Hyde Hall visit & behind the scenes tour

Last week I took a trip to Hyde Hall – my local RHS garden (a bit over 1 hours drive) primarily as my other half had bought me a ticket for the behind the scenes tour. Obviously while there I planned on having a good look around the garden – it was so hot I missed a couple of spots, but will catch them another time. The garden has had a lot of investment over the last 18months or so and has really added to the experience when visiting. The thing that has really added to the garden for me is the global growth veg garden, before this the vegetable area at Hyde Hall was a little uninspiring as it was rather small and hidden away. The new garden has turned this around completely and I would say for a grow your own fan it is now a must visit place.

The primary purpose of the visit as I mentioned was the behind the scenes tour of the garden seeing some usually closed spaces and also getting an update on current and future plans for the garden. This was lead by Andrew Hellman (Garden Manager) who has been with the garden over 10 years now and clearly knew the site very well. The tour started in the new winter garden area where we learnt about the concept behind the garden and some of the future developments. Although I had noticed some sculptures on the walk through this part of the garden, I did not know that they serve a specific purpose. It made sense after being explained by Andrew – the three sculptures, all of leaves, represent the stages of decay; a process that happens during winter. The planting in July is full of flower and interest with plants like Salvia and Achillea which as explained when they go over to winter leave interesting shape and structure. As for the winter interest plants, the large selection of Cornus have some very striking stems, that during winter add strong colour. I also spotted a few Hellebore which for flowers in winter are a must have plant. This area is going to have more added to it over the next year or so and some changes to the existing setup which will no doubt add to the display. I will have to make time during the winter months to take a look at how this all works.

Winter Garden - Salvia

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Next we moved toward clover hill which gained its name as the open grass going up the hill is thick with clover. This has been less obvious in recent years and is something that is being addressed – allowing sections of the grass to grow uncut so the clover can grow and be seen (it also saves a bit of grass cutting). The beds in this space are planted in a prairie style so are drought tolerant and draw on plants from places like South Africa and parts of America. A lot of these plants tend to work in my garden quite nicely like Echinacea, Sedum, Eryngium, Kniphofia and a number of grasses. You could tell how dry it was here as a few large cracks had opened in some of the beds due to the clay soil drying out. Good job the garden has a large reservoir of 10,000,000 gallons collected by a series of drainage pipes running through the site.

Clover Hill - Kniphofia & Verbena

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After this we walked up through the dry garden to the newly developed buildings at the top of the hill. I didn’t take any pictures up here (which I probably should have done), suffice is to say the buildings are very smart and make better use of the space than what was previously there. A new balcony area over looking the dry garden affords some lovely views out over the wider countryside. When on this, you are about 10 feet above where you would have stood before the work was done. The buildings roof area is huge and the rain water is collected and runs down some of the new fashionable chain style guttering “down pipes”. There is some future development work going on that will use this water in what should be a fun and beneficial way that will create a bit of interest on rainy days. Some of the design work in this area was done with Adam Frost who I’m sure all Gardeners World fans know and enjoy seeing on the show. We didn’t cover much of this – perhaps it was part of a different tour when the buildings opened which would make sense.

New building from the dry garden

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The next area was a quick visit to the hilltop garden which is home to (amongst other things) the rose collection. This was the reason for the stop in this area – to give an update on things going on with the roses. The rose rope walk is going to get some serious work done to it, which needs it as admitted by Andrew, I think the comment was something like ‘the roses are holding up the supports’ which is quite true. It sounds like the rope walk will not only get a good revamp but may well also have a location change of some description. Roses are one of those plants that are loved by many (me included) so I will look forward to this work being completed.

(Pictures below are from the hill top garden but do not include the roses doh!)


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We then took a quick walk through the global growth veg garden and stopped for a brief update on what else is going on here. The observation made by staff (and presumably visitors) is a bit of a lack of fruit in this area. I agree, although I do love veg and it is my first gardening passion, fruit is also a really important source of food so its important to be included in the garden. I won’t go into detail, but it is safe to say that fruit is on its way and in good numbers, which will add to the overall feel and point of the global growth garden (I believe). The area will also become home to the new student plots which I am sure they will both enjoy and benefit from. All of this will further add to my opinion that the global growth garden is a must visit for any grow your own enthusiast!

Global Growth - Tomatoes in the glass house

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Next stop was probably the only truly behind the scenes part of the tour – visiting the greenhouses and poly tunnel where the staff sow and propagate a range of plants for the garden. A large number of plants are grown from seed or cuttings on site which given the relatively small amount of space available is quite an achievement. I think the numbers were something like 4000 veg plants grown by Matt Oliver (and team) for the global growth garden, while there were something like 6-7 thousand annuals, tender perennials and other plants grown for the ornamental side of things. There isn’t the space to grow all the plants required from year to year in the garden, so naturally some are bought in. I noted two important things at this point: firstly all the bought in plants are subject to a quarantine time to check for pests and diseases (which is extremely important). The other, which I thought was actually pretty good, was that as many plants as possible are bought from specialist nurseries in the UK – local where possible I think was mentioned. Obviously helping out nurseries in our own country is important and good to hear that Hyde Hall are doing this. Plants sourced in the UK help to reduce the risks of a new and potentially catastrophic pest or disease being introduced to the garden and country in general. Something else I learnt was that pesticides are no longer used, instead bio-controls and other sensible measures are used to keep the plants healthy and problem free. Various things like parasitic wasps, ladybirds (including larvae) and nematodes are now used to keep pests at bay. I use nematodes myself to help control slugs and they seem to work well. On the back of the visit I have also now bought some ladybirds to help deal with some of the aphids that are causing a problem.

The final stop for the tour was the new education area which from what was described of the old options is a major leap forward. There is now a smart and clean new building with all the sort of facilities you would expect to host a school trip. Along with this the courtyard that is enclosed on 3 sides by the building and one with a fence is filled with raised beds full of plants of various types. The beds had a different plant type in each including wild flowers, veg, succulents and one for poisonous plants to mention a few. If the school local to me was closer, then I would be talking to them about arranging a trip – so if you are close to Hyde Hall and have a child at school then this is worth looking into in my opinion. This area is closed off during the week to allow for the school visits to be uninterrupted but is open to the general public at weekends.

When the tour was completed I had a bit more of a wander around the garden, mostly around the global growth veg, dry and hilltop gardens and through the beds on clover hill. These being the areas I tend to enjoy the most and have planting that matches what I try to grow at home (on a much smaller scale!). There was plenty of colour and interest around the garden as usual and at the end of the day I found I had taken 175 photographs! The tour itself was enjoyable and it was nice to learn a few different things about the garden and what the future investments will bring to the visiting experience. As I said at the start there has already been some great benefits realised from the completed developments. With the current and planned work the future for this garden is looking really good indeed and will make the visiting experience even more enjoyable than it already is. The final thing to do is say a big thank you to Andrew for the tour – clearly a man who knows and loves the garden.

(Other images from around the garden)

Cottage Garden - Close up

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