In the UK last week, we visited Howick Hall, a beautiful 18th century stone property near the Northumberland coast. Its extensive grounds have won several awards and have just been chosen as “garden of the year” by the magazine Gardens Illustrated.
Perhaps the accolade raised our expectations a little too high. Photographs suggest that in spring the woodlands are glorious, with bulbs, rhododendrons and many flowering trees. The Gardens Illustrated piece shows a romantic spot with rich autumn colour and mossy greenness under foot, accompanied by Tom Stuart-Smith’s winsome description of Howick as “the ultimate in slow gardening.”
But on a damp day in late July, I was a little underwhelmed. The woodland is indeed a fine mix of ancient trees and new, carefully-labelled plantings. There were some lovely specimens of beech, birch and maple. But during our visit all we could hear was a brace of strimmers noisily removing the meadow grass throughout the arboretum. A gardener advised us to return in autumn to enjoy the woodlands more.
In the gardens near the house, there was some nice perennial planting, but for me the beauty of the house outshone the rather narrow borders. The plants were pretty but not perhaps bold enough for such a glorious spot.
A cream tea in the new Earl Grey tearooms was accompanied by a view of one of the estate’s red squirrels industriously harvesting nuts from a bird feeder among the filipendula just outside the window.
On our way out, we saw the bog garden, which was at its peak, with big swathes of plants – it was lovely, if perhaps a little too manicured for me.
I suspect that, if we had just stumbled upon the gardens at Howick Hall, we would have been enraptured.