There are plenty of outdoor delights to be had this summer by visiting one of our many fabulous gardens. Here are our top 20 things to do if you need some inspiration when visiting our exquisite gardens across Cumbria and the Lake District.
At Levens Hall and Gardens near Kendal, visitors can see 100 pieces of topiary, each clipped to an individual design that includes a king and queen, four peacocks, a judge’s wig, a jug of secret recipe Levens’ Morocco Ale, Queen Elizabeth and her Maids of Honour and the ‘Great Umbrellas’.
At Brantwood, on Coniston Water, there are eight unique and beautiful gardens to explore, at the former home of John Ruskin. The Zig Zaggy is laid out to a Ruskin sketch of 130 years ago and is said to represent Dante’s Purgatorial Mount, whilst the Hortus Inclusus has British native herbs laid out in the form of a medieval manuscript. Additionally, visitors can seek out a ‘Bee Penthouse’ in the Professor’s Garden.
Another quirky, not-to- be-missed feature is the Living Quilt in the gardens at Swarthmoor Hall near Ulverston – the birthplace of Quakerism. This is a copy of the quilt in Swarthmoor’s Fells Bedroom, brought to life by nature.
At Kirklinton Hall near Carlisle, children will find it impossible to not rush off to the Faerie Glen, to see how many faeries they can spot. They can then walk alongside a stream – perhaps enjoying a paddle – and seek out the rock-carved face of Maelgwyn the Fair, a faerie princess who pined away for her love.
The gardens at historic house, Mirehouse near Keswick, (which has recently been named as the best Visitor Attraction at the recent Cumbria Tourism awards) not only afford views of beautiful Bassenthwaite Lake, home to ospreys, but also house a snuff garden, in which rare asarabacca plants grow. There is also a walled bee garden and a heather path maze, of a form used by the medieval Christian church to assist meditation.
Nobody should be able to pass by Holker Hall and Gardens, near Cartmel – the Countryfile Garden of the Year 2015/16 – and home to the 400-year- old Great Holker Lime – a tree with a girth of 7.9 metres and declared one of Britain’s 50 great trees in 2002, as part of Golden Jubilee celebrations. You can also see a labyrinth designed as a Hindu temple!
Those seeking links to the tales of Arthur and his knights, should make tracks for Hutton-in- the-Forest near Penrith, where the Woodland Walk creates associations with the medieval forest of Inglewood, with which the legend of Sir Gawain and the Greene Knights is associated.
Whilst June is the key month to see stunning Himalayan Blue Poppies in the 2013 Garden of the Year at Dalemain, near Dacre, the children will probably be more enthralled by the Children’s Garden, in which an animal is referenced in the common names of most of the plants grown. Here, you will find, Bear’s Breeches, Snapdragon and Foxgloves, amongst many others, and charming wooden animal signs next to each plant, to identify it. Dalemain is also home to the biggest Silver Fir of its kind.
Brockhole on Windermere, is a great place from which to hop in a canoe, kayak or rowing boat, or have a go on the treetop zip-wire, but also contains a cherished Handkerchief Tree and a Chilean Lantern Tree within the 30-acre grounds originally designed by Arts and Crafts designer, Thomas Mawson.
Also close to Windermere, you will find Holehird Gardens, the Lakeland Horticultural Society’s Gardens, maintained by volunteers and the holder of four National Collections – Astilbe, Daboecia, Meconopsis and Polystichum Ferns. Holehird also has a renowned collection of Hydrangea, and a children’s trail, not to mention stunning herbaceous borders and island beds, in July and August.
Getting on the trail is also great fun in the Grade II listed gardens at Askham, near Penrith, where animal trails will introduce the family to shorthorn cattle, rare breed pigs, Boer goats, ducks and chickens. They should also keep an eye out for red squirrels, rabbits, badgers and pheasants, as Askham is a haven for wildlife.
Nearby National Trust Acorn Bank boasts an incredible herb garden of over 250 herb varieties, whilst National Trust property, Sizergh, located near Kendal, has a wonderful limestone rock garden, ablaze in colours ranging from deep butter yellow, to burnt orange and red, in Autumn. Sizergh is also home to a National Collection of Hardy Ferns and is a wonderful place to see young coot chicks preening themselves whilst perched on flowering water lilies.
If it’s literary connections you want, however, there are three Wordsworth-associated gardens in the Cumbria’s Living Heritage cluster group: Dove Cottage, Wordsworth House and Allan Bank. At Dove Cottage, in Grasmere, you can explore the natural and semi-wild garden that William and his sister, Dorothy, created and planted up with plants and flowers collected during their walks and given to them by friends and neighbours. At nearby Allan Bank, you can relax in rugged woodland, a walled garden and around more formal lawns, in a place that Dorothy described as a “child’s paradise,” whilst at National Trust Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, the garden is packed with 18 th century vegetables, fruits and herbs, just as it would have been when William played there as a child.
In Western Cumbria, the view of the fells from Muncaster’s gardens, close to Ravenglass, was described by Ruskin as the “Gateway to Paradise”. Here, you can visit Sino-Himalyan gardens containing plants rarely seen in the West and do that extraordinary thing of experiencing something similar to that in the Himalayan foothills, even though you are only standing at sea level.
Finally at Brantwood, the former home of John Ruskin there are magnificent views over Coniston. Here you can seek out rare Touch-me- not Balsam; find a medieval manuscript formed from 200 herbs and try to find birch and beech in a loving embrace.