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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

October 2020 – Looking back

October is the time of year, for me at least to reflect back on the garden year and what’s happened in the garden. I’ll look at planting and think about what’s worked and what hasn’t. I’ll think about changes that might be made and what that might entail.

It’s also the time of year to start some of the work of putting the garden to bed for winter. I’ll begin to plan my winter work, like starting the pruning of the Laburnum Arch. It’s now in need of a good restorative prune which will take two or three years to complete so I’ll be looking at which bits I need to take out in this first year.

Also I will be looking for the first frost that cuts down my beloved dahlias as the sign to lift and clean them prior to bedding them down in compost for their winter snooze.

But perhaps most of all I will be reflecting on the year that has been 2020 so far. It has been a challenging, difficult and for some a heart breaking year and my heart goes out to anyone who have lost a loved one to this wretched virus.

I feel thankful in so many way: not least because the garden was saved from closure by the generosity of its many friends and supporters; but also because of the very big part the garden plays in my own life and well-being.

Research in the last few years has proved beyond doubt that spending even a few hours in a beautiful garden is good for our health and well-being. It has also quantified the benefits of gardening both for physical and mental health and that gardeners benefit even more by gardening as part of a team, perhaps by volunteering as many do here.

Personally I can only say just how important Helmsley Walled Garden  has been to my well-being, both mental and physical this year. Getting back into the garden in June; starting to bring our volunteer team back safely and then tackling the garden which had taken the opportunity to get a bit out of hand and bring it back to life and loveliness has been both demanding and rewarding.

Our volunteers are amazing; they give up their time to tackle every conceivable job you can think of in the garden. They are like family, always there supporting, suggesting, providing cake and sharing their ups and downs. They maintain the garden, run the kiosk, undertake day-to-day maintenance and create ingenious solutions to problems such as the toad ramp in the Dipping Pond.

This has helped to make 2020 more bearable and I am so grateful to be part of the garden. I have found this a year to be thankful for all I have: that I live in this beautiful part of North Yorkshire and that I work in an amazing and beautiful garden. I’m also grateful to everyone who tells me that they enjoy reading about the garden and what everyone is doing. Some of you are kind enough to let me know you’ve read something I’ve written and enjoyed it and I really appreciate it.

After I’ve written this I’ll be outside working in the Clematis Garden, which is the last part of the garden to be restored to life and loveliness. I’ll be thinking of you all working in your gardens and I hope that you find it as much a restorative joy in these tough times.

Look after yourselves and visit when you can.

Tricia Harris October 2020

A Day Trip to Helmsley Gardens from York

We don’t often have guest blog pieces but I wanted to make an exception for this one. Sophie and Adam of the website We Dream of Travel came to the garden as part of their research for things to do in York and beyond. They loved the garden and were happy for me to share this part of their blog. Enjoy.

A Day Trip to Helmsley Gardens from York

As one of the prettiest villages in England, we knew when we planned our recent trip to York that we had to take a day trip to visit Helmsley.  But, we were surprised to discover there was so much to do in this quaint little village – we immediately booked in to visit Helmsley Castle, Helmsley Walled Gardens and the National Bird of Prey Centre.  What we hadn’t expected was that Helmsley Walled Gardens would become not just the highlight of our day trip, but one of our favourite places on our entire trip to York.

As we entered the gardens, we were immediately immersed in a sea of colour against the magical backdrop of castle ruins.  The views of Helmsley Castle from the gardens are by far the best available, and if you’re short on time I’d recommend skipping the castle and heading straight to the gardens.  I never thought I’d be advocating for walled gardens over a castle, but Helmsley Walled Gardens are truly one of a kind.  

A stroll through these enchanted grounds felt like stepping into a fairy-tale or secret garden.  Visiting on a grey day just further enhanced the vibrancy of the flowers juxtaposed against the medieval ruins of Helmsley Castle and slate coloured skies.  The occasional wheelbarrow, watering can and trowel scattered about signalled to the immense work put into maintaining this beautiful facility.  They also served as useful props for multiple photo ops!

What impressed us most about Helmsley Walled Gardens was not the grounds, but the staff.  We were fortunate enough to meet Tricia, one of the two full-time employed gardeners.  From the moment we met Tricia, it felt like we had been reunited with an old friend.  Not only was she incredibly welcoming, but her passion for the gardens and the charity work they do their was palpable and contagious.  

What we hadn’t known prior to our visit is that Helmsley Walled Gardens is so much more than just a pretty place to explore.  Their work to support disadvantaged adults with mental health issues through therapeutic horticulture is absolutely inspiring.  Through their community program, they allow people with mental and physical disabilities the opportunity to develop skills and improve their health through gardening.

This is another huge reason to add Helmsley Walled Gardens to your list of things to do in York!  As a registered charity, they rely heavily on money from visitors and donations to keep the gardens maintained.  This means that by visiting the gardens, you not only get to explore a magical corner of Yorkshire, but you can also feel good about supporting a great cause.

Written by Sophie Clapton from We Dream of Travel; a site dedicated to providing travel guides and inspiration through powerful imagery.  


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September 2020 – I have a couple of plants I am really fond of

A couple of plants I’m really fond of are Dicentra formosa or Wild Bleeding Heart and Kniphofia rooperi, the red hot poker plant They are the first plants I learnt as a child in the garden I grew up in.

You don’t seem to see wild bleeding heart much these days but it is a pretty little feathery-leaved plant with pale pink locket-shaped flowers. For some reason it seems to have fallen out of fashion or at least it is not as ubiquitous as I remember.

Kniphofia on the other hand seems to have a renaissance with new varieties being produced year on year. All shapes, all sizes they have come a long way from the species plant with its magnificent pokers and slightly less magnificent strappy leaves that hung around looking progressively less attractive by the day. Newer varieties have finer leaves that take up less space around the plant.

But I remain very attached to pokers as to me, although they signalled the end of summer, the vibrant orangey-red spikes were far and away the most colourful things in the garden. The name fascinated (and slightly scared) me. Red hot pokers, were they hot? Would they burn me if I touched them? Such are the garden thoughts of small children!

As an older (and allegedly wiser) adult I appreciate the varieties here at Helmsley. You’ll find K. rooperi in the gravel border along the east wall and K. ‘Toffee Nose’, ‘Light of The World’, ‘Royal Standard’ and ‘Percy’s Pride’ to name but a few along the Hot Border.

‘Percy’s Pride’ is greeny yellow with a creamy white base, grows to around 1.2m and flowers like most varieties from mid-summer through to autumn. At the other end of the colour scale ‘Royal Standard’ is pillar box red on top with a butter yellow bottom and very eye catching, topping off at around 1m tall.

There are many more to choose from if you fancy adding a late zing to your border. There’s more than just orange to choose from. All red, all yellow, even green with K. ‘Limelight’ which I have to say I rather fancy. I’m not sure quite where I’d put it, here or at home but it is a beautiful lime green and very striking.

Other pokers in yellow include ‘Bee’s Lemon’ which has lime green buds opening into bright yellow flowers lasting for several weeks. ‘Bee’s Sunset’ is streaked with shades of orange and apricot giving the appearance of an evening sky and has the added attraction of bearing its flowers on handsome bronze stems.

One of the best things about all the pokers is that are generally very long lived and as a genre they are mostly hardy as all get out. They’re pretty problem free as well. Give them a site in full sun in a reasonably well-drained and fertile soil (they don’t like wet feet over winter so it can’t be too clayey) and they will happily flower their socks off. Established plants can be divided in late spring and an annual mulch around the clump (but not over the crown) will help keep it in tip top shape.

Happy on the coast as well as inland, they do not require much in the way of looking after. The old foliage protects the crown of the plant over winter. Any dead leaves can be removed in mid-spring which also gives you the chance to check for any slugs or snails that need evicting. If you feel compelled to grow anything that isn’t fully hardy, use a bit of fleece to protect over winter. Deadhead regularly and they will repay with a fabulous display. What’s not to love.

Tricia Harris September 2020

August 2020 – Weeding like crazy

One of the things about a garden being left to its own devices for three months is that everything will flourish. And by that I mean everything. Beautiful shrubs and plants flower next to and frequently intertwined with weeds.

Sometimes I have found myself lifting the plant I want to stay put in order to remove the couch grass, bindweed, creeping buttercup whatever that has lovingly wrapped itself around it.

It does mean that a few parts of the garden will be closed when we reopen on August 1st. Partly because of the difficulty of setting up a robust one way system through the garden but also because the said areas, namely the Clematis Garden and part of the Long Border will still be untouched by the team.

We are romping through Alison’s Garden and the Hot Border, the Secret Garden and the Wild Area at the bottom of the garden are both coming on apace and the Iris Border looked more beautiful than I would have imagined for its first year. I was saddened that no one could see it but it will be looking even more beautiful next year so I will content myself with that for now.

It got me thinking about weeds generally and I got my copy of Richard Mabey’s book Weeds: The Story of Outlaw Plants off the shelf to reread. More a thoughtful discourse on weeds and their part in our lives than a reference book; Maybe looks at our often testy relationship with these plants through a beautifully woven mix of natural history, myth and legend.

The concept of a weed, or an unwanted plant is very much human and often, as Mabey points out in the eye of the beholder. The Romans introduced several varieties of nettle to Britain as they used them as a raw material, pot herb and medicine. Ground elder was introduced as a remedy for gout although you can be sure I won’t be putting any in the Physic Garden anytime soon. Many of the plants used for medicine are rampant hooligans (think Golden Rod, Meadowsweet, Lady’s Bedstraw) but I beat them back to where I want them when they threaten each other too grievously. However a girl has to draw the line somewhere and that somewhere is Ground Elder.

They’ve been a knotty issue in agriculture for centuries, contaminating crops but also seen as an indicator of soil fertility. Both adaptable and tenacious; a plant as coast-loving as Danish Scurvy grass now grows inland in England as it follows the salt-spreading gritter along main roads. Oxford Ragwort, originally from Italy, found growing in Oxford Botanic Garden in 1794; leapfrogging the walls of the botanic garden it progressed through Oxford, finding new homes in the stonework of the colleges. It made its way to Oxford Railway Station in the 1830s and once acquainted with the railway system, used it to ride across the country: to London by 1867, Swindon by 1890, Bideford in Devon by 1899 and as far north and west as the Clyde and Caernarvon by 1915 without so much as a ticket.

But they can also be beautiful. Queen Anne’s Lace with its frothy umbels of white flowers, the scent and creamy flowers of Meadow Sweet, or the wall dweller ivy-leaved toadflax.

In the end what makes our gardens a great habitation for weeds is us. Our constant cultivation of the soil is the perfect place for weeds to make their home. They are food plants for insects and have a part to play in our ecosystem.

So perhaps we should tolerate them a little more and make a space for them somewhere in our gardens. I’ll have a think about that next time I’m weeding.

Tricia Harris August 2020

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.