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Harlow Carr Gardens, Harrogate - July 2020


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On the western edge of Harrogate, these gardens were originally planned as a display garden and trial ground to test the suitability of plants for growing in northern Britain. The well known gardener, and broadcaster, Geoffrey Smith, was superintendent here for many years.

The gardens were once part of the Forest of Knaresborough, which was an ancient Royal hunting ground. Springs of sulphur water were discovered in 1734 and a Spa was developed here in the mid C19th with hotel and bath house with six wells. Visitors were charged 2/6d to bathe in the ’especially efficacious’ warm sulphur waters. Attractive gardens were laid out around the bath house.

The spa was sold to Harrogate corporation in 1915 and the spa wells were capped off. Apparently it is still possible to small the sulphur from them... The Northern Horticultural Society leased 26 acres of mixed woodland, pasture and arable land from the Corporation in 1946 and developed it as a botanical garden. The society merged with the Royal Horticultural Society in 2001 and they have extended and developed the garden by regenerating the woodland area, redesigning the flower gardens, developing a teaching garden, introducing wildflower meadows and an alpine house.

The hotel had a checkered history of nightclub, restaurant and finally a pub before closing in 2013. Along with the surrounding area, it has been bought by the RHS who have plans to redevelop it as part of the gardens.

The gardens are on the slopes of a small stream which runs along their length.

Grass with specimen trees, flower beds and rock gardens drop down the slope from the entrance to the stream. Planting is carefully planned to ensure colour throughout the year.

On the far side is the woodland with the arboretum and wild flower meadows.

There are architectural structures around the garden, like the delightful wicker dancing hares as well as willow arbors and wind features.

A network of well constructed paths leads around the gardens and there are plenty of seats to sit and either get your breath back, or admire the gardens.

There is a cafe and restaurant by the entrance as well as Betty’s Tea Room near the old Bath House for take away snacks and drinks. The well stocked plant centre is next to the shop on the way out.

Allow plenty of time for a visit and make sure you choose a dry day as there is limited shelter if it rains!
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The Main Borders were a popular feature of the original garden and are as popular today. They run down to the stream with a the woodland beyond.

The borders form a double border with a central grassy walk. They are at their best in summer but have been designed to provide interest throughout the year, with a mix of perennial plants, grasses and small shrubs.

Some of the beds have been recently dug out in an attempt to eradicate bindweed which was threatening to take over the garden. The borders will be replanted when this has been successfully removed. Looking at them, there is still quite a lot of bindweed to be seen.

The newly planted Sun Border runs along the front of the shop and garden centre towards the Kitchen Garden. It has been planted out with brightly coloured annuals like poppies, cornflowers and pot marigolds.

At the far end are two large flower beds, the Blue Border and the Yellow and Purple Border. These are a mix of many different plants picked for their colour.



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Rock gardens are a popular feature of many formal gardens. Harlow Carr has two.

The Limestone Rock Garden is an attractive area around the old bath house.

The Sandstone Rock Garden with its lily ponds, complements the main borders. Like them, it is one the original features of the gardens, although has been replanted in recent years. The stone was collected locally and soil was improved by addition of leaf mould and grit. Being slightly acidic, heathers can grow here, unlike in the limestone gardens. A network of interconnecting paths links different parts of the garden. A small stream joins the two lily ponds with their displays of white water lilies.

The Alpine House was one of the first projects to be carried out by the RHS when they took over the gardens in 2001. A specially designed glass house was built behind the Kitchen Gardens to house a collection of over 2000 plants native to the mountainous regions all over the world. Many are too small and delicate to survive outside, and are grown among rocks recycled from the sandstone rock garden.

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These are tucked away beyond the Kitchen Garden.

The Hidden Garden is hidden away behind a tall beech hedge.The gate leading into it was locked when I visited.

Next to it is the Scented Garden, again behind a beech hedge. This is a small garden tucked away in the far north east corner of the gardens and is planted with old fashioned roses, scented herbaceous plants and grasses.

There is an attractive seating area at the end of Wisteria tunnel.



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The Kitchen Garden was originally developed to showcase what fruits and vegetables could be successfully grown on a windy site on heavy clay soils. The garden is set out in a series of raised beds which allow the soil to warm up quickly in the spring.

An archway of apple trees leads from the colourful borders into the garden, thus maximising space.

A three year crop rotation is in place to maintain fertility and decrease pest infections. Flowers and herbs growing among the vegetables help to deter pests as well as attracting pollinating insects. Sweet peas scent the air.

There are small Herb Gardens outside the main garden.



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A stream runs the length of the garden, from the lake and is one of the longest stream side gardens in the country. This makes a loverly walk with stone bridges linking both sides of the stream.

The banks are planted with a wide range of water loving plants, including the massive Gunnera.

Flowering plants are designed to provide colour for many months of the year, with Hostas, Astilbe and Meadow Sweet.

The tall candelabra primulas thrive along the banks and have interbred over the years producing many different hybrids.

On the eastern side of the stream is the Winter Walk, which is planted with species that add colour and texture during the cold winter months, although it looks good at any time of the year.

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1000+ Posts

The artificially made Queen Mother’s Lake with its island and floating duck house, is at the southern end of the gardens. Water loving plants like yellow flag iris and marsh marigold thrive on its banks.

Ducks, geese and moorhens can be seen around the lake.

South Field above the lake, is a wild flower meadow, planted to attract bees, butterflies and hovering insects along with voles and mice.

The Lakeside Gardens are a series of small gardens planted along the southern boundary of the gardens. They were originally created for the BBC TV series ‘Gardens through Time’ and are designed to show the differing styles of gardens over the last 100 years.

The Edwardian Garden represents garden philosophy at the turn of the 20th century. Gertrude Jekyll worked on many garden designs with the architect Edwin Lutyens. He was renowned for his love of ponds, paving and pergolas, while Jekyll was best known for creating colourful herbaceous borders.

It is reached through a pergola with seating.

Beyond, is a central rectangular pond surrounded by formal layout of coniferous trees and bushes and summer flowering perennials and roses.

Next to it is the 1970s garden, when formal high maintenance gardens were being replaced by less formal gardens which needed less upkeep. They were characterised by paved areas rather than formal lawns.

The final garden is the Diarmuid Gavin Garden, which is an example of a modern C21st garden with architectural features as important as the plants.

A colourful border with seats leads from the Edwardian Garden back to the Teaching Garden.

The Teaching Gardens along with the Bramall Learning Centre, have a programme of guided and self-guided learning experiences suitable for all ages, designed to inspire a love of gardening in all ages. Raised flower beds and water tubs show how to increase garden productivity.

There is a wild life pond and hedgehog friendly areas.



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Stretching up the slope beyond the stream is an attractive area of mixed woodland, which covers about half the total area of the gardens. It is planted with mainly native deciduous trees along with a few conifers and ‘exotics’.

The undergrowth has been planted with thousands of snowdrops, bluebells and fritillaries to provide colour during the spring.

When the Northern Horticultural Society first leased the area, much of the woodland was in poor condition. They cleared many dead trees and planted hundreds of Rhododendrons which thrived on the slightly acidic soils. These flower from February to August, providing a welcome splash of colour. Many are now very large and venerable bushes and there are notices asking children not to climb on them.

Instead there are childrens’ play areas with a Logness Monster and the Craggle Top Tree House

A network of well made paths leads through the woodland.

In July there were splshes of colour from foxgloves and bistort growing along the paths.

In the centre of the woodland are the the ruined Doric columns. These were originally part of the entrance to the pump room of Harrogate Spa, but after being dismantled were erected at Harlow Carr in 1964. There is a good view down to the main border through the trees from here.

At the most northerly point of garden is the Arboretum, an open area planted with exotic tree species.

At the far end is the Bamboo Glade with over 200 species of bamboo. The bird hide is tucked away here as well as an apiary.

Wildflower Meadows are planted between the trees and are at their most colourful in late spring/early summer.

At the end of July, the yellow rattle was past its best.

Cranesbill and knapweeds were taking over taking over.

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