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  • Debi Holland

Holehird Gardens


Occasionally a garden really stops you in your tracks and completely seduces you. I found that immersion at Holehird Gardens in the Lake District.

Nestled in the fells overlooking Windermere is a 10-acre hidden gem run entirely by volunteers of the Lakeland Horticultural Society.

Steeped in history Holehird has connections with some prominent Victorians from Beatrix Potter, garden designer Thomas Mawson, Kew trained plant hunter William Purdom, 1897 Holehird owner, President of LHS and Lake District Preservation Society William Grimble Groves and John Macmillan Dunlop who constructed a large part of the Gothic revival mansion.

Founded in 1969 the Lakeland Horticultural Society (LHS) has grown to a phenomenal group of around 1600 members. Around 250 of those members are actively involved with the running of Holehird Gardens. Years of dedication and hard work has created an incredible all-season garden.

Holehird is a truly inspiring set up. Drawing from members with specialist knowledge, the volunteers take full responsibility for their own designated area, from propagation to planting to estate management.

The Lakeland Horticultural Society has recently been honoured with The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service the highest award in the UK for voluntary service. Congratulations!

As well as being the 'home' of LHS, Holehird is a horticultural centre for plant science and practice and research into growing conditions around the Lakes. The society produces many publications, hosts a MET office approved weather station, an extensive horticulture library for members, a plant database and conducts seasonal garden tours.

I did purchase the majority of publications available. An invaluable wealth of plant information, society trips, history and photos. To read the full history of Holehird over the past forty years buy 'A Illustrated History,' The Lakeland Horticultural Society. Such a large number of people involved in saving, restoring and moving Holehird into the next era.

The passion and dedication from the volunteers was infectious and I was lucky enough to speak with quite a few whilst they worked. It was great to hear personal stories about gardening together, aspirations and developments in the borders. Gardening certainly brings people together!

The history of the garden developments has been a long one. In 1969 the LHS agreed a lease from the Holehird Trust for two acres of rock garden, grassy slopes and orchard and have been building on that ever since. The garden now includes a walled garden, succulent house, alpine houses, rock gardens, herb garden, rolling countryside with panoramic Lakeland views, mature trees, rose garden, spring bulbs, sumptuous herbaceous borders, seasonal walks, Gunnera pool and cascade, various potting sheds and propagation plant trial areas.

Holehird is home to four national plant collections: Astilbe, Meconopsis, Daboecia and Polystichum. It also holds the Lakeland Hydrangea collection as well as various RHS plant trials including a very exciting autumn-flowering gentian trial.

The garden's also boast an extensive collection of alpines and stunning glasshouses, six of which are open to the public. Plants are propagated for research, to increase stock and to sell. The LHS holds an impressive collection of approximately 500 species. Plants are grown in clay pots in a bed of sharp sand. Although hardy to low temperatures, the glasshouses ensure the alpines to survive the challenging Lakeland winters.

My favourite glasshouse was the Tufa House which was originally a Victorian 'pit' house built over 100 years ago but now has the most colourful vibrant display of alpines growing out of the porous calcareous rock.

There are a fascinating series of propagation glasshouses, UV growing areas and biological control zones in place; visitors can see first hand how the society tries to combat greenhouse whitefly by using the chalcidoid wasp Encarsia formosa.

There is an immense feeling of calm; you can really take your time to peruse the plants at your own pace, without haste. There are also plenty of benches opportunely placed so you can also enjoy the borrowed landscape of lake Windermere and the surrounding mountains. There is much to see and it is difficult to take in all in one go... so I visited twice in a week!

The Lakeland Horticultural Society (LHS) celebrate their 50th anniversary this year so there are lots of special events to look out for.

Adam Frost held a talk at the gardens in January and Saturday 8 June sees a Meconopsis workshop held in conjunction with the RHS.

The garden is constantly changing and evolving. I visited at Easter and would dearly like to return at various different points in the year to see the seasonal changes. Recommended walks have been compiled to ensure visitors do not miss out on the floral stars of the moment.

Spring shines in many forms. Bulbs, sumptuous snowdrops, narcissus, fritillaria, tulips, camassia, anemones and alliums; magnolia, azalea, camellia, rhododendron, trillium, gentian and the divine Crinodendron hookerianum all give a welcomed injection of colour.

Summer explodes into life with roses, fuchsias, hostas, the national collection of daboecias and astilbes are in full swing and hydrangeas bloom.

Moving in to autumn, Holehird takes on a fairytale quality with fly agaric fungi! Acer palmatum warm the garden views with their red and golden foliage surrounded by grasses and seed heads and do not miss the show stopping Liriodendron tulipifer tulip tree.

Winter holds its own mystic. Take time to study the trees and their bark and the mesmerising Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire.' Araucaria araucana, monkey puzzle rub shoulders with Acer griseum, paper bark maple, alongside the heady scent of Hamamelis x intermedia witch hazel.

Big thanks to Rosemary and Daphne at the herbaceous borders, George in the alpine house, Robert over in the trial beds and national collections and to all the volunteers at reception. Everyone made me very welcome.

Lovely to hear first hand about all the hard work the volunteers do and the history of Holehird. It is a very special garden and I hope to return again soon.

To find out more see the Holehird Gardens website.

All photos taken by Debi Holland unless credited to Sawyer Holland @ 2019