Colourful Cragside

As September draws to a close and autumn is starting to edge its way in, our visitors are amazed by how colourful Cragside Formal Gardens still are. A comment which we receive numerous times every day. It is lovely to hear any kind of positive comment, but when we seem to truly amaze our visitors, particularly so late into the year, it really does make all the hard work and effort worthwhile. And the biggest compliment of all? Visitors who stop and take a photo or two. If they think that a particular plant, flower, border or view is worthwhile capturing in a picture forever, then I think we have done our job well.


To keep our late summer displays going we are busy deadheading everyday and will continue to do so until the first frosts arrive (hopefully not too soon!) The dahlias in particular require a lot of attention, four trug loads of deadheads today, but will reward us with their fabulous array of colour for several weeks to come.

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Going Back In Time

This year Karen decided to go back in time to recreate a design for the Carpet Beds from 1900. It is an abstract design which is taken from a postcard of the Carpet Beds and the glasshouse range which is the earliest picture we have in our archive.


As you can see from the picture below that with a little bit of artistic license Karen has marked out the beds by hand and followed the design as closely as possible. She has chosen plants with a variety of colour’s to enhance the overall finish.


So it may not be an exact replica but she has done a pretty good job which has been proving very popular with our visitors. It has the wow factor as it is one of the first things visitors see when they arrive in the Formal Garden. In fact it is probably one of the most photographed areas of the garden.

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New Additions

DSC_0364[1]We have some new additions to the garden this year – baby robins. I had the pleasure of this little one keeping me company on Tuesday. It was busy eating any little grubs I unearthed whilst weeding. It’s favorite place to wait was to perch on my bucket. Do you think its trying to tell me to hurry up? They are certainly not shy and will usually appear around the lower parts of the Formal Garden, in particular the Herbaceous Border, the Italian Terrace and the Rose Garden. Keep a look out for them if you are visiting and they might even pose for you to take their photo.

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Yellow Pincushion Flower

I have been spending some time working on the Italian Terrace, catching up with some weeding, cutting back some perennials which are now past their best and adding in some new plants to fill up a couple of gaps. Its been lovely to spend the warm sunny days that we have had (before the rain arrived!) working in this area of the garden as the butterflies and insects have been busily gathering nectar and pollen. DSC_0304[1]One plant in particular seems to be very popular with the insects and is commonly called the Yellow Pincushion Flower, or botanically it is known as Scabiosa columbaria var. ochroleuca. It is a perennial plant which grows to approximately 80cm in height with a spread up to 60cm. It has creamy yellow flowers on long branching stems and flowers continuously from early summer to mid autumn, but regular dead heading will increase the number of flowers. Generally this scabious is a good all round plant with many qualities. It thrives in a sunny position, as long as the soil is free draining and is drought tolerant. It is resisitant to deer and rabbits, can be used as a cut flower and, as mentioned earlier – the insects and butterflies love it. At Cragside we have it planted in our mixed borders as a block which is interspersed with Lilium ‘Black Beauty’. Although the Yellow Pincushion Flower is perennial, it is a short lived perennial, it will however happily self seed every year giving a constant yearly display. As with most perennials, cut back to 1-2″ during late autumn or early spring and it is hardy to -20 degrees Celcius. Native to central and southern Europe, western Russia, northern Africa, Lebanon to Turkey, Caucus and Siberia and grows in dry meadows and rocky slopes. The Scabious genus consists of approximately 80 individual species consisting of annual, biennial and perennial plants and belongs to the Caprifoliaceae family.

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Where Did June Go?

Phew!! What a month we’ve just had. June is undoubtedly our busiest month of our gardening year. During this time, as well as the everyday jobs which need to be done, we change our seasonal bedding displays. This involves potting up display pots, stripping out all the spring bedding plants and bulbs from the beds, preparing the ground, marking out and finally planting out our summer displays. This works out at around 25,000 summer bedding plants.


Orchard House borders stripped and ready to be planted

The Formal Garden was designed and created by the 1st Lord Armstrong, a Victorian inventor, and his wife Lady Armstrong C1870s. The garden is laid out over three terraces which include lawns, ponds and of course the flower beds.

One of the traditional Victorian highlights of a garden is its seasonal bedding displays. It was popular to have two displays a year – spring and summer, although sometimes gardeners were required to produce three schemes, which also incorporated a winter scheme too. Luckily we only do the two schemes – spring and summer.

Here at Cragside we traditionally bed out from the 1st June. This is due to being ‘so far up North’ and a reduction in the risk of frost damage but, yet again, we were kept on our toes when the temperature dipped to minus two degrees Celsius in the middle of the month. The majority of the plants we use are tender so planting them too early can lead to significant losses.


Tender perennials are used in our Wall Borders

Personally I don’t generally help with this work as I am banished to behind the scenes to prepare the plants for this years Carpet Bed design. (I do sometimes manage to escape for a day or two to cut the grass though). So after 10,000 plants or so (its far too many to count) and a dream or two about mountains of Echeveria, the month of June has been and gone in a flash. The Carpet Beds are finished, the borders are all planted up and in several weeks the Formal Gardens will be looking at their very best and that is reward enough for the effort it takes to complete.

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A Riot of Colour and Scent

It’s that time of year again when the Rhododendrons and Azaleas are in full bloom. It’s not just our visitors (and us!) who enjoy their show but our little bee friends enjoy them too.


Head to the Rock Garden to see a riot of colourful Azaleas which also have an amazing aroma, it’s quite heady, particularly on a warm day but definitely worth a wander along the many paths.


Or take the car around our 6 mile Estate Drive to see the vast amount of Rhododendrons we have at Cragside. There are plenty to see!


Stop off in the car parks along the way and enjoy a walk along one of the trails – My personal favourite is to walk around the Nellys Moss Lakes.


The display should last for the next couple of weeks, weather depending, so head along for look yourselves.

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Competition Time

The gardeners are feeling competitive this week and we are already thinking about Halloween. I know, it’s quite a while away yet and you might say I shouldn’t be wishing the months away, but as many of you know one of the key priorities to achieve the best from your garden is preparation.

So even though we are stripping out the spring bedding, preparing the beds and planting out our summer bedding schemes over the next few weeks we are still planning ahead, not just for Halloween but next year too!

Think you can beat the gardeners at growing the biggest pumpkin for Halloween? Then pop along and see Assistant Head Gardener Dale at the Visitor Centre tomorrow where you can plant a pumpkin seed (all materials provided) to take home and grow!

This event is free and runs from 11am to 3pm on Thursday 28th May. Then, come back at Halloween and see if you have beaten us!

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