There are so many excellent reasons to visit the English Lake District, but if you love plants, make Holehird Gardens part of the road taken – you won’t regret it. Holehird is home to The Lakeland Horticultural Society, and has an unusual commercial model. The members tend the gardens themselves, which means that visitors who don’t feel able to pay can be offered free parking and entry, though a donation to help with upkeep is much appreciated.
While there’s much more to Holehird than ‘just’ a walled garden, it’s this that draws me back. I can rarely resist the chance to see flowers tumbling together in a beautiful setting. Weathered brick walls provide shelter, make a backdrop for the plants and support several climbers, including roses and clematis.
While a neat, well-kept lawn might float your boat, I’m more likely to go all swoony at the sight of filled-to-overflowing mixed borders. Visitors to Holehird will find classic examples in the English Garden style, filled to overflowing with creative combinations of flowering perennials, shrubs and bulbs.
Keeping the garden looking this good must take patience and time. The Lakeland Horticultural Society acknowledges their debts to the past on their website:
In the Walled Garden a century of cultivation has produced a deep rich soil…
This time scale isn’t unusual for an English garden, but many home gardeners are not quite so lucky. In some parts of the world, yours might be the first spade ever to till that particular spot.
If that’s the case, and you want to recreate a no-bare-soil effect, you’d better like digging – or know someone who does. This style of gardening is the exact opposite of a quick fix, but these pictures, taken over a couple of visits in summer and autumn, show the rewards.
If you can bear to step outside the walled garden, you’ll find many other elements a keen gardener craves. A stream bubbles up and runs down the hillside. Alpine greenhouses shelter tiny treasures (if there were such things as chocolate box greenhouses, these would qualify).
Explore a little further to find a rose border with a nice mix of old, shrub and David Austin varieties; enough hydrangeas to satisfy their biggest fan and four National Collections, including a breathtaking swathe of astilbes.
But listing the ingredients misses the whole. Something unusual. Call it the essence of the place: its familiar spirit. Perhaps it’s just in my imagination – let me know if you feel it too if you have chance to visit.
For all its credentials, the atmosphere is relaxed. Holehird always feels like a private garden – your own even – especially if you chance to be here on a quiet afternoon. I’m not suggesting it’s small or domestic in character. Don’t expect to find a vegetable patch, or a chicken run, though they’d not be out of place.
It may be connected to a feeling of peace: it’s one of those ‘dripping slow’ places (with a nod to W. B. Yeats). Perhaps it’s something to do with the sublime setting on a hillside, overlooking the bustle of Lake Windermere, but far enough away that only the natural beauty remains. Regular readers may remember the view from my earlier post on Holehird Gardens. Stroll here for a while and tell me if you don’t briefly feel master (or mistress) of all you survey
At the time of writing, the society has dawn to dusk policy, which means the garden stays open long enough for visitors to experience the transformational effect of the early evening light: an extra treat. If you’re planning to visit, please check the latest opening hours and accessibility information on their website (www.holehirdgardens.org.uk). The address is:
Holehird Gardens (The Lakeland Horticultural Society),
If you have a little free time to fill and live fairly close by, you might like to explore the benefits of membership, which include the chance to get your hands dirty in a good cause.