Tens of thousands will this week make the annual pilgrimage to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
The most celebrated event of its kind in the world, visitors are promised an abundance of colourful, exotic, exciting, relaxing and sometimes madcap show gardens, yet always fragrant, vibrant, flawless displays.
But with spring in full swing and summer only just around the corner, you don’t have to travel all the way to London to get your horticultural fix.
The National Trust looks after not just some of the UK’s but the world’s greatest collection of historic gardens – with many beautiful ones to be found here in the North East.
From magnificent stately home showpieces to Himalayan-inspired creations, hidden woodland glades, tranquil wildflower meadows and sweeping landscapes, there are lovingly tended National Trust gardens across the region to suit every taste and mood.
And now is the perfect time to get out and about and discover them.
Whether you’re interested in flora and fauna or not, there’s nothing like breathing in the scent of roses, running your fingers through the lavender, feasting your eyes on dazzling herbaceous borders, or lying back among wildflower strewn meadows gazing at cotton wool clouds as they drift lazily overhead.
Many of the National Trust’s North East gardens are at their best just now, with others on the verge of bursting into a blaze of late spring colour. So pull on your walking shoes, dust off your picnic hamper and celebrate the arrival of the better weather and longer days by heading off to one of the many unique and unusual gardens waiting to be discovered and explored on your doorstep.
Here are the best of the diverse gardens cared for by the National Trust in the North East:
Best hidden garden
Wallington, Cambo, Northumberland, NE61 4AR, 01670 773 600 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wallington
Go on a journey of discovery to find Wallington’s walled garden. Concealed beyond the dramatically named Neptune’s Gate, at the edge of the woods, the Walled Garden is an unexpected and well-tended horticultural gem.
Originally built in 1760 to grow fruit and vegetables, this very irregular contoured Walled Garden is now filled with an abundance of colourful themed borders, decorative shrubs and specimen plants.
May sees camissia, allium and lilac coming to the fore with salpiglosis and streptocarpus in the stunning Edwardian Conservatory, originally built as a winter garden but now home to an array of beautiful plants throughout the year.
In June it will be the turn of delphiniums, astrantias, honeysuckle, lupins, roses, rhododendrons and euphorbia, before July brings with it dahlias, campanula, crocosmia, aconitum and philadelphus.
In a quiet corner at the bottom of the garden, there is an open lawn next to a peaceful pond which is an ideal spot to lay out a picnic and soak up the wonderful atmosphere of this very special Walled Garden.
Best for spring colour
Cragside, Rothbury, Northumberland, NE65 7PX, 01669 620 333 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside
Rhododendrons are now in bloom across the country, and one of the best places to see them is Cragside.
Cragside boasts more than 100 varieties spread out across the rock garden and wider estate and late May – mid June is when they are at their most extravagant and striking.
The hillsides will be awash with shocking pink, garish purple, waxy white and vivacious red rhododendrons, complemented by scented yellow and orange azaleas.
The best way to see them is to head off on foot along Cragside’s 40 miles of paths, or take a leisurely car ride around the six mile carriage drive.
There are more than just rhododendrons and azaleas to see at this time of the year, though. Tulips and spring bedding plants will be bringing the Formal Garden to life with biennial borders and carpet bedding to follow over the coming month.
Most Inspirational Garden
Seaton Delaval Hall, The Avenue, Seaton Sluice, Northumberland, NE26 4QR, 0191 237 9100 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/seaton-delaval-hall
The baroque Seaton Delaval Hall was the last great masterpiece of Sir John Vanbrugh, who gave the nation Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard.
A grand garden in miniature, all of the elements are there: a parterre, manicured lawns, a rose garden, topiary, fountains, statues, a ha-ha and sweeping views across open parkland.
At just under three acres, the formal garden complements the huge ‘palace’ that it surrounds; large enough to be impressive but small enough that you aren’t overawed.
Best Coastal Garden
Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, Northumberland, TD15 2SH, 01289 389 244 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lindisfarne-castle
Just below the castle on its rocky volcanic outcrop, stands an enchanting walled garden.
You wouldn’t think much could grow in this windy spot off the north Northumberland coast, but that would be to underestimate the determination of its creator, the great Victorian and Edwardian garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.
A tranquil, leafy spot, it’s the perfect place to sit back and marvel at the riotously colourful hardy annuals that flower in the summer months, to soak up the sun, listen to the skylarks’ liquid warbling song and the gentle buzzing of bees.
This walled garden with its sweet peas, hollyhocks, cornflowers and marigolds providing an abundance of colour, is at its best in July and August. But there are sweet smelling herbs and vegetables growing all year round that offer a safe haven for insects in this sheltered and magical oasis.
Best for Nature
Allen Banks and Staward Gorge, Bardon Mill, Northumberland, 01434 321 888 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/allen-banks-and-staward-gorge
One of the largest areas of ancient semi-natural woodland in Northumberland, Allen Banks and Staward Gorge is not a garden in any sense of the word, but offers one of the best places in the region to see an impressive array of flora, fauna and fungi all in one place.
In the spring and early summer the wood floor is carpeted with nodding bluebells and the pungent white flowers of ransoms, better known as wild garlic. During warm weather and when crushed the latter have an unmistakeably pungent garlic aroma!
Many of the plants at Allen Banks are characteristic of ancient woodland and also include the pretty white flowered woodruff, downy dog’s mercury and tussocky greater woodrush.
Allen Banks and Staward Gorge is a ‘garden’ to get lost in and leave the cares of the world behind, just as nature intended.
Best for Spectacular Views
Souter Lighthouse and The Leas, Coast Road, Whitburn, Tyne and Wear, SR6 7NH, 0191 529 3161 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/souter-lighthouse-and-the-leas
The red and white hooped Souter lighthouse is an iconic beacon on this stretch of rugged North East coast, standing tall and proud half-way between the Rivers Tyne and Wear.
Spectacular views are to be had north and south along this stretch of coast, and The Leas is often described as the coastal green lung between Newcastle and Sunderland. While not a garden in the true sense, here you will find many maritime plants like scurvy grass, thrift and sea plantain thriving as well as torgrass, yellow wort and the bee orchid – the most northerly point at which they grow in Britain. There are pyramidal orchids, wild thyme and autumn gentian too.
But for those who like their gardens to be more conventional, Souter has a secret up its sleeve. It’s recently unveiled a new wildlife garden which includes ponds, berry bearing shrubs, trees, wildflowers, a bog and hibernation areas, all set against the dramatic backdrop of the towering cliffs and sea.
Best urban-rural retreat
Gibside, near Rowlands Gill, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, NE16 6BG, 01207 541 820 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gibside
A taste of the country on the edge of the city is how many think of Gibside.
In the heart of the beautiful Derwent Valley, but just a short drive from the Tyneside conurbation, Gibside’s real joy is that it is an anytime of the year place.
It was designed as a sumptuous pleasure seeking landscape in the eighteenth century by the Bowes family where they could walk, ride and get close to nature.
On a spring day, Gibside comes into its own and offers something for everyone. In May the rhododendrons are in full bloom, lilac, wild orchids, dahlias, chrysanthemums, cornflowers, gladioli and in the walled garden seasonal vegetables – which find their way on to the café menu – are just starting to come through.
June will see roses in the Victorian Shrubbery, honeysuckle, wild roses, poppies, buttercups, margarites in Parkfields and Lady Haugh, geraniums, hollyhocks and aruncus.
Most Unique Garden
Ormesby Hall, Ladgate Lane, Ormesby, TS3 0SR, 01642 324 188 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ormesby-hall
Open on Sundays, this rural paradise on the edge of Teesside is like something out of a children’s book.
Just over six acres in size, this is one of the oldest formal mansion houses and gardens in the area; a picture perfect haven of close cropped lawns, rose beds, tall hedges, artfully planted trees, shady paths and hidden seats.
In the spring the woodland floors are carpeted with bluebells, yellow aconites and periwinkles. In summer the lush evergreen shrubs begin to take over.
Unlike many country house gardens, Ormesby Hall’s is not rigid or showy in its design or planting. Instead it offers an insight into what life must have been like in this southern most corner of the North East before modern day Teesside made its mark on the landscape.