RHS Harlow Carr Gardens

Click on photographs to enlarge them.


I had the pleasure of visiting the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire the other day and was quite surprised by some of the changes that have taken place since my last visit a couple of years ago.

I was aware then that changes were to taking place, what with the introduction of the new Bramall Learning Centre, the new Alpine house and the improvements to the Kitchen Garden but I never expected to see what I saw!

For example; to see the expansion of the Queen Mother's Lake and the plans for the surrounding area, plus the improvements to the pathways, particularly on Streamside Walk for the benefit of wheelchair users, all of this was a pleasant surprise.

However! As with many forms of expansion, sometimes some of the current features have to go to make way for the new.

In this case; The Gardens Through Time are scheduled to go, in fact Garden 3 has already gone, in order to make way for the expansion of the lake!

The Miniature Village had been removed at the time of my previous visit, but not because of the expansion programme, sadly no! it had to be removed because of vandalism and the lack of skilled hobbyist to repair and maintain it.

A sign of the times I guess!

Back to my current visit:

As usual when visiting places such as this, I make a bit of a plan prior to setting off to ensure that I take in all the parts I really want to see, then if there is sufficient time I fit in other things where I can, this visit was no different!

I decided to walk in a clockwise direction via the Learning Centre, Lake, Streamside Walk, Kitchen Garden then up to the Alpine Zone.

Apart from the Woodland and Arboretum, this left the Lawns, Main Borders and Tarns to meander through at leisure.

Site Map

On leaving the reception building I took a left, and headed towards the Bramall Learning Centre and its gardens.

Bramall Learning Centre

This teaching garden has been designed to cover a wide variety of topics for both school and adult education as well as providing inspiration for visitors to the gardens.

I did not go into the building itself although I had a look through the windows at some of the 'hands on' areas.

I followed this by having a walk around the gardens.

Bramall Learning Centre

For information purposes placards were were at hand to describe the various areas and there uses.

The Learning Area
Outdoor Teaching Areas

These are a few pictures taken to highlight the various teaching areas.

Walkway through the Learning Area
The Pond

Outdoor Story Telling Area
Raised Beds
Outdoor Learning Area

On leaving here I headed for:

The Gardens Through Time.

As mentioned in the introduction, these gardens have already been affected by the expansion plan, with Garden No 3 (The Victorian Gardens)now no longer in existance.

However I thought I would do a little cheating and resurrect it in my blog by using pictures taken from a previous visit.

Garden 6 has been affected to a lesser degree,in so far as some decaying structures have been removed, so again I thought I would fetch them back for posterity!

Garden 1 - The Regency Period - circa 1815.

This was the era when the phrase Landscape Gardener was first introduced.

It was a period of reasonable affluence among the middle classes, and these people employed Landscape gardeners to design and construct their gardens.

Garden Information

Similarly there was a shift in style from the formal to informal with the inclusion of a more natural / rustic look to gardens.

For example structures such summer houses were built from willow and thatch, and benches fitted under trees so that the owners could sit in the shade on warm sunny days.

Garden Entrance
Approach to Summer House
Thatched Summer House

On leaving the Summer house the walkway continued round to another sitting area at the base of a tree.
Walkway to Sitting Area
Sitting Area

Another fashionable item in these days were plant theatres, where the owner of the garden had structures built to house them.

In fact it was not uncommon for the garden owner to hire in plants to decorate the garden if and when they were holding a garden party, then once the festivities were over the owner would return the potted plants to the hirer.

Route out of Garden
Plant Theatre
Viola Collection

It was also the era in which the RHS was founded 1804.

Garden 2- Mid Victorian Period - circa 1850-60's

This was the period when many Plant Hunters scoured the world to fetch new plants back to the UK

These plants were then bred to satify the needs of aspiring gardeners.

Garden Information

It was also a time when many of the gentry employed full time gardeners to tend their gardens.

These gardeners were usually controlled by a Head Gardener who had a status similar to the House Butler and the Head cook.

Quite often a house went with the job meaning that if the Head Gardener was sacked this also meant that he lost the roof over his head.

So for this very reason some of these Head Gardeners could be a quite fearsome characters.

Another event that took place during this period was the inventing of the lawn mower by a man named Edwin Budding.

He was an engineer in a textile mill who was inspired by the rotary cutters that were used to cut the 'nap' off cloth, and the similarity this action was to cutting grass.

The arrival such a piece of equipment eliminated the need for using grazing animals or a scythe to keep the grass short.

The entrance to the garden was quite an unusual feature in so far as you had to pass through the Tool & Potting Shed to enter it.

Similarly the two ends of the shed were made of plastered masonry.

Tool Shed
Potting Shed
Garden Entrance

As mentioned above around this period Plant Hunters scoured the world in search of plants and it would suggest when you see the Monkey Puzzle tree ( Araucaria araucana) that the hunter had visited South America as this is the national tree of Chile.

Similarly when you see the Pagoda this suggests that he had visited China also.

Inside the Garden
Two years later

These two views are really part of two gardens Garden 2 and Garden 4.

The balustrading actually forms the boundary of Garden 2 whereas the gravelled drive and floral border form the approach to the Garden 4.

As you can see on the map Garden 4 is positioned at right angles to Garden 2.

Ouside the Garden
Two years later

I have included the last two views to show how much gardens can change and mature over a couple of years.

Garden 3- Late Victorian Period - circa 1890's

A period of flamboyance and to tending the needs of the family.

The gardens were often divided into areas to cater for the eccentricities of the parents!

For example: They would often use part of the garden for growing edible and ornamental plants.

Similarly they often dedicated an area of the flower and vegetable solely to their children.

Flower and Vegetable Garden
The Vegetable Garden and Coldframe
The Children's Garden
The Greenhouse

The remainder of the garden would often be laid out with features based on sites in places they have may read about, or indeed visited, for example; The Alps or the Orient as can be seen depicted in the pictures below.

Garden Features
Sundial feature in a flower Garden
Could this be the Matterhorn, and the Silk Road to the Orient?

Garden 4- The Edwardian period - circa 1901-1910

This was the era when artists and master craftsmen such as Gertrude Jekyll, and Edward Lutyens appeared on the scene, and their impact can still be seen in many large gardens to this day!

Part of their expertise was that one could stand more or less anywhere in a garden designed by any of them and the view could be quite different, this simple rectangular garden reflects this.

The Garden Entrance
Looking South
Looking West
Looking North

This is how the Pond developed over two years.

Garden 5- The Festival of Britain period - 1950's

This period saw the commencement of the post war boom.

With it came the Modernist gardens, which often replicated concrete features from abroad.

Looking up the Garden from different angles

Garden 6- The Outdoor Room - The 1970's

This is the period of TV programmes extolling the benefits of making the garden into an outdoor room and the introduction of Alfresco dining.

Similarly Garden Centres started popping up everywhere to supply all the needs for your Outdoor Room!

Garden Entrance
View to left of Garden
View down the Garden

Views two years earlier

The Pond Area
The Pond
Looking out of the Garden
The Driveway

Garden 7- The Contemporary Garden - circa 2004

Designed by Diarmuid Gavin, this New Tech approach introduces imaginitive ways of using new materials and technologies.

These techniques,and the use of architectual plants and prairie style planting gives a modern approach to the garden.

The Garden Entrance

The Courtyard

Moongate Entrance
The House
The Garden

That concludes the the tour through the "The Garden s through Time"

Overall I would say the project was a very interesting way to represent around two hundred years of gardening in the United Kingdom.

A slight criticism I would make is that I thought most of the gardens were designed for a more 'affluent' society rather the public at large.

Usually when I look at demonstration gardens I am looking to take ideas from them and put them into my own garden. Generally speaking I think Garden 3 was the only garden that was more in keeping with my style of gardening, apart from the mountain that is.

Speaking of the mountain what I did notice on subsequent visits that the Pagoda in Garden 2 and the Mountain in Garden 3 had lost their effect.

In an earlier visit, particularly with the mountain feature the shrubs were of a height to simulate the end of the 'tree line' on a natural mountainside, but two years later they had grown to a such a height as to take away the sense of ' height ' similarly the Pagoda did not look as high.

What I liked about Garden 7 was; I got the feeling of a 'Man making Good!' and leaving his past behind, wheras most of the other gardens suggested to me that they were designed for people who were born into that lifestyle.

For example; I thought that the courtyard area in Garden 7 was reminiscent of a back yard behind a row of tenement house in the working class quarter of an industrial town, and the indents in the wall were doorways into perhaps the wash house or an outdoor toilet.

By comparison; when he passed through the 'Moongate' he must have felt like he was moving into another world, a parallel universe if you like.

The other success story I think was that "The Garden s through Time" project paid off and turned out to be a worthy addition to Harlow Carr.

The Queen Mother's Lake

The changes to the lake and the surrounding area, including the part removal of The Gardens Through Time has been brought about to fit in with a Master Plan.

The Master Plans

The plan involves reducing the risk of flash flooding and erosion, by controlling the surface rainwater run off throughout the gardens.

This includes forming a feature overflow / waterfall at the start of the Streamside Walk to regulate the flow of the stream.

Overflow / Waterfall

Further plans include a lakeside crossing and exhibition gardens around the lakeside.

Existing specimen plants originally sited on the renovated area, have either been used elsewhere in the gardens, or saved for future use!

The Lake prior to refurbishment.

Progress to date with the New Lake

The Streamside Walk

This area of the gardens has been dedicated to Geoff Smith broadcaster and writer who died aged 80.

Mr Smith appeared on BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time over the course of 20 years and created these gardens.

Commemorative Plaque

As mentioned above the overall plan for the gardens is to reduce the risk of flash flooding and erosion, by controlling the surface rainwater run off throughout the gardens, and it is this part of the garden that has suffered more than most, so it too is being re-designed and renovated.

You will see from some of the photographs that follow where steps have been taken to shore up the embankments that are being eroded. Similarly additional bridges have been built over the stream to create more access to and from the gardens and the woodland that skirt the stream.

Along with this preventitive maintainance to the stream, the footpath has been renewed / relaid to to cater for the disabled and wheelchair users, thus making it possibly one of the nicest parts of the gardens that is accessable to both able bodied and disabled alike!

The Walk

The undulating walk from the Queen Mother's Lake to the Bath house is around half a mile (800m) long with fairly dense woodland to the left and the stream to the right.

What I found was that it was one of those walks where as you walk forward you see all manner of views of the gardens and its buildings, then by just by turning around to look from whence you came, you will often find that the perspective changes completely, hopefully I will be able to demonstrate this with these step by step pictures.


Approximately 25-30 metres into the walk I found the first feature; a series of ' Log Piles' complete with their own 'Logness Monster'

The Log Piles
The 'Logness' Monster

Bath House Area:

This area is steeped in history and once was the site of The Harrogate Arms Hotel.

Springs of sulphur water were discovered here in 1734 and this led to building of the Hotel and Spa approximately one hundred years later (1840)

The six well heads in front of the bath house were capped off but remain beneath the present Limestone Rock Garden in front of the bath house.

The 'Bath House' building was converted in 1958 and contains a meeting room, the library and offices,and is used for all manner of themed displays and exhibitions.

The Bath House Area
Entrance to The Harrogate Arms Hotel.
The 'Bath House'

A large greenhouse that often doubles as a shelter for the public during inclement weather is situated nearby and sometimes with in it you can see a few climbing plants.



Opposite the Bath House is the well known Betty's efreshment area. >>>

Entrance Feature

Limestone Rock Garden

At most times this area is a nice place to sit and take in the views, however on certain occasions the air can smell of sulphur which it is thought may emanating from the six capped well heads that lie beneath the Rock Garden.

Model Village

As mentioned in the introduction a number of features in the gardens have either been altered or removed and one of these was the model village which used to be located in an area behind the Bath House.

For old times sake I thought I would resurrect it in this blog.

The Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden was relocated to this part of the garden from the site where the new 'Learning Centre' is located.

This new location has allowed the Kitchen Garden to be made much larger than before, plus there was sufficient space to add Greenhouses.

Among other current developments under construction is a Willow Archway and a Malus Archway over the footpath.

The Malus Arch will support a collection of unusual apple trees that have been propagated on site, hence the name!

Information Leaflet
The walkway with its Willow Arch leads you from the Vegetable Plot to the Greenhouse area

Inside the Greenhouse
The Vegetable Plot

Part of the 'Malus Arch'
Flower bed at rear of Malus Arch
Sitting Area

The Scented Garden

This garden has been constructed in memory of Mrs Joan Lambert.

Commemorative Plaque
Lady Emma Hamilton

Entrance to Garden
Main walkway
A Secluded Corner
Sitting Area

Foliage Garden

This is another small peaceful garden area filled with many different plants with emphasis on foliage.

Summer House
View up the Garden

Alpine Zone

This new Alpine house was completed in spring 2010 and replaced a rather small walkthrough timber greenhouse.

The new building has state of the art ventilation, and an automatic watering system.

New Alpine House
Old Alpine House

Various views of the inside of the Alpine House

The Harlow Carr alpine collection includes over 2,000 different plants, and with so many alpines under threat in their native habitats, this new alpine zone might be their saviour.

The area behind the Alpine House

The access areas are quite wide to accomodate wheelchairs something the old greenhouses lacked!

The outside perimeter of the greenhouse will eventually be landscaped to reflect the native habitats of alpines.

A few of the landscaping features situated around the Alpine House

The Lawns, Main borders and Tarns

These are tastefully landscaped areas where you can meander between the beds at leisure, at each turn you are met with inspiring views, colours and amazing planting schemes.

If these areas have a fault, it is that the are situated on the side of a hill which might prove to be a bit daunting for the less abled.

Having said that, the accessable views from the top and bottom of the hill are quite spectacular!

I'll let you judge for yourself when you watch the slide show!


On your way out you can visit the Gift Shop and or the Plant Centre to buy something that will remind you of your trip to the RHS Gardens Harlow Carr!

And that folks is the end of the guided tour I hope you enjoyed it!


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