This was my first visit and I’d heard all the hype. The gardens had a lot to live up to – and boy do they.
This is an amazing garden constructed on a monumental scale. Visiting in mid March before the leaves come out meant that I was very aware of the underlying structure of the garden and the massive effort taken to create it.
The garden is very much the vision of the Duchess who has turned a derelict garden not used since the Second World War’s Dig for Victory Campaign, into a world renowned garden. Not only has she created what must be one of the best contemporary gardens in the world, it also achieved the aim of providing much needed employment to the area as well as tourist money into the town.
The garden has cost an estimated £42 million to develop and is now run as a charitable trust, encouraging community involvement. Drug awareness programmes are run in the Poison Garden for local school children and there are horticultural programmes to improve the quality of life and well being for the over 55s or those with dementia.
The garden is a wonderful combination of different areas and spaces with something for everyone from golf in the forgotten garden to the largest tree house in the world, set high in the tree canopy with massive branches growing through the floors and wooden walkways.
The view of the cascade as you enter the garden is awe inspiring, particularly if the water jets are working. (The run for 5 minutes on the hour and half hour.) There are other smaller water features scattered round the garden with water channels feeding into the cascade.
Massive beech hedges divide the garden into discrete areas. There is a Serpent garden with trimmed yew trees forming a maze, with yet more water features as well as a bamboo labyrinth. There are rose gardens and a huge cherry orchard with over 300 trees with wooden swings to sit and enjoy the views. The ornamental garden is delightful too, with carefully trimmed hedges designed to provide different vistas.
Where else will you find a poison garden – visited by guided tour only through a locked gateway. Make sure you are there in plenty of time as only a limited number of people are allowed in the garden at a time. Over 100 species of poisonous plants are grown in the garden, including class A, B and C drugs which require a Home Office licence to grow. Participants are warned not to touch anything as some plants are so dangerous, even touching them with your skin can cause death.
The guide talks about some of the plants growing in the garden, how they are used and their effects. It was sobering how many are commonly found garden plants including rhubarb, laburnum, helebores and rosemary.
The main car park is off the B1340. Alternatively there is plenty of disc parking in the town and pedestrian access off Greenwell Road. Tourist Information in Alnwick sell tickets to the gardens with a 10% reduction on the ticket price.
This is somewhere that should be on everyone’s tick list! There are lots more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/gardens/england/north/alnwick/index.html