Snow Days

I popped into the gardens today to say hello to the garden team. I’m glad I took my camera – what a gorgeous snowy day. Here’s a few snaps.

Holiday cottage with the Simonside Hills behind.


Clock Tower


Loggia and Italian Terrace


Bellis Perennis peeping out through the snow


Assistant Head Gardener Dale ventured across to the Rock Garden earlier in the morning, here’s several pictures he took.

Cragside House and Rock Garden


Across the Iron Bridge


Cragside House and Iron Bridge


Path from the Iron Bridge to the Formal Garden


I was lucky enough to have a sneak peek around the garden as Cragside is closed to the public until the February half term holiday. Why not come and enjoy a free visit between February 14th and 22nd 2015? There will be lots of things to do but I’m afraid I can’t guarantee any snow.

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Planting Bulbs

It’s been a busy few weeks here in the garden. We have been busy planting thousands of tulip and daffodil bulbs which will make a fabulous colourful display when the spring comes.

My tip for planting large quantities of bulbs in a border is to lay them all out to make sure you have enough. It would be a nightmare to plant as you go then get near the end and realise you have ran out! I err on the side of caution so haven’t had this happen – yet!


So here are the tulip bulbs ready to be planted at the end of October to create a spring display.

Before the end of November our volunteers and myself have been busy trying to ‘put the garden to bed’ by cutting back the herbaceous plants, weeding, bringing tender plants indoors and finishing off planting the borders with the rest of the garden team.

It is now the time of year when our volunteers get a well deserved rest over the winter and my seasonal contract has come to an end which just leaves the four permanent gardeners to look after the garden during this time. Hopefully the volunteers and myself will be back in the garden by March.

So during this time there may not be many posts from me but I do hope to pop in for a cuppa and a catch-up with the garden team to see what is happening whilst the garden is closed for a short period of time between Christmas and the February half-term holidays.

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Glorious Gardens From Above

Apologies for the dates about the TV series Glorious Gardens From Above in my last blog however at the time of it going to press those were the dates we were told the series would air.

The series will actually start tomorrow – Monday 10th November and runs each week day for three weeks. Each episode lasts 45mins starting at 3.45 on BBC 1. Tomorrow sees horticulturist Christine Walkden visiting gardens in Cornwall.

However most importantly, in my opinion, the episode which is a must to watch is on the 18th November where Cragside features as one of the gardens in the episode about Northumberland. Look out for our Assistant Head Gardener Dale and one of our volunteers Jen. You might also catch a glimpse of some of our other volunteers and staff but that might depend on the way the episode has been edited! Happy viewing.


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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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