Seeing as winter is almost here (we had all sorts of weather lately except good), my mind wonders to all the magic places I’ve been in the last past months. I wanted to write about Alnwick Garden sometime late December when I will visit Alnwick Castle. However, I have much to say about the garden only. Even though I went to see the wonderful Alnwick Garden in November, I think it will be a welcomed post seeing as all there is outside these days is just wind, rain, hail, and other horrible things. So let’s cheer up and hope for a real December with real snow soon!
The Alnwick Garden, together with the majestic Alnwick Castle (Harry Potter anyone?) are situated in the small but lovely market town Alnwick. The Duke of Northumberland lives in the castle together with his family, making this one of the few castles in UK that are inhabited. I and my friend went to visit the garden only, leaving the castle for December. This visit remains as one of the dearest memories in UK so far due to its imaginative and inspirational display. Visiting it in the autumn made the whole experience unforgettable due to the explosion of amber colors, children playing in the foliage, and the ongoing of one special event. But all in due time.
The Alnwick Garden was begun in 1759 by Hugh Percy, the first Duke of Northumberland. The third Duke was a plant collector and he transformed the garden into one of flowers. Nineteenth century is thought to be the period when the Garden was at its best. This quickly changed during WWII when it became an allotment and used as a kitchen garden until 1950. After that it was used as a nursery all the way to 1996. At that point, the current Duke of Northumberland suggested to his wife that she could perhaps do something with the garden. In a recent interview of Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland, she comments that “ He perhaps thought I will plant some roses and some bushes. But I had bigger plans. I don’t think he would have said that if he would have knew what I was planning to do”. And what she was planning to do was indeed impressive. She completely restored the garden, bringing her inspiration in a fruitful collaboration with the Belgian landscape firm of Wirtz International. The result is a magnificent place that is worth visiting at least once in life. Not only this is a place that looks like it’s been pulled out of a fairy tale but it contributes tremendously to the community. So let’s start out tour!
Before we entered the garden itself, we stopped and had lunch at its restaurant that just happen to be a treehouse. It’s much bigger than it looks from outside, and once you enter is it as if you have stepped into another world. The long massive wood chairs are surprisingly comfortable, the ambiance leaves you without words and the food is…amazing (to say the least). I’ll let the pictures do the talking. After we were done eating we climbed as high as we could get in the treehouse to look at the autumn scenery. We also found two rope bridges where we had so much fun it should be illegal. Basically we jumped on them so much that we could feel the earth was swinging long after we left the bridges. Yes, we are mature like that.
The centerpiece of the garden is the Grande Cascade, which welcomes you with its magnificent water display. Its stone is all from the Northumberland region and the water that circulates (and we are talking 250,000 gallons of water here) is used for the entire garden and recycled through an ingenious process that won the Institution of Civil Engineers Robert Stephenson Award in 2002. The cascade has 120 water jets that create a superb display. In the night it is lighten and accompanied by eerie sound effects.
The visitors are provided maps of the garden and encouraged to explore. After gawking at the Grand Cascade for what seemed like forever in a stream of “Oh my God” and “wow”, we decided to turn left and enter the Serpent Garden. This part contains seven water sculptures designed by William Pye. Every sculpture shows how water behaves in different circumstances, providing not only a spectacle and a fun place to get wet for both children and adults, but also a physics lesson.
TheOrnamental Garden contains over 16,000 plants. One can have a nice walk on the lovely paths or choose to take a break from all the exploring and sit on a bench. Either way, you are provided a beautiful sight. Some flowers are even available at the shop so if you find something you like you might even be able to go home with it.
The Rose Garden hosts not only amazing scents coming from more than 3000 English shrub roses and over 200 species, but also a spectacular view. The garden displays the beautiful Alnwick Rose, launched at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2001. One of my favorite things, except the roses, is The Fox sculpture in the middle of the garden. The sculpture was made originally for Painshill Park in Surrey in c.1750 and it was bought by the present Duke of Northumberland’s father.
The Bamboo Labyrinth, is exactly what the name suggests, and it was built by the maze-maker (job envy anyone?) Adrian Fisher. The maze is fun to try and figure out and one meets many screaming and laughing children running around blissfully. It’s pretty dark and the light that comes from between the bamboo leaves on top creates a dreamy effect. At the start there is a boulder with the inscription “only dead fish swim with the stream” conveying the both the idea that once shouldn’t think conventionally when trying to explore the maze, and the fact that the garden’s aim is to provide challenges and new approaches. In the middle there is an inscription in Latin that translates “Visitors, you have seen it all, we thank you, now go happily on your way.”
The Poison Garden is arguably the most fun part of the garden for many. The gate is locked and access is only allowed in a group (they form regularly) with a tour guide, and only after the solemn promise that nobody will touch, smell, or taste anything inside. It’s a garden that hosts many poisonous plants. The guide told us stories of how people were murdered with the help of these plants, or how accidents can happen since many plants are grown in many gardens in UK without knowledge of their deadly proprieties ( for the rhubarb’s leaves). The garden hosts a big thriving plant of cannabis (they have a license) that is growing in a big cage with a funny sign that reads “Don’t touch the grass.” Our guide was hilarious and a great story teller. Towards the end he asked the group if we know which is the deadliest plant in the garden, one that kills more than five million people a year. He pointed at a brownish plant nobody knew what it was until someone figured out it was tobacco. Clever.
The Woodland Walk is something slightly different than the interactive little gardens mentioned before. It does nothing other than providing the visitors with an exceptional view for a relaxed walk. Children are welcomed and encouraged to get involved in school activities that use this part of the garden to teach the importance of rural environments.
The Cherry Orchid contains 326 ‘Tai Haku’ (The Great white) cherry trees. One can choose to sponsor a tree in a loved one’s memory, which I think is a great way to do something meaningful and help preserve the wonder of this tree. The ‘Tai-Haku’ tree was introduced to England in 1900 and meanwhile died out in its original place, Japan. Years later it was found in a garden in Sussex by a plant collector and re-introduced in Japan. All the ‘Tai Haku’ cherry trees in the world now are descendants of the one found in England.
The garden doesn’t only provide amazing entertainment but also has its own trust, “The Alnwick Garden Trust” that operates as a charity. It has many programmes and over 55,000 visitors take part in educational activities and workshops. The Poison Garden successfully raises drug awareness, and other parts of the garden are dedicated to children with disabilities for creative play. When we were there one of the programmes, the Elderberries, was celebrated. The Elderberries is a programme providing activities for elder people who otherwise would find it hard or even impossible to socialize. They can talk, sing, and take part in many activities in the garden. The celebration was supported by the North East Harley-Davidson owners who, to show their support, decorated their bikes with pink stuff and displayed them on the path leading to the Grand Cascade and all around the Garden. People could talk to them and ask them question or even get their kids on their bikes. The Duchess of Northumberland herself made an appearance on one of the bikes and held a very nice speech for the occasion.
If you are ever near Alnwick, don’t hesitate to grab a bite at the Treehouse and explore the garden for a couple of good hours. While you are there, you might also like to go to the amazing Barter Books Shop and then go home crying because you don’t live there and can’t do these things every day (because that’s what I did)