The gardens of Bowes Museum

PUBLISHED: 22:00 17 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 February 2013

The gardens of Bowes Museum

The gardens of Bowes Museum

Built in the style of a French chateau, the Bowes Museum is a unique cultural icon created in the second half of the 19th century by John and Josephine Bowes.

The surrounding 20 acres of parkland and formal garden compliment the grandeur of the place. The gardens were finished with basins and ponds by 1883, but, in 1912, a bandstand was built over the top of the basin, using the pond's stonework as its foundation.


In 1951 the bandstand was deemed as unsafe, dismantled and sent for scrap. Old photographs show the parterre garden in front of the museum as gravelled paths surrounding shaped areas of grass. It wasn't until later in the garden's development that bedding plants were added. The Sycamore tree belt, which has the double purpose of forming a windbreak and enclosing the property was planted in the 1870's, at the same time as the museum's construction.


By hiding the boundary walls, the trees, which are under-planted with shrubs give the impression of an estate which is much larger than it really is. Bluebells, wood anemones and celandines have established themselves in this woodland and attract wildlife, adding to the ambience and giving plenty for the visitor to see. The present picnic area was originally the site for St Mary's Church but, in 1926, when building had progressed as far as the windows, it was deemed an unsuitable site and the building was demolished.


Work started again at the church's present site. The materials were transported by miniature train which ran along the rear of the museum. Interesting and exotic trees can be seen in the gardens including the original Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana) tree, which was planted in 1871 at the cost of 15 guineas, more than the price of any of the paintings in the museum at the time. The giant sequoia, also called the Wellingtonia after the Duke of Wellington, and sweet chestnut, introduced to Britain as a food source by the Romans, are interesting specimens.


Beech, which is native to Britain, and an avenue of limes can also be seen. A second monkey puzzle was planted when the grounds were revamped in 1982, along with many others. It was at this time the parterre, as it stands today with its traditional style, was designed and constructed. All this was achieved thanks mainly to public donations. Over the last five years memorial trees have added to the collection. All these attract wildlife and many species of bird can be spotted.


The gardens are in the sole care of Val Cockfield who has been here for the past 23 years. She came straight from college and completed a City and Guilds qualification on day release. at the same time as the museum's construction. By hiding the boundary walls, the trees, which are under-planted with shrubs give the impression of an estate which is much larger than it really is. Bluebells, wood anemones and celandines have established themselves in this woodland and attract wildlife, adding to the ambience and giving plenty for the visitor to see. The present picnic area was originally the site for St Mary's Church but, in 1926, when building had progressed as far as the windows, it was deemed an unsuitable site and the building was demolished.


Work started again at the church's present site. The materials were transported by miniature train which ran along the rear of the museum. Interesting and exotic trees can be seen in the gardens including the original Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana) tree, which was planted in 1871 at the cost of 15 guineas, more than the price of any of the paintings in the museum at the time. The giant sequoia, also called the Wellingtonia after the Duke of Wellington, and sweet chestnut, introduced to Britain as a food source by the Romans, are interesting specimens. Beech, which is native to Britain, and an avenue of limes can also be seen. A second monkey puzzle was planted when the grounds were revamped in 1982, along with many others.


It was at this time the parterre, as it stands today with its traditional style, was designed and constructed. All this was achieved thanks mainly to public donations. Over the last five years memorial trees have added to the collection. All these attract wildlife and many species of bird can be spotted. The gardens are in the sole care of Val Cockfield who has been here for the past 23 years. She came straight from college and completed a City and Guilds qualification on day release. At the time there were three full time gardeners and gradually, as they have left, they have not been replaced. Formerly there was more work as all the bedding plants were grown on site in three greenhouses, now it is all bought in from a local nursery.


Val has visions of a renaissance for horticulture at Bowes Musem. She said: "Now there are no pot plants and the flowers for the museum are all artificial. "One of my dreams would be to see the 100-year-old greenhouses restored and fully operational, even producing vegetables for the cafe. Maybe one day, who knows?" Outside contractors are brought in for the tree work, otherwise Val is on her own and takes great pride in the formal garden and grounds. The box hedge surrounding the traditional Fleur de Lys and scalloped parterre stretches one and a half miles.


It is cut by Val once a year, in July, using a long ridge petrol hedge cutter. "It would be too back breaking to use shears, although the 72 yew cones are all cut and shaped using hand shears," she added. Bedding for the parterres is planted in the beginning of June and again in October, each time using7,000 plants. This year the summer will be a glory of red geraniums as it was initially when the parterre was created in 1982. Sadly, John and Josephine Bowes never lived to see the completion of the museum, but their legacy lives on and thousands benefit from their dream every year.


For all enquiries for events and openings telephone 01833 690606 or visit www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk .

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