Spring breaks through at Wallington Hall
PUBLISHED: 01:15 29 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:59 20 February 2013
As gardens across the region show signs of new life we take a trip to Wallington estate in the heart of Northumberland to enjoy the first new shoots of the season
THE B6342 twists its way through the rolling Northumberland countryside. Having taken a right turn off the wide and relatively straight A696, the narrow country road comes as something of a shock and cant be hurried.
This is the route to Wallington, a magnificent Palladian mansion and parkland that was once home to the Trevelyan family, and is now in the hands of the National Trust.
It is a glorious spring day, the sun beaming down from a light blue sky dotted with fluffy cotton wool clouds. There is warmth in the rays as they shine through the car windscreen, and even over the noise of the engine the sound of birdsong filters in.
It is a sign that spring has at last sprung after the rigours of the worst winter for 30 years, and is a perfect day for being out in the country as the first new shoots of the year begin to emerge from winter hibernation.
Many fine country estates are hidden from view behind high walls, long drives or screens of trees, but at Wallington your eye is drawn towards the house via a sweeping lawn fronted by four huge grinning stone griffins heads.
Set in over 800 acres of parkland, Wallington boasts one of Englands most stunning gardens.
There are walks through a variety of lawns, through shrubberies and woodland and past lakes, all enlivened by buildings, sculptures, water features and a variety of native wildlife, including red squirrels, otters and water voles.
Wallingtons horticultural links are long established, and a beautiful walled garden is dominated by a grand and well-stocked Edwardian conservatory, while longer estate walks take in wooded valleys and high moorland, including land around the recently reacquired folly at nearby Rothley Castle.
Sir Walter Calverley Trevelyan, who died in 1879 at the age of 82, used to fill the greenhouses on the estate with rare plant specimens from all corners of the globe. He also had, for Victorian times at least, what many would have considered an odd taste in food.
Instead of eating vegetables he preferred wild plants such as sorrel, nettles and edible fungi, which he ate for breakfast during the autumn months.
Any visit to Wallington begins by walking under the elegant Palladian Clock Tower into the vast grassy courtyard. From here you can either make your way into the house or head off towards the walled garden.
The east wood is the direct route. Along with the west wood on the other side of the house, this was established when Wallington was rebuilt in the 1730s. Although beech trees predominate in both woods, there is a difference between the two.
While the west wood is kept as a natural forest area, the east wood was designed as a pleasure ground, with shady walks, a lake with artificial islands and an ersatz pagoda, described by one detractor as this foolish expensive Chinese building.
The islands and the pagoda have long gone, but the lake - known aptly as the China Pond - still exists.
After the drabness of winter, the east wood is a revelation. Huge swathes of bright yellow daffodils, their trumpet heads waving in a gentle breeze, bring a splash of welcome colour, while brilliant white wood anemones carpet the ground among the trees and brambles.
A red squirrel - Wallington is a haven for these native mammals - scampers noiselessly between two trees, his existence only hinted at by the flash of colour among the dark brown trunks.
It is then a vaguely unpleasant aroma begins to assail the nostrils. It is coming from a clump of skunk cabbage, whose yellow waxy flowers - which emerge before the leaves -give off the odour.
The plant favours damp conditions, and brings a lush, tropical feel to the wood so early in the year. John Ellis, Wallingtons head gardener for the last 19 years, says he has lost count the times he has been asked by visitors about the aptly named skunk cabbage.
Im always being asked, Whats that? Whats that?, he says with a laugh. The flowers give off an unpleasant scent, but they are so spectacular you can live with that for a week or two.
Further along the path running adjacent to the Garden Pond, and a plant of architectural proportions comes into view: gunnera. More commonly known as giant rhubarb, it produces massive umbrella sized leaves that in summer are big enough to shelter under should the weather take a turn for the worst - a distinct possibility in this part of Northumberland.
It is here through a break in the trees that you catch a glimpse of the portico, a charming house designed by Daniel Garrett in 1740 and originally intended as a gardeners cottage.
In the 17th century Wallington had a walled garden of the conventional kind, but it was abandoned. Why is not known. Perhaps the walls were insufficient to keep out the icy winds that blast through in the colder months.
Whatever the reason, in the 1760s, it was decided to build a new one, which is certainly not in danger of being turned into a car park. For one thing it is half a mile from the house, and for another it is not conventional.
Nearly four acres in size, it follows the contours of a valley forming a strange L-shape, dipping to a stream in the middle, with a brick wall to the north side built halfway up the slope and thus exploiting the natural features of the landscape for better protection, although John admits the climate can be challenging, with a concentrated growing season.
Trevelyan family legend has it that Lancelot Capability Brown, who in his youth walked to school in Cambo past Wallington, then a Jacobean pile, had the original idea for what is today the estates horticultural highlight. John isnt convinced about its authenticity.
Whatever the truth, for the first 100 years or so of its life, the walled garden was used for growing vegetables. It was at the end of the 19th century that Sir George Trevelyan, who inherited the estate in 1886, saw the spaces decorative potential for flowering plants.
He designed the arrangement of walks, borders, terraces and lawns that serves the framework of the walled garden today. He also had the conservatory built, which 100 years on still provides shelter for a spectacular range of hothouse plants.
When the National Trust acquired Wallington in 1958, the walled garden was a shadow of its former self. In the 1960s the eminent plantsman and designer Graham Stuart Thomas - then the Trusts gardens adviser - made changes, which have been carried on by John and his team. This is no garden frozen in time.
You walk into the walled garden through the Neptune gate - although the sea god the entrance is named after is no longer standing guard. The lead statue was stolen - along with one of Scaramouche - in March 1996. It is hoped Neptune will again take up residence later this year.
Plenty of other statues are waiting to be discovered, however, such as a stone sculpture of Janus set on a wall, a horses head sitting in a niche above a water spout, and a marble bust of Antinous in the conservatory.
It is from the broad border by the top terrace that you get your first glimpse of the walled garden as it tumbles down towards the valley floor.
Narcissus silver chimes; creamy, white daffodils with a pale yellow cup, dance in the border. Its balmy here, out of the breeze. The conservatory is even warmer, the heady scent of primulas, cyclamen and pinks filling the still air. John says the conservatory rarely disappoints, and he is right. The eyes are assailed with cheerful splashes of reds, pinks and whites.
In here every day of the year feels
In the open again, and bronzy-coloured wallflowers are in bloom, their vibrancy emphasised by the white paintwork of the glass houses.
The Plum Bower leads down into the valley, The Nuttery with its yew hedge and ornamental trees planted to look like an orchard, on your right. Hazel trees bursting into leaf, flowering cherry trees and acer griseums, better known as Paperbark Maple, their trunks peeling to reveal cinnamon-coloured under bark, stand to attention over carpets of deep yellow cowslips and primroses, miniature daffodils and white anemones.
Beyond is a more open area with a pond, where there had previously been derelict greenhouses. Overlooking this is a grove of Acer lobelia, a native of Chile planted in 1989.
On the brick wall of the Plum Bower pale pink clematis is just coming into flower, while in the border dogs tooth violets, with their spotted green leaves and large, handsome, pendulous lily-like flowers, bring a lilac glow.
In summer clematis, roses and honeysuckle climb the walls on the upper paths and terraces, while the borders contain a range of perennials, many, such as catmint and irises, with greyish leaves. The emphasis is on cool pastel colours.
The east garden is the place to sit, look and relax. Daffodils are again much in evidence.
Seasonal Interest at Wallington Garden
January: Witch hazel, jasmine, garrya eliptica, viburnum x bodantense, viburnum tinus.
Greenhouse: Cyclamen, jasmine, hyacinths
February: Witch hazel, jasmine, garrya eliptica, viburnum x bodantense, viburnum tinus, winter aconite, galanthus nivalis, snow drops.
Greenhouse: Cyclamen, jasmine, cineraria, hyacinths, hippeastrum
March: Galanthus nivalis, snow drops, iris reticulate, crocus, snow bunting, native primulas, prunus (several), aubrietia, quince, skunk cabbage, anemones, brunnera.
Greenhouse: Cyclamen, jasmine, cineraria
April: Narcissus Jenny, columbine, doronicum, quince, skunk cabbage, anemones, brunnera
May: Camassia, allium, lilac.
Greenhouse: Salpiglosis, streptocarpus
June: Delphinium, astrantia, euphorbia, honeysuckle, lupin, potentilla, rhododendron, roses.
Greenhouse: Cleome, senna
July: Dahlias, campanula, crocosmia, aconitum, roses, philadelphus, potentilla.
Greenhouse: Fuchsias, solenostemon, heliotrope
August: Anemone, philadelphus, penstemon, phlox, dahlias.
Greenhouse: Fuchsias, pelargonium, bourganvillea
September: Asters, anemone, dahlias
October: Asters, autumn colour - Beech and Acers in particular
November: Autumn colour - oak in particular
December: Witch hazel, Jasmine, Garrya eliptica, Viburnum x bodantense, Viburnum tinus.
Gardening tips for April by Linda Viney
1. April is one of the most exciting months of the year as the garden suddenly starts to spring into life. Plants are waking up from their winter rest, foliage begins to unfurl and bulbs burst into bloom with sunny yellow daffodils cheering a dull day. But nights can be very cold, so listen to the forecasts and protect any tender plants with cloches or fleece. Daffodils should be deadheaded regularly by snapping off the head behind the swollen part to stop the plants energy going into the production of seeds.
2. The vegetable garden is a hive of activity. Seeds of salad leaves, salad onions, peas, broad beans and many more can be put in now. By sowing little and often you will reap a succession of vegetables, saving wastage. Vegetables such as cauliflower and leeks started in the greenhouse can be hardened off ready for transplanting later. Soft fruits such as strawberries and raspberries will soon come into flower and will benefit from feeding with fish, blood and bonemeal or Growmore.
3. Spray roses with a fungicide to control blackspot. Do this at regular intervals following the manufacturers instructions. When buying roses look at those which are resistant to blackspot - it will pay in the long run. Rub off greenfly to prevent colonies building up. Climbing roses should be tied in training the shoots horizontally to restrict the flow of sap, allowing side shoots to develop.
4. Ornamental grasses add a great dimension to any garden, whether in the herbaceous border or an area devoted to them. It is an optimum time for planting though they are best in a free-draining sandy soil - incorporate grit into heavier soils with aid aeration. Summer flowering bulbs of the carmine red Gladiolus communis are a spectacular addition amongst the swaying leaves.
5. Hedges not only provide a home for insects and birds but a softer, more attractive boundary. If you have a large plot you can create rooms with hedges. It is a good time to plant evergreen hedges, as there is less chance of them to be damaged by cold winter winds. Move away from conifers and think about the broad leaved plants.
6. Ensure good ventilation in the greenhouse and provide sufficient watering which should be done early in the day. Pot on-growing young plants once the roots have filled their existing space. Looking ahead and think about sowing winter flowering pansies. Tomatoes, celery and celeriac can be started ready for planting out in June.
Wallington, Cambo, Northumberland, NE61 4AR, (01670) 773 600, www.nationaltrust.org.uk. The walled garden is open seven days a week 10am-7pm. The house is open every day except Tuesday until October 31, 11am-5pm Saturday-Sunday and 1pm-5pm Monday, Wednesday-Friday.