|Is it worth visiting?|
Alnwick Garden has been highly recommended to me on many occasions, and when we visited Northumberland recently, it was definitely on our list of attractions to visit. Located between the market town of Alnwick and the grounds of Alnwick Castle is the most amazing, creative and inventive garden, designed by the Duchess of Northumberland. Although the first couple of phases are now complete, this is a garden still in the making - and the ideas for the future will make sure that I return again to see the absolutely magical things that are planned come into fruition.~~History~~
Jane Percy, the current and 12th Duchess of Northumberland, is a keen gardener - and she had the vision to turn the run down collection of broken brickwork and brambles into something beautiful. She is completely responsible for the restoration and development of the garden.~~Controversy~~
Although the Duchess claims that her main objective was to bring jobs and prestige to the North, the £42 million cost of the garden has attracted a fair amount of criticism, particularly as the Duchess is seeking £16 million of public funds for the next stage of development.The third element of criticism is design. Although the Duchess believes that this mainly comes from "bitchy" and "snobby" gardeners in the south, many reviews criticise the fact that there is little of the North in her garden. The inspiration seems to come from the gardens of Europe, and the main designers are from Belgium. Items such as the surfacing, which is a side-laid clay paver usually only used in Belgium, incense some British designers, who feel that a nod to Northumbrian or British materials should have been made.
The Alnwick Garden was created by Jacques and Peter Wirtz, who are celebrated international garden designers from Belgium. The Wirtz signature style centres on architectural green structures, as seen in the hornbeam-covered pergolas, yew topiary, box and beech hedges. The various sections of the garden are all unique; one area leading into the next, but each with their own individual character.
At each side, the Grand Cascade is surrounded paths that climb the hill, leading through hornbeam pergolas which echo the stone curves. Channels of water leading from the Ornamental Garden wind down the hill, in and out of the pergolas.~~The Ornamental Garden~~
There are charming little corners of this garden - pathways are bordered by lavender and fruit trees, and two dovecotes sit on the mellow old stone walls of the garden in a quiet corner. At the Ornamental Garden's centre lies a bubbling pool that spills into the rills that run throughout the Garden. There are also two small secret gardens, hidden behind hedges - that you can discover by following the water to the fountains enclosed inside.~~The Water Sculpture Garden~~
~~The Poison Garden~~
The big, black locked gates, with their skull and crossbones symbols, create a great deal of anticipation and excitement when they are finally opened and visitors can enter. The Poison Garden can only be entered at set times, with a marshal controlling the situation and providing an educational talk as she shepherds the visitors around the garden. Alnwick Garden has a Home Office licence to grow cannabis and coca - and these plants are rather strangely kept in their own cages in the garden. The talk was very informative, as the marshal led us past poisonous plants that grow naturally in Britain and regaled us with gruesome tales of death and sickness.
~~The Cherry Orchard~~
This is a fairly new part of the garden, and best seen in spring when the large, double flowered, white cherry blossom comes out. Hundreds of Tai Haku cherry trees are planted in homage to Japanese culture, providing a very good reason to visit the garden at this special time of year.
~~The Tree House~~
Any lover of Enid Blyton's magic stories will be drawn to the amazing wooden treehouse. Straight from the pages of a fairy tale, this enormous structure is built from Canadian cedar, Scandinavian redwood and English and Scots pine and is reached through high wooden walkways and wobbly rope bridges.
~~The Woodland Walk~~
A mile of natural woodland with wonderful views starts at the Treehouse and is often home to sculpture exhibitions.
Younger children love to play in the jets of the Cascade, pretending to be caught out and soaked by the sudden squirts of water. In addition, a selection of mini tractors were available for small children to roll down the slope at the bottom of the cascade, and to collect water from the water walls.There are activities for children throughout the year - we visited at Halloween, when pumpkin carving was going very well.
~~Amazing Plans for the Future~~
The Duchess has even more plans to develop the garden. These include a pond, which will be frozen for 6 months of the year to create a skating venue surrounding an ice sculpture; a spiral garden, which includes a path winding through hornbeams to a high point, with marbles of water which will shoot into the air for children to catch; a garden for the senses, which will ask the visitor to pass through blindfolded to experience the smells and touches available; and a quiet garden, with a large shallow pool to rest hot feet in.
Sadly I did not have to use the toilets, but I have heard that they are of exceptional quality and cleanliness, having won the Loo of the Year Award in 2006! I understand that the boys toilet provides led lights to assist better aiming....The gardens and the tree house are all fully wheelchair and buggy accessible. There is a disabled toilet and baby changing. Milk warming is available on request.
Parking is in a massive car park on the other side of the road - it is a fair walk to get to the garden entrance, but you are allowed to park outside the gates in a special area if you are disabled.~~Admission~~
Child tickets are available for children 16 and under.
Concession tickets are available for over 60's and students with a student ID.
Adult Ticket £10.00; Concession Ticket £7.50; Child Ticket £0.01
I advise anybody to allow at least 2 hours for a visit to the garden alone.
A more expensive ticket includes Alnwick Castle, and I would allow a whole day to see both attractions.
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