Subtle spring shades at Holker Hall, Cumbria
|The 16th century house is surrounded by a balustraded terrace and compartmentalised sunken garden§|
Holker Hall (pronounced Hooker) in Cumbria is quite a find, although essentially a spring garden. The house overlooks hundreds of acres of rolling landscaped parkland, while the 23-acres of formal gardens adjacent to the 16th century hall have been largely re-designed by current owners, Lord and Lady Cavendish, who arrived here early in the 1970s. The re-design means that visitors are caught up in an eye-catching colour display the moment they enter the gardens and must go further afield to discover the woodland areas, which have their own subtle and distinct charm.
|Entrance to the Elliptical Garden|
You enter the gardens through a courtyard and arrive in the Elliptical Garden adjacent to the house - this is a formal garden with flower beds enclosed by yew and box hedges, best seen in springtime when the tulips and alliums are in bloom. It is divided into four colour-coded beds and the effect in early spring is stunning. But this is quite labour intensive for the gardens, who must change the bedding plants to keep the displays vibrant throughout the visitor season.
From here you move on into the Summer Garden (above) with its formal, boxed lawns and central arbor. You can also get glimpses of the family's private garden from here. The design of this part of the garden naturally draws you in towards the gate in the distance, where you'll find the wildflower meadow and labyrinth. But in all likelihood you'll be drawn towards the Neptune Cascade first, given it's spectacular colours in springtime with the rhododendrons, azaleas and himalayan poppies in bloom!
|The Cascade, topped by a figure of Neptune|
The Neptune Cascade (above) comes as a real surprise here! You emerge from the formal gardens and suddenly find yourself in front of a rhododendron filled glade, with the huge water feature ahead of you. It's hard to say whether it's more impressive with the trees are in bloom, or as the petals fall to the ground (below), when there is a complete carpet of pink rhododendron petals. But whatever your preference, don't stop here, because there is still more garden to see!
|The carpet of rhododendron petals signal the end of spring at Holker Hall|
Once you've seen the Cascade, don't forget to find the Sunken Garden (below), across another stretch of meadow, with its impressive pergola and many old-fashioned roses. The pergola leads to open groves of plants and eventually back to the house. It's easy to think you've seen it all before you arrive at this traditional part of the garden, where the roses are complemented by herbaceous underplanting.
|The Sunken Garden, filled with alliums in May, followed by old-fashioned roses in June|
Holker Hall is open from April to the end of October every day except Saturday, from 10.30am-5.30pm. Easily accessible from Levens Hall, with its magnificent topiary, you could do a lot worse than visit both gardens in a day! There is a Garden Festival held here every year - check website for details and for other events on offer throughout the season.