Each year Mum and I try to get to Holker Hall, in Cumbria (just west of Grange-over-Sands) to see the spring garden. It's a lovely garden, with lots to see through the summer, but we prefer it when the shrubs and trees are flowering. It's a mix of formal and informal gardens, so here is a tour of what's on offer there right now. Do click on any of the photos for a closer look.
This section doesn't photograph too well, as the canopy creates a lot of shade, but this walk runs up the hill, with a fountain on the first "landing" of the steps (you can just see it in this photo), then the steps go on upwards, with a water cascade either side. Very shady and cool on a hot day, which it wasn't today!
On either side of the fountain are the massive rhododendrons we come to see; planted in the Victorian period they are truly magnificent. Holker has its own microclimate which means things flower a little ahead of our area, despite being further north. Timing it to get the best of the shrubs is always tricky, though fortunately different plants flower at slightly different times.
Here's another huge rhododendron, this time a white one and it was difficult getting the whole thing into shot!
A revamped woodland section contains some smaller flowering azaleas (left) and frilly magnolias (right). Alongside the path are lots of other woodland species such as bleeding hearts, lungwort, wood anemones, snowflakes, and the tree in the centre is surrounded by lily of the valley.
Here is a massed planting of hellebores, probably easier to see if you click on the photo. There were various colours, all just at their best and the photo really doesn't do them justice.
The thing about this garden is you turn a corner and suddenly you're hit by something stunning, like this pink magnolia. I love magnolias, but my soil really isn't suitable for them. This year we managed to get to Holker just as they were flowering, and there are lots of them!
One area they have been working on in recent years is the woodland garden; here's a shot of daffodils among the trees. The daffodils are just starting to go over, but they're still very impressive. Elsewhere there are massed plantings of yellow and pink primroses.
And in the midst of this is a small formal garden in (I think) the italianate style. These formal beds are yet to reach their peak, but some of the tulips are starting, as you can see in the foreground.
And here's the woodland garden on the other side of the formal bit. The nice thing is they've designed the planting so that paths can be mowed through the grass for you to walk on; it's not a place where you see "keep off the grass" signs, which is nice. You can see one of these paths in the centre of the photo.
While the house is open to the public, the family keeps its own quarters and garden off limits, but these domestic escapees were foraging among the rhododendrons.
This is one of the newer areas, still under development. In the foreground are some magnolias, more new magnolia trees are out of shot to the left. In the middle ground are silver birch, while at the back are a couple of rhododendrons. Most of these trees weren't here when we last visited a couple of years ago. They look like they're leaning, but that's just my dodgy camera work! I was standing on a sloping path and failed to compensate.
And this is a camelia corner, with several bushes, of which this was the best. The bare bones of the planting were laid down 100+ years ago, with the rhododendrons and trees which have now reached a huge size. In between, subsequent owners have added more themed planting, of which this is an example. They've also been careful to plant for the microclimate - this side of the garden is much more sheltered than the woodland sections.
I love monkey puzzle trees, you used to see a lot of them when I was younger. They were fashionable around a hundred years ago, but age has reduced their numbers somewhat, so to see a collection of huge specimens like this is now a rarity. The biggest tree in this group happily has small offspring growing at the base, carefully preserved by the gardeners.
Returning along the paths towards the house, here is another showy rhododendron in full flow.
The formal gardens near the house are classics of their type; separate "rooms", bound by hedges both large and small. Here is the view looking up the avenue; as you can see there were quite a number of visitors about, I found it impossible to keep people out of my pictures!
Standing at the same point as the last photo but looking left, here is a stunning tulip border along the edge of the box hedge. These borders are changed through the season, beginning with tulips.
This is the centre of this "room", with low hedges and four beds in the centre circle. The trees in each bed are closely pruned pears. The plants in the wicker-bound beds are pink tulips, just a few days off blooming, so you'll have to use your imagination!
But even this well-kept garden has a few things out of place - here's a grape hyacinth which has chosen to grow in a gravel bed by the path.
Leaving the first "room" behind, you pass through a section with high hedges enclosing lawns, then into the final "room" which has yew hedges round the edges and in the centre, where it encloses a sun trap with benches for the weary. They haven't finished planting this bed in the foreground, it's looking like it will be full of summer flowering plants eventually. This bed is exposed to the wind and it looks like they may have lost some plants in the winter.
The path runs in a circle round the centre hedges; as you can see, there is a bit of topiary here too.
And here is a shot of the tulip beds outside the house. It was too early for the tulips really, we have been when they are flowering and they are stunning.
While I like the formal beds, it's the woodland garden I like to see; rhododendrons and magnolias of a size too large for ordinary gardens. If you're in the area, it's worth a visit, especially in the spring.