Pal is gardening on a grand scale

David Guthrie in the Italian Garden at Haggerston.
David Guthrie in the Italian Garden at Haggerston.

At the Alnwick Garden I’ve worked alongside several up and coming horticulturalists who have eventually moved on to pastures new as head gardeners.

Andrew Thompson went to Yorkshire, where he works for a member of the Morrison grocery chain family. Jane Johnson has been involved in the transformation of a super walled garden at Acton House, and Debbie Crombie is in charge at the Gibside National Trust property. Friend Derek Guthrie took on a ten-year development challenge at Haggerston Castle Caravan Park.

I’ve remained in touch with all four, even joined them for talks, demonstrations, gardeners’ question sessions and show judging. So I jumped at the chance when Derek invited me to see his latest project.

First impression was the scale of the site he and his team of 14 have responsibility for. There are 250 acres of grounds, which house 1,100 caravans and lodges. Grass cutting is demanding of time, so too the hedge clipping and seemingly countless borders of shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Summer bedding and container displays punctuate high profile spots throughout the park, which continues to expand.

As Derek puts it: “This is just like running a garden, only on a massive scale.”

At the height of season there can be 7,000 people on site, but a diversity of attractions exists. Golf courses, pony riding, birds of prey and boating on ornamental lakes are some of the choices.

Every gardening establishment has a gem and Haggerston’s is the Italian garden. This was created by Christopher John Leyland in the late 19th century.

The 1.4 acre site initially had formal flower beds, pergolas, fountains and statues, but decades later it was overgrown. A decision was made to restore it for the benefit of guests and the present owners, with a budget of £500,000.

I recall visiting this garden several years ago when it was open in aid of charity. Although there was an unmistakable sound structure and calmness, it felt run-down and unloved. Not so now though.

Since Derek arrived new walls have been built, timber structures restored, hedges and trees planted, mixed borders upgraded, fruit trees introduced and solid raised beds constructed for vegetables. The garden is open each day and it was a pleasure to see families enjoying the atmosphere on a late September morning with so much colour remaining in the borders.

Derek is in his element at Haggerston. He has a say in the development of garden and grounds, and practical experience to oversee it. His awareness of what has gone before, especially the splendour of the Italian garden, makes him more determined to deliver.