Old garden is now a ‘must-visit’ after being totally rejuvenated

Sir John Hall in his new walled garden at Wynyard Hall.
Sir John Hall in his new walled garden at Wynyard Hall.

Gardening with Tom Pattinson

It is set in the Tees valley near Billingham, an area I`ve become familiar with in recent years through Northumbria in Bloom judging visits to Hartlepool, Stockton and Darlington. For me it’s a region of two parts; the busy presence of industrialisation on the one hand, and the pleasant surprise of floral displays from communities who care about their environment on the other. Once you enter the acres of grounds in which Wynyard Hall stands, it is a world far removed from the bustle, and this new development certainly has the potential to thrill.

The walled garden, originally constructed a century or so ago, provided the fruit, vegetables and flowers large country houses demanded at the time but was in a derelict state when Sir John Hall bought Wynyard with rose-growing at the back of his mind.

As he explained, growing up in the pit village of Ashington, his father had the traditional miner’s back garden in which he grew vegetables such as potatoes and leeks. Young John was given a small patch to grow the roses which became his great love. At 14 years he experimented with grafting buds and became more ambitious.

In later life he has travelled widely, visited gardens at home and abroad and formulated in his mind an attraction in which roses would play a major role.

Wynyard is that place, and he employed a bright young landscape architect, Alistair Baldwin, to come up with the design for a garden, visitor centre, café and shop. But the choice of roses was special so he sensibly chose Michael Marriott of David Austin Roses to deliver the garden of his dreams.

As we embarked on a guided tour of the newly created garden with all three principals, there was an opportunity for questions relating to the approach, structure and layout.

Alistair stressed the sensitivity required in treading lightly as you add a new layer to an historic site. The large rectangular area slopes from one end to the other, a fall of six metres overall. This presented a challenge but also an opportunity to introduce large raised beds, which appear to emerge from the hillside. In the lower half of the site the theme of four raised beds surrounding a central pool with fountain is repeated as central flights of steps lead the visitor up through the garden.

These beds appear at first sight to have been constructed from lead, reflecting the historic nature of surroundings, but Alistair explained that galvanised steel, 2 mm thick, was used after washing it in an acid bath to acquire the grey colour. Wooden battens provide the base it is fixed to.

A pergola-clad walkway from the main entrance to a marquee and garden beyond, completely bisects the site yet fits neatly into the design. Beyond lies the upper part of this fascinating walled garden, less formal, with a lawn area, rills and benches.

The roses, 3,000 of them, are planted in single colour groups to achieve a gradual change in tone as the walk progresses from top to bottom of the garden. Groups of yellow give way to burnt orange then magenta and so forth. Perennial plants, 12,000 in all, have been used to soften the rose presence. These cover a variety of forms; small, frothy, foaming, spikey, but will never steal the show from the roses.

Keen to get down to the basics of maintaining this high-profile project, I honed in on Mark Birtle, the head gardener of 20 years standing who has a staff of four. He explained while hoeing the rose beds that all the fountains and rills were serviced by two huge pump rooms set beneath the garden.

Irrigation pipes meandering over the surface of various beds were helping the new plants to establish. An organic mulch of Bulrush horse manure was used on the rose beds, and compost of the same brand for herbaceous perennials.

If the adjoining marquee and garden, just completed last year and already a joy to walk through, is anything to go by, this new venture is really going to wow visitors. And there is more to come, including a cookery school and children’s garden.

This begged the question Sir John was keen to answer. ‘Do you see yourself as in competition with other garden attractions?’

He would like to see The Alnwick Garden in the North and Wynyard in the South, joining with others to form a visitor trail. He is proud to be a Northumbrian and feels that we should shout to the world about these special places and celebrate our ancient kingdom that was once Bernicia. All power to his elbow!