Last month following a visit to Larch Cottage Nursery in Cumbria (blog 79) we decided to visit the grade II listed gardens of nearby Askham Hall on the Lowther estate.
You enter the garden through the homely cafe situated in the converted Barn; it is always a good idea to begin a garden visit with a little sustenance.
The garden actually opened for the NGS back in June but up-to-date news about daily happenings is displayed on the board.
We are given a map, simply drawn and ideal for children, the guide on the back outlines over twenty features in the garden. Right outside the cafe is number one, the mediterranean herb garden with a selection of edible herbs.
The garden route begins between a gap in the beech hedge and a walk through walnut trees; our guide reminds us that they were introduced into this country 500 years ago.
The ground slopes away from the cornus trees just taking on their autumn colours.
Dried heads of allium long-since flowered rise above the fading leaves of hosta grown in the little bricked beds.
Before taking the steps up to the terrace we enter the woodland walk and find ourselves at the yew tree, rather unique in the fact that it is multi-stemmed and rises from the root.
Just at this moment I spy a red squirrel, busy in his nut gathering; he is just too quick for me. There is plenty of natural wildlife here, with newts and frogs inhabiting the pond,
and there is evidence of deer with these simple but clever wire defences.
The path leads on to the Land of Giants, an area planted with very tall herbaceous plants
such as Eupatorium ‘Massive White’ which towers above us,
we feel like dwarves against the Miscanthus,
and the young leaves of the Paulownia still looking so fresh and are the size of dinner plates.
I watch a group of visitors struggle across the lawn with a wheelchair. An impossible task but until you have pushed one you have no idea how limiting it is. To the right of the green sward is the herbaceous border, at its peak in the summer months, it is an incredible 230ft long (70m).
In the centre of the border we find the steep stone steps,
which take us on to the terrace where there is still plenty going on from the grasses and late perennials,
I particularly admire the appropriately named Sedum ‘Red Cauli’.
Yet more steps to climb,
but a little sign of encouragement drives us on.
At the top lies a flat area of lawn; straight ahead is the symmetrical listed house. Previously a family home of the present owner it is now an award-winning 17 room hotel with a restaurant.
To the left the neatly mown straight lines draw our eyes to the Wellingtonia,
a hundred years old it is the largest tree in the garden.
To the right a Gypsy caravan has come to rest. Now a place for the newly-weds to sign the register,
it was built in 1900 and was originally on wheels.
Askham Hall is perched above the River Eden. You can hear the soothing sound of the water as it flows by, and, glimpsed through the branches on its bank is the Mill Cottage.
Lowther Church can be seen in the far distance.
It is on this same side that steps lead down to the parterre,
a private and secluded area reserved for the house guests, we do not linger long
before walking back around to the front of the house where a fine pair of salmon swim through the air,
and view the rolling farmland through the whimsical topiary which date back to the 1800s.
Passing through the courtyard, we marvel at the rope knot arch,
and the virginia creeper Parthonissus quinquefolia which provides dramatic colour to the grey stone walls.
A bicycle directs us to the kitchen garden and through thick hedges of ‘Discovery’ apple,
we find orderly raised beds bulging with fine produce.
It is decorative too, colourful Malope trifida ‘ Vulcan’ mingles with a collection of herbs,
and the striking heads of purple artichoke.
The poly tunnels are also productive, ready to supply restaurant and cafe.
For the ignorant like me a chilli is a chilli but here in pots are many varieties, all labelled some carry health warning signs as to the strength and I wonder that no one has thought of a Richter-type scale to measure the hottest.
This is also a working farm; the sound of chickens clucking nearby is broken by the crow of a cockerel, and over the fence ducks swim on the pond, whilst in the distance are the pigs and sheep.
This beautiful garden has a certain vibrancy to it. Open to the public, it has not lost its touch of being a family home. Located in a glorious setting there is just about everything from the history to horticulture, stunning views, a rich variety of planting, fun topiary, vegetables and fruit, and even fine dining. Thought has also been taken to provide interest for children, carefully avoiding that overload of education that at times can take away from the enjoyment of visiting a garden.