants. Planting flowers and shrubs that blossom at different times will keep bees interested throughout the seasons. Bee-friendly plants include hyacinths, crocus and asters.


How to plant a fruit tree effectively

Now, you’ve chosen your fruit tree and are ready to plant it. When buying the tree, they can be bought in either a container or bare-rooted. For both types, look for roots that have well-developed fibrous roots and show no sign of disease.


How to prepare the fruit tree

Bare-root trees can be planted from late autumn to early winter, be sure to soak the roots before planting. Avoid planting the tree during a frost. With container-grown trees, they can be planted at any time of the year. Again, avoid planting during a frost or when the soil is very dry or wet.


Planting the fruit tree

Think about the positioning and growing conditions you have available for your fruit tree. A sunny yet sheltered position is ideal and can help maximise the time your fruit has to ripen. If you’re planting a container-grown tree, water the container thoroughly and leave to soak for an hour or so.

Next, dig a hole a third wider than the roots and the same depth. Insert both the tree and the stake. Try and dig the hole on the same day as planting so that it doesn’t get filled up with rainwater. Fill the hole in with soil and shape into a small bowl at the base, attaching the tree to the stake.


Watch – How to plant a fruit tree:


Maintenance and aftercare

After planting, apply water and mulch around the base of the tree. Make sure you keep any grass or similar vegetation away from the base. If you’re planting in the spring and the ground is dry, water with a large bucket of water.

The first spring is a key time for your new tree. Remove any weeds that could stop your new tree establishing. Don’t use herbicides on a young tree, instead make sure the mulch you use is dense and prevents weeds from growing near it. Always be sure to follow your trees planting and aftercare instructions when choosing a fruit tree.

Julien de Bosdari of Ashridge Nurseries, December 2018

November 2018 – Hedgehogs have the right idea

Hogsley 1In the Salad House yesterday I heard a strange noise. It took me a moment to realise what it was which was the contented snoring of a sleeping hedgehog.

One of our hedgehogs has set up a nest in the second bay of the glass house. Hedgehogs often have more than one nest as they often travel distances of up to two miles in a night and generally have a range of around four miles in which they will search for food.

We have four hedge pigs here. GP (short for Greedy Pig, he is huge and until we got wise to it, often ate all the cat food as well as anything we put down for the hedgehogs), Blondie, Hogsley and a young ‘un, newly hatched earlier this year. The presence of so many in a relatively small space of five acres means we do put special hedgehog food down as well as letting them hoover up slugs, beetles and the like. They are also partial to apples so I do wonder if they end up drunk in September munching on windfalls.

They really are excellent pest controllers and I’m pretty sure that the reason we have such low populations of slugs and snails is due to their hard work. So we make sure that we have some areas that are particularly hospitable for them, like the wild area right at the bottom of the Garden next to the chickens.

Of course, the best laid plans and all that. Last winter I was tidying up the Hot Border, clearing leaf litter and other plant debris when the pile I was shifting suddenly made a very loud grumbling noise. I practically leapt out of my skin I was so surprised. Realising what it was, I apologised profusely to the now gently moving pile. Fortunately it was clearly only a stretch and the pile settled down again. So we put a notice up next to it reading ‘Please do not disturb’.

All in all our hedgehogs are very welcome here and, given they are in steep decline through growing urbanisation if we can all leave  part of our gardens a little wilder it will help them. Leave some leaves and logs they can nest in and that will also house the invertebrates they love to eat.

Make sure you leave a small gap at the bottom of any fencing so that they have a big enough area to roam.

Feed a special hedgehog food like Spike or cat food (but not fish-based) which will encourage them to return to your garden.  Don’t give them milk as it gives them the runs. Do check your bonfire before you light it and check any areas of long grass before you use a strimmer or mower particularly near the bottom of hedges.

And please, no slug pellets: they are poison to hedgehogs. They’ll get rid of the slugs on their own, given the opportunity. We need our hedgehogs so let’s give them all the help we can.

Tricia Harris November 2018

October 2018 – How come it just got busier?

Fennel and Orchid HouseI’ve just got back from two weeks holiday with a little garden visiting thrown in – I know, I know it sounds like a busman’s holiday and in a way it is. But, and it is a big but, getting out and seeing what other people do in their gardens is both interesting and informative. It’s a bit like being shown round other people’s houses in that there is always something you can learn. Even if the décor is not to your taste there is always something as in what they’ve done with that difficult corner, or how they’ve brought light into that room.

It works exactly the same with gardening. Going to another visitor attraction helps me to gauge how we are doing, what else we might be doing and is there an idea maybe that we can take and develop to make it work for us. I then talk with Lisa, our head gardener and together we start to build ideas for the next stage of garden development.

So, filled with ideas I returned to work this morning. But of course, I have been away for two weeks and the list of things I have to do has doubled before I can so much as blink! The Physic Garden and the Garden of Contemplation have not stayed still whilst I’ve been away and there is now a green carpet of weed seedlings that need my urgent attention. The dahlias in the Hot Border have been hit by an early frost (hmm, note to self, it’s a bit early for frost damage. Does this mean a hard winter?) and I need to go down the border and cut back the frost-damaged stems and leaves.

We are still furiously apple picking and pruning. I need to walk round the Clematis Garden with Lisa as we are planting a lot of bulbs in there as part of our new winter display and they need to go in VERY soon. We will be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday up to the end of December this year so keeping things colourful, even in the muted tones of winter, is important. I need to produce the apple facts trail and the apple quiz for children this week as Apple Day is coming up fast on Saturday 20th.

So lots happening and the air is getting chillier. I do love this time of year even though it means that summer is over and winter and (eek) Christmas is coming. But the smell of autumn is one of my favourites and I need to remember to stand still and enjoy it. The days can be so warm (I wished I’d packed shorts for Northumberland last week!) but the finger of frost is never far from morning and evening.

So if you do one thing for your garden this week, get some bulbs for next spring. Even a few snowdrops, crocuses or some winter aconites will cheer a winter garden and remind you that spring is not too far off. Treat yourself and enjoy your garden.

Tricia Harris October 2018

September 2018 – Apples

ApplesSeptember is the start of autumn – if you are guided by the meteorological calendar as opposed to the astronomical one. So we are now in full harvest mode both in the Kitchen Garden and with the apples. Courgettes are turning into marrows the minute I turn my back and the beans, greens and beetroot are all huge. We have a lovely range of tomatoes coming out of the Salad House; my favourite being Citrina a lemon-yellow tomato shaped rather charmingly like a lemon!

But it is the apples that are taking most of our attention as there are so many of them. It has been a bumper crop in a bumper year. Amazingly when the trees were in blossom there was no frost so the trees became laden with fruit. The very hot summer led to a massive June drop as the trees realised they couldn’t hang on to so many fruit in such a dry season.

But still they are laden and we are propping up branches all over the Garden to stop them from breaking under the weight of fruit. We are harvesting them constantly for juicing and for sale. So if you fancy trying something different come and buy some apples from us.

We have over a hundred trees here and nearly as many varieties ranging from New Bess Pool to Lane’s Prince Albert: Catshead to Dogsnout and  Worcester Pearmain to Laxton’s Superb. They all taste and look different.  I grew up when the choice in the supermarket was Golden Delicious or Granny Smith. I had no idea that apples could be anything from palest yellow to deepest burgundy with pretty much every variation between and as many different flavours and textures, Egremont Russet anyone? Did you know that the Bramley apple is so popular because it is a heavy cropper with big fruit that cooks and stores well. But there are dozens of other good cookers you don’t see in the supermarket because they don’t keep as well or bruise easily or any number of other reasons that don’t make them viable for commercial growers. There is so much choice in Britain when it comes to apples so it is understandable but a real shame.

However, you can see and try some of them here at the Garden on Saturday 20th  October when we will be celebrating all things apple at our annual Apple Day. As well as opportunities to taste apples, we will be running juicing demonstrations with tasting running alongside. There will be apple fact and apple quiz trails for children as well as apple bobbing.  If you are inspired to have an apple tree in your garden  you can also look at the different ways to grow and train a tree here. From espalier to step over, from free growing to cordon you can see that however small your space you can train an apple to fit it. Enjoy the fruits of the season and hopefully we’ll see you soon.

Tricia Harris September 2018

August 2018 – Plants for hot weather

RudbeckiasWhat a year this has been so far. Winter seemed as if it was never going to end and it rained so much I thought we would be living in a sea of mud forever. Fast forward to the end of July and as I write the ground is parched and we are desperate for rain.

We’ve got all the annuals and dahlias in the ground now and some of the dahlias are flowering already, scarily early but hardly surprising. We are seeing a lot of unripe apples dropping from the trees. Unbelievably there was no frost when they were in blossom so a bumper crop was the result. Now of course they can’t sustain that many apples so they’re dropping like flies.

All of which is a long way of saying it is a challenging year for gardeners. But we are gardeners and so used to the challenges the weather throws at us. Watering is not necessarily the answer although it may be for some things, especially if they start to look sad and crispy.

I found myself looking at the borders to see what was not showing any sign of strain and I got one or two surprises. I was very pleased to see that Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is flowering it’s heart out in a burst of colour at the foot of the Hot Border. I was also impressed by the Rudbeckias.

There is a rudbeckia for all seasons, annual, biennials and hardy perennials and they come in a range of great colours. From the gold of the hardy perennial Rudbeckia  fulgida var. sullivantii Goldsturm to the claret glow of the annual Rudbeckia hirta  ‘Cherry Brandy’ rudbeckias come in shades of orange, bronze and lemon. It’s been really exciting to see the hardy perennials in particular shrug off the hot weather. However,  they are well established. I’d be wanting to water anything  I’d put in new this year until it was established.

Of course there are also all the wonderful drought tolerant plants such as Lavender angustifolia: all the salvias, especially hardy perennial Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’ with its rich deep blue flowers that will always manage drought conditions.

But there is also Lychnis coronaria (Rose campion) and Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s-ear). Basically any plant that has a greyish felt-like leaf will do well in conditions such as we are experiencing. The thick layer of hairs on the leaf which gives it its felty-feel helps to conserve water, stopping the plant from losing too much water through transpiration.

 All these plants benefit from being in the ground rather than a pot. They have questing roots, searching for water in their native Mediterranean habitat so they don’t like to be constrained. They can get too wet in a pot which they hate. Same with sage and rosemary.

We need not fear the hot weather. There’s plenty to keep our gardens in flower and full of colour. Mind you I’m still hoping for gentle overnight rain from say 11pm till 4pm every night for the next month. Gardeners eh, never satisfied!

Tricia Harris August 2018

July 2018 – Right plant, right place

Happy HeleniumsPretty much all the annuals and dahlias are planted and it’s all hands to the pump to keep on top of the weeding and the deadheading so the displays keep flowering. It is calming down now as everything settles down from spring growth madness into a steady summer beauty. I love walking round the garden first thing, listening to the bees in the border and enjoying the full glory of the colour and scent that abounds in the Garden at this time of year.

I realised I hadn’t spoken before about one of my gardening heroes (there are a few and I will introduce you to them over time). The hero in question is Beth Chatto creator of the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex and a highly influential plantswoman. Mrs Chatto died in May at the age of 94 after a lifetime of working with plants and creating beautiful gardens reflected in ten successive gold medals at the RHS Chelsea flower show.

She brought a more naturalistic planting style to design promoting an ecological approach using natural plant groupings. Her philosophy was always ‘right plant, right place’ and this is perhaps the greatest lesson she has taught me as a gardener. It sounds so simple now but at the time it was revolutionary. Look at the area you are planting up? What is the soil like? Is it sandy and free draining, or clayey and prone to waterlogging in winter and drying hard as nails in summer? Every plant has a preference and it’s up to us to take heed.

I once spoke to a couple in the Garden who were visiting from Arizona. They took great delight in our roses and bemoaned the fact they could not grow them in Arizona despite trying many times. I felt slightly faint when I thought of what Mrs Chatto would have said; poor roses. Mind, I did feel for the couple as well as it’s very hard when you love a particular plant so much but the conditions in your garden are against you.

The Gravel Garden here was inspired by Beth Chatto’s work at her garden at Elmstead Market near Chelmsford. Mrs Chatto turned their heavily compacted car park into a garden of sweeping curves and relaxed and colourful planting. The ground was given a good dose of organic matter, every plant was given a thorough soaking when it was planted and then covered with a thick mulch of gravel. The premise was brutal; that was all the care they were getting and if they didn’t do they would come out. Nothing has been watered since except by rainfall and it is spectacular.

We have never watered the Gravel Garden since it was planted and it has grown vigorously. It reminds me of two things, the first is just how much water can be lost from bare soil. The other is to always give thought to what you plant, how you plant it and where. Happy gardening.

Tricia Harris July 2018

June 2018 – A riot of colour for your borders

Hot Border in Bloom at Helmsley Walled GardenWe are absolutely in the thick of it here at Helmsley Walled Garden. It’s that stage of the year (I feel sure you’re familiar with it) when everything grows like mad, including the weeds and there are still lots of plants to go in the ground; annuals, dahlias and so on. The ground is like concrete and there are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything you need to never mind want to.

Things are incredibly busy but even for us it is important to stop and admire colours and shapes. At the moment the Laburnum Arch is just going over and the alliums that have been blazing balls of purple all along the Hot Border and under the arch are slowly tuning into seed heads. The combination of purple and yellow is always spectacular and it is one we repeat throughout the year.

In the borders at Helmsley you’ll see Salvia nemorosa ‘Lubecca’ and Anthemis tinctoria ‘E C Buxton’ at one stage and Lythrum virgatum ‘Dropmore Purple’ and Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’ at another. Or Iris sibirica ‘Shirley Pope’ against Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’. Thinking about colour combinations helps to hold your borders together and keep them full of colour and interest all through summer. Blue goes from everything from pale lilac to a dark purple that is almost black and yellow goes from cream to tawny, something like Dahlia ‘David Howard’ flowering later in the year.

You can find yourself with almost too much choice so go for three colours plus white and of course green. Think about flower shape as well as colour. The gorgeous clumps of yellow daisy-like flowers on Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ will make a very different display to Phlox paniculata ‘Mount Fuji’ with its tall stems of star-shaped white flowers. Likewise the round heads of Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation are very different to  Lobelia cardinalis ‘Queen Victoria with its dark purple foliage and bright red flowers.

Consulting your plant books is a good idea and the internet is always useful. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) have a useful website where you can search for a plant and get information on when it blooms, how tall it will get and what conditions it likes.

It takes a bit of effort but it is worth considering all these things as you can plan a beautiful display which will misfire if you don’t time things correctly. I once had a brilliant idea to plant black and white tulips at home. I picked ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘White Triumphator’. I found out why the usual suggestion is to plant ‘Queen of the Night’ with ‘Maureen’ as they are both single late tulips. ‘White Triumphator’ is a lily flowered tulip and flowers later. It was a lesson well learnt to do my homework.

So I hope that has given you a flavour of what is around. If you fancy a bit of inspiration, the borders here are really starting to fire up. I’m now inspired to get to the plant centre to see what might fill the gaps in my own garden: happy days.

Tricia Harris June 2018



May 2018 – Laburnums

Helmsley Walled Garden Laburnum and AlliumsWell the sun has finally come out after a very long holiday and we are all pleased to see it here at the Garden. Everything has been so behind but is now thankfully starting to catch up. It always does in the end.

One of the highlights of May for me is the flowering of our Laburnum Arch. Now it’s fair to say it’s not as grand or as long as the famous archway at Bodnant in Wales but it is pretty special. Sometimes I stand underneath when it’s in bloom and the only thing I can hear is the buzzing of myriads of bees as they collect nectar and pollen. It is beautiful in full flower, but it does take some dedicated work to keep it looking fabulous.

One of the jobs you never see being done because it’s done in January or February when we are shut is the pruning and shaping of the trees over the archway. This was done this year by our Head Gardener Lisa who stood up a ladder with a saw and loppers for hours at a time in freezing winds to shape the trees and tie in all the new branches. It’s a cold job so we thawed her out regularly with hot drinks and biscuits and telling her it will look brilliant in May.

Apparently, the smooth green wood was once used in cabinet making and inlaying and also in musical instruments. Recorders, flutes and bagpipes were made from the wood in the past although cheaper hardwoods have now taken over sadly.

Anyway, I’d like to see more of these beautiful trees around so if you fancy having a go at growing a Laburnum or maybe even training it over an archway, here’s a few tips.

A fully grown Laburnum can reach up to 7m (22ft) with a spread of around 6m (19ft) taking about fifteen years to get there.  It’s not a long-lived tree, the average life span being around 30-40 years. It flowers in late May or early June and will grow well in almost any soil but doesn’t like being waterlogged. Extremely hardy, it’ll cope with temperatures down to -20c. in 2010, the temperature here in 2010 was a minimum of -10c overnight for a month and the trees didn’t even blink. Happiest in full sun it will tolerate partial shade.

Perhaps best of all they are very independent trees and require no special looking after unless of course you are training them over an arch. Once established they don’t need feeding and would only need watering in a serious and prolonged drought.

The three most popular varieties grown are Laburnum anagyroides, Laburnum alpinum and L. x watereri ‘Vossii’. You’ll find these at any reputable nursery. A rule of thumb is the smaller the tree, the more easily it will establish, and it will be cheaper. So, splash out on some beautiful colour for your garden this year, It will make you smile and the bees will love you.

Tricia Harris May 2018