• Helmsley Walled Garden - Cornfield Meadow

Garden Blogs and Factsheets

Follow the story of the garden throughout the year in our Gardening blog.  Find out more about gardening for wildlife, gardening with peat and peat substitutes, and growing a garden meadow. Learn more about the early days of the garden in Alison Ticehurst’s Diaries. Continue Reading

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

November 2019 – Dahlias

Helmsley Walled Garden Dhalias by David HowardDear readers I have a terrible confession to make this month. I used to think dahlias were a frou-frou waste of time and effort. I know. I can see you all stern faced, lips pressed tight in disapproval at this scandalous attitude. But fear not I have turned my back on my former louche behaviour.

The change was brought about by my dear friend Helen who gardened with me here and brought from her previous garden a range of dahlias with which she set about educating me.

I had no idea there was such variety in dahlias and (worse) I used to mix them up with chrysanthemums. They are so different but in my head they came under the same showy bunch of blooms that needs lots of fuss.

Well Helen was having no truck with that and so she won my heart for dahlias by planting ‘David Howard’, ‘Carolina Moon’, ‘Chat Noir’, ‘Nuit d’ Ete’ and ‘Purple Haze’. The last always brings on a Jimi Hendrix soundtrack in my head (I was very young in the 60s which is why I remember them). The colours are amazing and they are in full bloom now, a little diminished by the recent frost but still giving autumn a real zing.

So now, even though they do take a bit of care I’m a big fan. For me it’s not about enormous show bloom, more about colour and well joy really. At a time when problems seems to be everywhere: politics, the climate, the health service to name but a few, we can all do with plants that lift our spirits.

A few recommends. Miniature decorative ‘David Howard’ is a gem, and I’m not just talking about the plant breeder and nurseryman. Combining beautiful orangey gold flowers with being very robust (for a dahlia) you can’t really go wrong. A couple were missed when we lifted them last and they still managed in this not startlingly good summer to put on a thumping show. I’d say the same as regards robustness about ‘Carolina Moon’, a waterlily dahlia whose petals are white with a delicate violet wash.

For drama, cactus dahlias are good value. ‘Chat Noir’ is an almost chocolatey dark purple with ‘Nuit d’ Ete’ a deep aubergine. Or for full-on zing try ‘Acapulco’ (cue for another song), a brilliant scarlet and a real showstopper.

I’m going to be pretty busy soon lifting this lot here at the garden. I’ll start after we close and it will be all hands to the pump through November as we lift each tuber, cut off the old foliage and rinse off any remaining soil. The dahlias then stand upside down in the Orchid House to dry out thoroughly.

Next it’s out with the dahlia crates. I line them with newspaper and a layer of potting compost. Each crate is filled with tubers of the same variety, a name tag is popped on and then another layer of potting compost, finally going under the benches in the Orchid House to overwinter. I check them occasionally, I don’t want them wet as they’ll rot but they don’t want to be bone dry either.

Once spring is here and I can see buds starting, I’ll bring them up on top of the benches to get some light and give them a little water so they can start filling out. Nothing is planted until I’m certain we’ve had our last frost. This can be a pretty moveable feast so I watch the weather. Once I’m sure, in they go and I look forward to another brilliant show. Yes, dahlias are wonderful, thanks Helen.

Tricia Harris November 2019

October 2019 – The busyness of October

Harvest celebration Helmsley Walled Garden October 2019In the days of my extreme youth when people would say “ooh hasn’t the year gone by quickly” I was filled with scepticism and disbelief that these older people really knew what they were talking about. How could the year go by faster? All days and months are the same length every year? Reader, I hang my head  and confess I now know exactly what those people in my past were talking about as this year has shot past faster than the speed of light.

We are into October and autumn and at the end of this month we close our doors to the public until next April. Not that the work stops; it just means we can dig up large areas to redevelop them without worrying about any unsightly mess.

Preparations for our winter work are now underway. I don’t want to let all our surprises out at once but I will say that those of you who have visited recently will have noticed the Iris Border taking shape on the East wall. We will also be giving the wild area a massive makeover. It has become so overgrown it does indeed resemble a truly wild place. But as such it doesn’t really belong in the garden so it will be completely dug over, leaving one or two shrubs and then replanted with British native wild flowers.

We will also be doing a lot of work on the Long Border with a new design drawn up by June, who in addition to being garden manager is also a fine garden designer. The new design is still under wraps but I can say that it will incorporate some unusual peonies as a tribute to Alison Ticehurst who started the whole restoration process of the garden back in the 1990s. Peonies were her favourite flower and it will be a wonderful way to remember what she did and what we all owe her.

But in the meantime things do not stand still, oh no. We will be having an autumn display in the Orchid House full of pumpkins, squashes and other vegetables, fruit and flowers harvested from the garden. Although whether we will have an old garden lush in this year’s display will be purely down to the creative skills of our volunteers! Terrible things happen when you put a gardener next to a gin bottle.

We celebrate all things apple on Saturday October 19th, our Apple Day. There will be apple-themed trails and puzzles for children, apple pressing and juicing displays alongside the chance to taste unusual varieties. There is the chance to learn more about pruning and training the apple trees in your garden with short workshops throughout the day. In addition there will be delicious apple-themed dishes to try in The Vine House Café. I’m hoping for Apple Cake which I love but never seem to get the time to make for myself.

Also in the Orchid House there will be a display of paintings, craft jewellery and other items created by the York Textile Group of artists alongside our own artist-in-residence Clare Carlile. This will start on the 19th and run for a week. I can hand on heart say that all their work is exquisite and if you looking to get ahead with some Christmas shopping it will be well worth a look.

Time does not stand still and I must go and open up the garden for visitors. The garden may be starting to prepare for its winter slumbers but it is still beautiful. Visit if you have the chance, we’d love to see you. In the meantime, enjoy your garden.

Tricia Harris October 2019

September 2019 – Bringing in the Harvest

It has been something of a topsy-turvey summer with the weather cracking the flags one minute and rain of positively Biblical proportions the next. I’ve noticed a big difference in our apple crop this year. There are a lot less for a start.

One reason for that is last year was a bumper crop and trees will look after themselves by limiting the number of fruit they bear in order not to exhaust themselves and to conserve energy for the following year. Called biennial bearing it’s not an unusual sight but I think this year has been exacerbated by the cold, wet snap we had just as the trees blossomed. It meant pollinators weren’t out and about so much. This was followed by an unseasonal warm and dry spell which has resulted in much smaller fruits. Worcester Pearmain, normally a decent sized fruit has got tiny apples this year. More like the size of Spartan only not quite so crimson in colour.

So it has made cropping from our Kitchen Garden a bit interesting. But we are picking every day and I have never made so many courgette and lime cakes so I guess courgettes are cropping as usual.

I love this time of year when the quality of the light changes as summer draw towards its close and we pick tomatoes, aubergines, chillies, herbs and salad leaves from the Salad House and beans, courgettes, sweetcorn and potatoes out in the Kitchen Garden. There does seem to be a healthy crop of plums and damsons and we’ll be starting to pick autumn raspberries very soon.

I grew up in a small seaside town in the north west and I don’t think I truly appreciated harvest time then. Harvest Festival at school was very much a tin of spaghetti or fruit and although we sang the hymn We Plough the Fields and Scatter, it didn’t have any resonance for me. Now I can see and hear the combines working late into the night from my house. Everyone works till all hours to bring the harvest in when the weather is good and frets when it rains. It makes me appreciate all the hours of work that have gone into growing the wheat for my bread and the fruit and vegetables for my dinner amongst many other things.

But of course it doesn’t stop with harvest for farmer or gardener. I’m thinking now about what seeds I will need for the Salad House next year and I will be talking to Mollie who makes all the delicious food in The Vine House Café about what she would like me to produce for her menus. I’ll be taking the opportunity once we close to put heart into soil that has been busy all season by adding organic matter and a helping of manure.

Likewise in the Kitchen Garden, Laura is planning her crop rotation, which beds to manure and obviously planting things like garlic for next year. The colder months are the perfect time to drool over seed catalogues and a lot of that goes on here I can tell you.

But we only have five acres and twenty four hours in a day so common sense must prevail. We really can’t grow five different types of carrot and although there are many lovely salad leaves to choose from, growing two different kinds of rocket is silly when I could grow Mizuna, mustard, chard, spinach not to mention, coriander, dill, flat and curly parsley, basil and so on.

So we may slow down a little but we won’t be stopping as summer ends. Come and watch our progress and enjoy your garden.

Tricia Harris September 2019

August 2019 – Show stopping plants

Talking to visitors about the plants in the garden got me thinking about show stoppers. The sort of plant that make you stop dead in your tracks and say wow. There are definitely some visitor favourites: one would be Lychnis chalcedonica in the Gravel Garden and Hot Border, tall with bright scarlet flowers it catches everyone’s attention and I have a very soft spot for it growing it at home as well as putting new plants into the Hot Border at every opportunity to bulk up the display.

Another of my favourites that visitors ask about is Achillea “Gold Plate” on the Hot Border. It has the familiar umbel of tiny flowers but they are so tightly packed together they form a plate of vibrant yellow. Anyone who follows the gardens social media will know that the annual appearance of this plant is something I post about a lot! Well who could resist, certainly not me.

One fabulous scented showstopper is Rosa “Gertrude Jekyll” in Alison’s Garden. I was about to say that normally I’m not overly keen on pink flowers. But then I remembered the startlingly vibrant pink Achillea “Cerise Queen” I’ve just planted in the Hot Border and then Lychnis coronaria, common name rose campion which is a more deep velvety cerise. Anyway, I digress, Gertrude is an old-fashioned looking rose that was actually bred by David Austin in 1986. An English shrub rose, it’s colour is a deep, deep pink and oh the scent; it will truly take your breath away. Gertrude is a bit thorny but the beauty of her flowers means she should not be missed.

I have great fondness for Kniphofia rooperi or Red Hot Poker, in the West and Hot Borders. It’s a bit of a marmite plant for many people but it is (along with Dicentra formosa) one of the first flowers I can remember. It grew in the garden of my extreme youth and, I don’t know, maybe it was it’s very brashness, tall, slightly angular flowers in the brightest of oranges that made it appeal. Either way I had to plant it in my garden at home and was bereft when it didn’t thrive. When it refused to flower for the third year in a row I dug it up and planted it in my neighbour’s front garden. To my chagrin it flowered profusely from the word go. It obviously prefers it next door and I am still miffed.

One gorgeous perennial that comes along slightly later in the summer is Helenium “Moerheim Beauty”. It has daisy-like flowers with the most striking coppery-red petals and a dark centre. Flowering from late July onwards with dead-heading it goes on and on. H. “Sahin’s Early Flowerer”  as its name suggests flowers earlier but is more yellowy. Equally striking at a height of 50cm – 1 metre high, these two give real continuity to a border making sure the show goes on right through summer.

There are a lot of beautiful perennial Rudbeckias such as “Goldsturm” or R. fulgida, but the one that has a special place in my heart is annual R. “Cherry Brandy”. It has deep, dark crimson petals that look almost the colour of chocolate they are so deep and rich, again with a dark centre. Annuals they may be but they flower for ages. They do need to be sown under cover and not put out until all danger of front has passed.

I hope you’ll try out one or two of these and maybe, if you see me in a flower bed here, come and tell me some of your favourites. Enjoy your garden.

Tricia Harris August 2019