Day out: Herterton House Gardens, Northumberland
Early summer is the perfect time to experience the intimate artistry of this small but much-acclaimed rural Northumbrian garden, designed from scratch around a derelict 16th-century farmyard.
It took 40 years for artists Frank and Marjorie Lawley to design and develop the exquisite Herterton House Gardens – a lifelong project that continues to flourish.
The Lawleys' knowledge and creativity with both hybridised and wild plants, and their understanding of form and pattern, are presented with a meticulous free-spiritness.
Unusual white forms of wild rosebay willowherb and rose campions grow side by side among knapweeds and hesperis. Elegant veronicas, circiums and self-seeded poppies spill out over narrow paths, weaving their way past tightly clipped box swirls and buttoned columns. Hoverflies, butterflies and bees abound in the floral assortment, and even the walls grow green, covered by waistcoats of ivy that trace the edge of a window or door with utmost precision. No wonder it’s been described as a living work of art.
In June, Herterton’s unusual and ancient flora reaches its peak of glory, the delicate blooms protected from the harsh winds by mellow stone walls and towering yews. In the physic garden, clipped thymes and blocks of pink saxifrage are knitted into a fragrant tapestry of pinks and purples, and everywhere the Lawleys’ intensive garden craftsmanship unites the natural with the man-made to stunning effect.
From the gazebo you can view faded photographs of the garden in the making and look out on to gently undulating hills, trees and cattle.
A few miles south of Herterton Gardens is the National Trust estate of Wallington, where the Lawleys created their first garden. Its glorious parkland and woods are a haven for red squirrels, while the bordering River Wansbeck is popular with otters and white-clawed crayfish. Also nearby is Kirkharle, where Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was born and raised over 300 years ago.
For a wilder walk, strike out north across Greenleighton Moor to Fontburn Reservoir, home to visiting ospreys and Bronze Age remains. From the gardens, it’s a five-minute drive to Greenleighton Quarry car park where the six-mile (2.5 hour) loop begins. Take the path uphill, keeping the SSSI limestone quarry on your right.
Go over the stile and head though woods, veering north across flowering moorland until you reach the western edge of the reservoir and a 3,000-year-old burial mound. As you near the water’s southern end, loop back south- west past shake holes and the cotton flower-decorated moor.
Herterton House Gardens are open from April to September, every day except Tuesday and Thursday.