Christine Came To Visit

We recently had a visit from Christine Walkden who was filming in and around the Formal Garden, Rock Garden and Pinetum for her upcoming TV program ‘Glorious Gardens From Above’.

20140904_135530[1]Christine was shown around the gardens by Dale, our Assistant Head Gardener, and helped him to plant a tree which had to be replanted several times until the director got the footage he wanted – in Dales own words “tree goes in tree comes out”. She also met one of our volunteers, Jen, and helped her carry out some work in the fernery, which is one of Jen’s favourite parts of the gardens.


It was nice to have a film crew in the garden and its interesting to see the ‘behind the scenes’ aspect of making a program . The amount of hours spent filming and the numerous retakes to get the footage they wanted.


Glorious Gardens From Above is a 15-part series which horticulturist Christine Walkden embarks on a journey to explore the UK’s most glorious gardens and countryside.  It will air on BBC One from October 6th at 3.15pm.

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Peacock Butterfly


Just a quick photo of a Peacock butterfly on one of my favourite plants in the Cragside Formal Garden. Its called Agastache ‘Black Adder’ and has long lasting purple flowers with dark green scented leaves – give them a rub and see for yourself (but watch out for bees!)  It is a perennial plant so all you need to do is cut it back at the end of the year once it has died back as you would with most herbaceous plants and it grows to just over 1 metre tall. You can find a cluster at either end of the herbaceous border and on a fair day can be found covered in butterflies and bees – an ideal photo opportunity. A brilliant all round plant providing long lasting colour and scent which also attracts pollinating insects such as the butterfly above. It is also apparently rabbit and deer resistant so a great plant if they are a problem in your garden.

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A few days at Wallington Hall

Before the end of my training placement on the Historic and Botanic Garden Bursary Scheme here at Cragside, I took the opportunity to learn some new skills with Big Thanks from the Garden team at Wallington - one of our neighbouring National Trust properties.

I have just spent three days working with the team learning how to use a selection of different ride-on lawn mowers. Each one was sightly different to operate and used for different purposes. The smaller of the two (pictured below) was very easy to maneuver so ideal for cutting around edges and trees etc. It is also a mulching mower so therefore no grass to collect! A nice change from collecting all the grass cuttings at Cragside. Although I must admit that the bigger of the two was much more fun – the bigger the better – this one is also a mulching mower and also ideal for cutting the large flat lawns they have. I must admit that the lines are a bit wonky this week though so its a good job that grass grows and the professionals can make them nice and straight again next week.


The second thing I wanted to know more about was how a heated glasshouse operates – in this instance the Conservatory which has a lovely colourful display of tender plants including; Streptocarpus, Coleus, Ferns, Fuchsia and Pelargonium. I spent a lot of time feeding, dead heading, removing dead leaves and spraying for pests. Each a time consuming but enjoyable job which gets you up close and personal with each plant.


I’ve also found out about the importance of keeping the Conservatory warm during the winter months but not allowing it to get too hot in the summer. Ventilation is also important to increase the air flow which reduces temperature and reduces the risk of potential pests and disease.  The correct level of watering and control of humidity is also highly important.

It’s been such valuable experience from a team of gardeners who were happy to teach me these new skills and I can’t thank them enough for their patience and generosity for taking the time to educate me.

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Four weeks to plant the carpet beds

On Tuesday 1st July, exactly 4 weeks since they were started, the Carpet Beds have been planted up. This is one of the quickest times for this to be done and I think the fabulous weather this year has helped. Sometimes heavy rain has stopped work on the beds for several days over the last few year but this year we have had very little. Karen has been able to get out every day to plant out the 25,000 plants.


This may sound like an easy job, lying on a plank in the sun for 4 weeks planting out the design, but its not. I hate to think how many times Karen has been bitten by midges – she would probably say thousands – she needed to tape her fingers every day to stop getting blisters, you get sore elbows, knees, hip etc because lying in the same position on a narrow plank of wood is definitely not comfy! So yes, Karen now has a lovely glowing tan but its not the easiest job to be done.


Karen works off a plank which sits above the bed because it allows access to the whole bed and is the traditional method to work on the Carpet Beds. Unfortunately for her, just because the beds are planted up doesn’t mean she can put the plank away –  from now until November, when the plants get lifted, the beds need maintained. This includes weekly weeding and clipping using hand held sheep shears – another traditional tool for the job.


Personally I am quite glad the beds are planted up, because as much as I love helping to prepare the plants, I have to work ‘behind the scenes’ and I miss being out in the garden, particularly at this time of year when its looking fabulous.

So the photos above show the finished product. We hope you like it.

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Carpet Beds Are Go

Well, it’s that time of year again when the carpet beds are being planted up. During the winter months Karen works out two designs, one for each bed.

This year the themes are “Roses Return to Cragside”, celebrating our new addition to the garden – a double bed of floribunda and climbing roses. For this design she has chosen a trellis work intertwined with climbing roses.

The second design is based on our Archimedes Screw, which is also a new addition to the estate. The Archimedes Screw will generate electricity to power the lights in Cragside House, bringing working hydroelectricity back to Cragside as Lord Armstrong invented. This design shows two Archimedes Screws flowing to the centre of the bed to a glowing light bulb in the centre.

As I mentioned earlier, Karen is responsible for these beds. After coming up with her designs, she then decides what plants she will need to use and how many of each. She then grows most of the plants from seed, some are what we store every winter in cold frames and the rest are bought in from a specialist supplier.

So, traditionally from as soon after the 1st June, (this year work commenced 3rd June) Karen marks out her bed and starts her planting. This is where I come in…… for the duration of the planting of the two beds I become Karen’s assistant. I prep all of the plants which we store, removing dead leaves, trimming stalks to size and removing flowers and ‘babies’.  Some of the other plants require splitting into small clumps and for the rest, I pop the plug plants out of their trays which allows Karen to plant them out quicker.

Just some of the plants to be prepared…….


From start to finish the beds can be planted between 4 to 6 weeks depending on the complexity of the design and weather conditions.

Below are a few photos of what we have achieved so far.

The beds at the start of June


Marking out the words on the bottom bed


Planting out Echeveria and Pyrethrum on the top bed


So far so good.


I’ll keep you posted as to how we are coming along and pictures of when it is finished too.

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Rhododendrons and Azaleas Are Blooming Marvellous

Well, it’s that time of year again when Cragside is a riot of bold colours and wonderful scents perfume the air from the hundreds of Rhododendron and Azalea plants right across the entire estate.


Let’s start at the Rock Garden where you will find a large collection of hardy hybrid Rhododendrons and deciduous Azaleas. Around the edges of the Rock Garden you will find some of the original Rhododendrons and the inner areas have had an ongoing planting programme since 1988 and continues to the present day.

These are a few of my favourites………


Azalea ‘Knaphill Red’ and Azalea ‘Irene Koster’



Azalea ‘Ginger’



Mix of Azalea




And the best by far is our very own Rhododendron ‘Lady Armstrong’ pictured below.


There are so many paths around the Rock Garden to explore………..





So, that’s a snapshot of the Rock Garden, now lets head around the estate drive……..





Rhododendron luteum can be seen widely throughout the estate.

And finally a walk around Nelly’s Moss South lake.






Boat house on Nelly’s Moss North lake




Busy bumble bee


Rhododendron ‘Fastuosum Flore Pleno’

These photos are just a small percentage of what’s in bloom right now at Cragside and there are still so many more varieties to flower. I can’t stress enough that the photos don’t do a justice to what its actually like to visit Cragside at this colourful time of year, particularly the heady scent of the azaleas, apart from actually coming to visit and experience the wonder and amazement Lord and Lady Armstrong envisioned all those years ago. They will be looking good for the next couple of weeks if you fancy coming to see (and smell) them for yourself.

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Look What Arrived on Tuesday


These boxes arrived yesterday containing approximately 4000 plants for this years Carpet Bed designs. These are the only plants we buy. The rest of the plants (usually around 20,000) are either grown from seed in our nursery or they are propagated from several varieties we keep. All of the plants used are chosen for the colour of their foliage,as opposed to flowers, to create a ‘carpet-like’ pattern across the beds and the colours we are using this year include green, blue, yellow, purple, silver and red.


These are the unpacked plants. They are all varieties of Alternanthera which have been chosen for their foliage colour. As you can see we have a dark green, light green and a red variety. The two trays in the foreground will turn an orange colour once they have been planted out and mature.

The 1st of June is the date we traditionally start work on the two Carpet Beds.There’s a lot of preparation to be done even before it gets planted.  So its exciting when we get deliveries like this but it also emphasises we are in for a lot of hard work to get these beds planted. Each bed is about 18 metres long by 3 metres wide, so its not a job to be taken lightly and usually takes about 6 weeks to complete, so I’ll keep you updated as to how we are getting on.


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