Forty fragrant acres of floral magnificence

Head gardener Jo Harrigan and her team, David Kilby, Dave Husband and Steven Richardson-Scurr, at Belsay. Picture by Jane Coltman.
Head gardener Jo Harrigan and her team, David Kilby, Dave Husband and Steven Richardson-Scurr, at Belsay. Picture by Jane Coltman.

Keen gardeners will know the hard work involved keeping their own personal haven of green in check.

So imagine what goes into managing a 40-acre garden which is hundreds of years old, Grade I-listed and full of extremely rare and exotic plants, mosses, ferns, shrubs, bulbs, flowers and trees.

Head gardener Jo Harrigan leads the six-strong gardening team, supported by dedicated volunteers, at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens.

It’s a full-time, year-round job that requires a great amount of skill, knowledge and most importantly a passion and love for all things horticultural.

Jo said: “To keep the gardens in check involves a very detailed schedule of works each week. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are grass cutting days. Some parts of the gardens are done with a ride-on mower while others require a petrol push mower so it can be quite a labour-intensive job.

“The informal and formal areas require a different approach to the maintenance so that the formal areas are kept immaculate with raked paths and formal beds while the informal areas are maintained to give a feel of them still being wild and romantic. We also have garden volunteers who work in the nursery area, lifting and dividing plants.

“We have a very detailed programme of works in the summer. All the sections of the gardens are divided between the team of gardeners. Weekly jobs include keeping the borders weed-free, cutting and marking the croquet lawn ready for the weekly croquet club match, edging all the lawns and ensuring miles of paths within the gardens are raked to remove any debris and keep them looking neat.”

She added: “My favourite time of the year here at Belsay is May and June when over 6,000 tulips start to bloom as well as the gorgeous displays of magnolia and lilies. Over three acres of the garden are home to the hybrid collection of rhododendrons, which reach a spectacular peak in June.

“The formal terraces below the hall are a highlight at this time of year too. Old English pinks and musk roses combined with the original magnolias and overflowing herbaceous borders all smell amazing. The colours are spectacular and it really is a feast for the senses. The garden is one of the finest examples of the picturesque movement in Britain and a true plantsman’s dream, with many rarities including a National Collection of Spuria Iris.

“Belsay is so special to me. I was trained by my father who was the previous head gardener for 18 years and I’m so very proud of my hard-working team of gardeners and volunteers; it is through their determination and effort that we keep the gardens looking so good. Belsay’s not just in my nature; it’s in my blood.”

• Belsay is celebrating the Year of the English Garden this weekend with fun horticultural activities for everyone.

For little ones there’s the I-spy trail and the chance to plant your own sunflower to take home. And for green-fingered enthusiasts, you can take part in expert-led tours around the stunning gardens which come to life in a riot of spring colour at this time of year.

You can also join Belsay’s own version of Gardeners’ Question Time and get hints and tips for your own garden. It takes place from Saturday to Monday.