Belsay Hall Garden is worth visiting at any time of the year

PUBLISHED: 13:10 30 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:40 20 February 2013

A brave flower blooming in the cold

A brave flower blooming in the cold

This gorgeous garden near Ponteland is worth visiting at any time of the year, as Linda Viney reports

Many gardens give their finest shows in spring, some are at their beautiful best in the height of summer, while others peak with the coming of autumn, but some are worth exploring all year round.

Whenever you chose to visit the grade one listed gardens at Belsay near Ponteland youre sure to find plenty to enjoy. It is a garden for plant lovers and has been in the same family for over 700 years. Sir Charles Monck and his grandson Sir Arthur Middleton were great gardening devotees who paid great attention to detail, keeping records of the climate and what was in flower.

Belsay was requisitioned in the Second World War and like many grand gardens they had little maintenance, the owner at the time, Sir Stephen Middleton, made the decision to move out shortly after so the gardens became very overgrown. It wasnt until 1980 when Belsay passed to the guardianship of English Heritage, that the gardens were restored and after a great deal of research, they now appear much as they would have in the 1920s or 30s.

The hall and castle sit among the stunning landscape and gardens which stretch to 30 acres, despite the harsh weather one area which remains sheltered is the Quarry Garden where exotic shrubs, trees and plants survive protected by the high cliffs which protect the plants from the harsh climate.

Sir Arthur was able to benefit from the plant hunters of the time and as well as native species there are many rare and exotic shrubs from around the world including rhododendrons from the Himalayas and a large Chusan Palm, which may be one of the oldest examples in Britain.

The rather severe lines of the hall contrast with the naturalistic style of gardening inspired by Northumbrian Lancelot Capability Brown with far reaching landscapes incorporating trees and water drawing your eye to the countryside beyond. Set among this green parkland is the huge planting of rhododendrons which Sir Arthur planted, ranging in colour from reds through pinks to white.

Next to the hall the more formal terrace, approached down steps, features carefully maintained roses, palms and shrubs. Perfume from the Christmas box fills the air and viburnum and winter flowering iris will add colour in a milder spell. Seed heads and berries ensure there is plenty of food for the birds during the cold months.

A path leads past the winter garden where it looks down on a sunken lawn now used by Belsay Croquet Club. The path is flanked by flowering shrubs in season and heathers, many dating back to the start of the 20th century.

There is a lovely walk past a meadow which is filled from early spring with fritillaries followed by a selection of wild flowers.

As the woodland opens up you arrive at the ruins of the castle where the Middleton family lived from the 1200s until the hall was built in 1817. All that remains of the original formal walled garden are indefinite shapes in the grass, lasting reminders of the care that generations put in to the grounds here.

When to visit

Belsay is open until February 17th, Saturday and Sunday 10am-4pm; February 18th to 24th daily 10am-4pm; February 25th to March 28th, Saturday and Sunday 10am-4pm.
Adult 7.70, children aged 5-15 years 4.60, concession 6.90 and family 20. For more information call 01661 881636.

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