When we heard Chris Beardshaw had designed the garden we just had to visit. Perhaps an hour’s drive from where we were staying near Ripon was no problem: A 61 then A19 after Thirsk, it seemed straightforward. Not with our navigation and English Heritage signposting, however.
Nonetheless, after a false turn towards York instead of Darlington it seemed all we had to do was leave the main road, drive through the delightful village of Osmotherley and there it would be.
No: the village was not on the right road. Fortunately there was a shop, and very beautiful it was, and a woman coming out who’d done exactly as we had the day before. Back to the A19, she told us, drive a bit further north and you’ll see the sign. We did, left the A19 at the sign, turned underneath, regained it heading south and immediately afterward left at a second sign. The gate was just ahead. Our journey was a bit longer than expected, but only because of the false turns. Even Covid restrictions allowed some leeway on arrival.
Helpful staff explained the layout, what was open or closed, and where to find useful places like the toilets. After a few minutes over coffee and a pastry we started towards the garden. In fact the plural, gardens, only begins to summarise the experience. Chris Beardshaw has followed guidelines the monastic community would have used so that there is a blend of native, as it were wild, plants, medicinal herbs and traditional trees. The hillside site is riven by a stream feeding a pond before departing downwards. A lake that would originally – and may still be – have been for fish is away to one side. There is a terrace immediately below the house facade, not a monastic but an Arts and Crafts feature so planted in Gertrude Jekyll style. The priory ruins are to the rear.
A path leading to this terrace – and the house entrance (currently closed but for the gift shop) prepares with its planting for the two following aspects. Below the terrace is the Jekyll garden, with paeonies resplendent. Beyond, through an gap in the yew hedge, is a wildflower meadow, its white blooms framed by the dark yew.
We took the wild flower route towards the lake before returning for the formal garden. It was like coming home after a country walk. Trees, birds and butterflies abound. ‘Green thoughts in a green space’ were very much in evidence. We were not very far from Andrew Marvell’s territory, and Chris Beardshaw had developed this realisation.
Textures of petals and leaves contrasted with stonework of the terrace and house; a stream worked its way through, changing the character of the planting. Above all was the steep, forested slope where, with more time, we could have walked at leisure.
It seemed almost a wrench to leave the garden for the priory ruins, yet the whole site is of a piece. This is particularly so with the reconstructed monk’s cell which has a physic garden beyond. Also, returning towards the house, there is another flower bed.
The shop even has green chartreuse, the strong liqueur traditionally made by monks of the Carthusian order. Having been given some on a trip for Silver Traveller I settled for cider, after the checking the price of Chartreuse – expensive.
The only word to offer for this visit is wonderful. Probably the finest garden we have ever seen. We will return, perhaps staying there (there is accommodation) or nearby.