One of the highlights of our recent holiday in North Yorkshire was a long overdue visit to Helmsley Walled Garden. I’ve always wanted a walled garden of my own and Helmsley‘s fits perfectly with the fantasy image I have in my head. Now I’ve added a huge glasshouse to the garden of my dreams as theirs are a sight to behold.
The main glasshouse is the Vine House and is a dominant feature of the garden, but in the ‘just right’ sense rather than an overwhelming one. It’s the first thing you see when stepping through the entrance and the cafe section can be visited at any time the garden is open for deliciously squishy cakes or a light lunch.
The other half of the Vine House lives up to its name, with the addition of salads and tomato plants bursting with health and vigour in readiness to supply the cafe. Elsewhere there are glasshouses for plant sales and a separate Orchid House, which was filled with a delicious looking summer display of annuals housed in terracotta pots.
The gardens are 5 acres in total, with lots of different garden rooms and features, even chickens. This is very much a teaching garden, covering both ornamental and edible aspects. It specialises in horticultural therapy and seeks to “bring together people with disabilities, ill health, vulnerable or suffering from isolation and support and develop them through gardening”.
It’s a remarkable aim, especially when you flick through the garden’s story folders at the entrance. Here was a derelict garden, overgrown and neglected and in need of lots of TLC. Enter Alison Ticehurst in 1994, who saw the garden’s potential as a place to put her horticultural therapy ideas into practice.
In the first pages of her diary in July 1994, she says:
“Note the trees coming out of the glasshouses and no paths, no cold frames – just overgrown and no sign of the mobile greenhouse so prominent in 1989.
The “Rochford” glasshouse on the left was I guess most recently used; there was a lot of broken glass and a good deal less on it than we thought. Note the ivy on the wall – that was over the walls all the way round.
The right hand glasshouse was almost all broken glass with elder trees and ivy growing all over. Where does one start?!”
Now, just over 20 years later, after lots of hard work by Alison and her dedicated team off staff and volunteers, aided by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the garden looks glorious in its surroundings nestled beneath the walls of Helmsley Castle. Sadly Alison died in 1999, but her work and vision carries on to delight visitors today.
The garden aims to teach visitors too with its plentiful information boards and blackboards dotted around. These show top tips, and details of the plants being grown or the techniques employed; or the next tasks and crops designated for the allotted space. The messages on two of the blackboards in the Orchid House have stayed with me:
‘Helmsley Walled Garden’ says the first one, and the second, ‘Changing lives through gardening’.
It’s an admirable philosophy.
Helmsley Walled Garden is open every day from April 1st to October 31st, 10am to 5pm. Last entry to the garden is at 4.30pm.
The Vine House Café is open every day from 10am to 5pm. Lunch is served from noon until 2.30pm.
Dates and timings are correct as at July 2016.
Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and blogger from Wiltshire. She is the author of the award winning blog, Veg Plotting, where she writes about her small town garden, seasonal food and anything else which strikes her whilst up at her allotment.