Over the Wall at Helmsley Walled Garden
Helmsley Walled Garden has been luring garden enthusiasts and nature lovers to this part of Yorkshire for years
Originally built as the kitchen garden for Duncombe Park, Helmsley Walled Garden is now more than 250 years old. After World War One, the family moved to London and leased out Duncombe Park, which became a market garden during World War Two, but was sadly derelict by the early 1980s. It remained that way until one passionate local, Alison Ticehurst, stepped in with a vision of restoring the garden as a beautiful visitor attraction, and perhaps more importantly, saw its potential for therapeutic horticulture.
The garden covers five acres, divided into smaller gardens, and boasts two Victorian glasshouses: one now The Vine House Café, and the other is the old Orchid House. ‘The vast majority of the garden work is undertaken by our volunteers, but our part-time staff also includes our volunteer coordinator Heather Thomas, garden trainee Robyn Hancock, and our groundsman and caretaker Tony Craggs,’ Tricia says. There are only two full time staff: garden manager June Tainsh, and Tricia herself, who acts as both assistant garden manager and head of marketing and communications. ‘My role is so varied, and I love it,’ she says. ‘I also have responsibility for the Garden Shop, so I’m constantly looking out for new products. My rules are: either it has to be made in Yorkshire, it is bespoke especially for us, or it’s totally related to gardening.’
The garden and café are open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday, between March and December. This summer, visitors will find these five tranquil acres open to explore; lie under the apple trees in the Orchard, admire the views of nearby Helmsley Castle, and stroll through the kitchen garden. The double herbaceous borders fizz with shades of red, orange and yellow, whilst Helmsley’s Clematis Garden has more than 150 different varieties of clematis. Visitors can also enjoy the quiet of the Garden of Contemplation, or the vibrance of the Cutting Garden, as well as taking in art exhibitions, courses and open air theatre. To refuel during your visit, either bring along a picnic or head to the Vine House Café.
Tricia explains that the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening can’t be underestimated, which is why therapeutic horticulture is at the heart of Helmsley Walled Gardens. ‘Our volunteering programme, Over the Garden Gate, is designed to enhance the experience of volunteering and to help individuals get the most out of the garden. Those suffering from the early stages of dementia, with learning difficulties, or experiencing social isolation can all find their lives improved enormously by volunteering with our team,’ she says. ‘Therapeutic horticulture is very much a preventative as well as a healing activity, and it fulfils the five steps to health and well-being as defined by the NHS: connection with others, being physically active, learning new skills, giving to others, and being mindful.’ Each team is overseen and guided by their volunteer coordinator, who buddies up volunteers to engage a broad range of abilities and ensure that everyone is working comfortably, safely, and happily.
Helmsley’s glasshouse appeal aims to raise £25,000 to restore, repair, and re-paint the historic Orchid House that overlooks their whole site. Despite being restored to a good representation of its former glory back in 2003, it now needs urgent repair to be brought back to full working condition. ‘We were overwhelmed by people’s generosity last year when they helped us to raise £50,000 to keep our doors open after lockdown,’ says Tricia. ‘We’re hoping that our friends and visitors will want to support us again to keep the garden and historic buildings open. Renovating the Orchid House will improve year-round facilities for all our volunteers, especially those with mobility issues.’
One of the original glasshouses from the original working garden, the Orchid House, which dates back to 1759, likely housed a range of exotic plants. Today its use is a little different – it’s a venue for horticulture tutorials, coffee mornings, and exhibitions for local artists – the gardening team plan to return at least a small number of orchids to the elegant building. Originally it would have grown these hot house flowers for table displays and ladies corsages, but whilst the lack of a heating system means there are no orchids currently, it does have a fabulous collection of pelargoniumson display.
Looking towards the future, Tricia and her team want to develop as a community hub and improve all their buildings, expanding and welcoming more visitors. ‘We hope to inspire our visitors with what they can do in their own gardens. One of the great things about Helmsley Walled Garden is that despite being five acres, visitors find it easy to relate to. They see plant combinations and think, “I could do this at home”. I do it myself when I see something that would work really well in my own garden.’
Ultimately, the team hope to get the local community gardening more, either by volunteering, renting one of the community plots, or simply by being inspired to try something new. ‘We want to set standards of horticultural excellence and show what can be done. The future is all about showcasing the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening, as we work towards a sustainable future. We want to preserve the heritage and knowledge that goes with this important garden, and continuing to renovate and develop all of our historic glasshouses is just a part of that.’
To find out more about Helmsley Walled Gardens, become a Friend of the Garden, or donate to their glasshouse appeal head to their website at helmsleywalledgarden.org.uk, or wend your way to Helmsley and spend a balmy afternoon roaming the garden itself.