You may remember from a recent post that I love Knaresborough. I am particularly fascinated by some of the houses near the castle and the river. Houses seem to perch on the hillside and gardens come in all shapes and sizes, undoubtedly bringing a variety of challenges and I often wonder about who lives in the houses and how they go about their gardening.
So I was very excited last weekend to actually see some of these gardens in the annual Hidden Gardens of Knaresborough event organised by the Knaresborough Horticultural Society. The Society dates back to the 1850s and is still thriving today with 2 shows annually as well as the Hidden Gardens event. They were raising funds for Dementia Forward, a cause with personal meaning for me, so I could indulge my curiosity about all those gardens and support a great charity at the same time – win win!
The weekend was gloriously sunny – perfect for exploring new places. There were 13 gardens on the trail and, furnished with a map, D and I set off on our expedition. And what an expedition it was! Full of colours, scents and inspiration. Oh, and lots of opportunities for tea and cake along the way. Everyone we met was so welcoming, happy to share their private space along with their knowledge and enthusiasm and every garden we visited was different from the one before.
A note before we start – all the photos were either taken by myself or D.
Some were courtyard gardens, like the Zip Inn clothing alterations and soft furnishings company. The variety of colours and textures in the pots and window boxes definitely felt to me like they had been put together by someone with a love of fabric and there was plenty to see in such a tiny area.
Kirkgate B&B also had a courtyard garden, that day buzzing with people enjoying tea and cake. The owner explained to me that she opened the garden to show how much can be achieved in a small space. I loved the container pond (I have been dropping very large hints to D about having one of these for a while although with the Calamity Cat’s love of frogs, maybe it’s not such a good idea!) It even had its own resident goldfish called Margaret. A large raised bed was densely planted and elsewhere, carnivorous plants in pots sat happily with more traditional planting whilst the scent of roses filled the air.
Later in the walk, we came across another courtyard garden. This had a totally different feel to the others, as it was larger and split into a number of “rooms”. Bonsai complemented the more natural planting and seemed almost to reflect the intricate pattern made by the trunk of an old apple tree, which appeared to be growing almost horizontally out of a wall. The couple who owned the house had been there only six years and had done most of the planting themselves. It was inspirational to see how mature the garden looked in what, in gardening terms, is a relatively short space of time.
There was another courtyard at the School House, a tranquil space where blue china on the walls highlighted the blue flowers and a beautiful mirror added depth and an extra dimension. Like the people with the bonsai, the garden was relatively new to the owners of the house, who had moved from our very own village a scant three years ago – how much they had achieved in such a short time! And it was easy to see why they had chosen their new home. It looked straight out on to the ruined castle – what a view to wake up to!
It wasn’t the only stunning view we saw that day. One cottage, fairly unobtrusive from the front, had steps leading down to a garden high above the river, with views straight across it. With a view like that, if I lived there, I doubt I would ever get anything done. The terraced garden was full of flowers and of bees. I loved the enormous thistle, standing proud and tall, adding some spiky texture to the more gentle planting around it.
Because of the steepness of the town, especially near the river, several of the gardens were terraced. My favourite was like some kind of fairytale castle. We entered through an arched doorway, past a round tower covered in beautifully scented roses and along the terrace. D got no further, stopping to chat to the owner about the garden and the effect of the recent extreme weather. Meanwhile. I braved the steep steps to the terrace below, chatting to one of the neighbours, who told me that the previous owners had grown peaches against one of the walls. As the sun beat down on us, I could see how peaches could thrive. The current owner had grapevines too. I made my way past a bed of large, exotic plants and tried to remember that I was in the north of England rather than somewhere in the Caribbean. At the end of the terrace was the lower level of the tower, which was open to reveal a cool circular room, perfect for taking a break from all that sunshine while still enjoying another amazing river view.
Away from the river, it was possible to see more traditional garden layouts with lawns and borders, similar to our own flower garden. I loved to see how, even in this familiar format, people were able to put their own character into the space. The Old Dispensary is a beautiful old house, built many years before the NHS was ever dreamed of, and here the path was framed with flowers and the borders full of colour.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a New Simple Life post if we didn’t find a cat-friendly garden. In the grounds of another large stone-built house, we found three long-haired beauties sunning themselves, totally unbothered by the fact that their garden had been invaded by lots of strangers. Sadly I didn’t take any photos of them – whilst it felt right to be photographing the plants, I thought it was a bit presumptuous to be photographing members of the family! The garden was a cat’s (and human’s) dream – shady paths to explore, statues, ponds with fish to watch and a lawn to soak up the sun.
We nearly missed what turned out to be my favourite of the more traditional gardens – it was the only one we struggled to find, although it was quite obvious when we got there with a clear sign on the gate. Blame our poor map-reading skills! I am glad we took the trouble to find it though. Although traditional in its layout, it had several different areas, all with their own feel. The owner told me that part of the wall surrounding the garden had formed part of the wall to the kitchen garden of the old Knaresborough House (now home to the Town Council, I believe). She added that there must have been several outbuildings on the site originally, as when they were originally creating the garden, they kept finding paving and hard landscaping beneath the surface. They skilfully blended those areas into the garden and they have helped shape its form today. My favourite part was a tiny shaded area at the far end away from the house, which had a simple chair in it next to the plants. It was a space I felt I could sit and be mindful, enjoy the plants and dream or write. I absolutely loved the Spotty Dotty here and may well be searching one out for our Frog Patch very soon!
Several of the gardens had cottage garden elements – borders filled with cottage garden plants for example – but there was one which epitomised everything a cottage garden means to me. It wasn’t a huge garden, compared with some that we had seen, but it was crammed with plants, all jostling for space. It looked like a work of art in one way – the colours and foliage blended skilfully to make a picture that you could come back to time and again and see something different every time. And yet, like all the best design, there was nothing contrived about it. It felt totally natural, as if Mother Nature had just thought “This is a great place to grow” and off She went. Seating areas were tucked away, there were pollinators everywhere and birds fed happily on the bird table. If we achieve a small fraction of this in our own cottage garden bed, I will be happy.
As well as the Zip Inn and the B&B, there were other organisations opening their gardens to us that day. St Mary’s Catholic Church were offering teas on the lawn while Beech Hall Youth Hostel had a secret garden nestled between two cottages used by the company for guests, with beautiful raised beds, a fountain and the scent of lavender in the air.
The final garden on the trail was the only one to focus on veg and had much more of a feel of a working garden than the rest. The Orb Community Arts Centre is tucked away off the main street (advertised only by this rather splendid mural of the box office for the theatre – recognise anyone here?)
The Centre promotes positive mental health for all through participation in creative community activities and Orb Green, their garden, plays a crucial role. Yet another steep path for us to negotiate (after I had torn D away from the nearby bowling green, where he stopped to watch the bowlers doing their stuff in spite of the heat) but well worth the effort. D was very impressed with the interlinked water butts and, as regular readers know, he loves working in our kitchen garden, so he was in his element here.
The garden is a community space for anyone – service users, volunteers and members of the public. I spoke to the gardener, who told me that some users cultivate their own square, while others help out wherever is needed and yet others just come to sit, to be. I can only imagine how valuable I would have found this myself last year when I was suffering from stress and anxiety and I have a great deal of respect for those who have made it happen and who continue to work to make the garden a success. There are veg plots, a large pond, a stream and a wildlife area, where piles of wood and traditional “weeds” can be found to encourage the insects and bugs so essential to a healthy garden. I was very impressed with their hydroponics area too, full of exuberant herbs.
By the end of the afternoon, we were tired but full of what we had seen. The whole event was well organised (having the Orb garden at the end of the trail was perfect we felt as it was such a great foil for the rest). Gardeners are all such lovely people – everyone we met was so welcoming, so knowledgeable and so happy to share their experiences with us, from the enthusiasm of the gardener at Orb Green, through the lady who gave me lots of advice on the Spotty Dotty, to the one who asked me to pop by again so that she could share plants with me when they were due to be divided. And I hope that it was as enjoyable an experience for those who generously opened their homes for us – that we, their visitors, gave something back, whether it was simple appreciation or knowledge of our own. I know one owner told me that someone who had visited had been able to tell her some of the rarer species she had in her garden, such as a eucryphia nymensis (which looked like a fairly ordinary tree to me!) As a relative newcomer to this gardening lark, I probably wasn’t much help in that area, but I hope that I showed as I went around how much the opportunity to see these much-loved gardens meant to me. Many thanks to the KHS for organising it and to everyone who took the time to speak to us – it is an experience that will stay with me.
I came home and walked through our plot with new eyes – if someone came to visit our garden, what would they see, how would it make them feel? It has given me lots of ideas for the future, particularly in the flower garden, but they might have to wait for next year!