The origins of Helmsley’s unusual angular paths

When Alison Ticehurst began to reveal the garden by clearing many years of weeds and neglect, the first things that became visible were the original paths.  These would have been laid, and the central dipping pond built, when the garden was very first created in the 18th century.

The garden outline is that of a parallelogram. This was to ensure that the walls received as much sun as possible, keeping shadow to a minimum. Constant advances in horticulture were made throughout the 1700s; serpentine walls were popular in many walled gardens as they provided more space to grow the newly discovered exotic fruits such as pineapples. Helmsley’s parallelogram was a way to maximise warm sunlight in a northern garden.

The garden today

The paths are the one original feature of the garden itself and they give interesting and pleasing divisions throughout, creating intimate and unexpected garden rooms.  The garden originally would have been an entirely practical space, growing fruit, vegetables and flowers for Duncombe Park and retains  an element of that to this day.  The walls are lined with stone fruit and apples, there are cordoned and espaliered apples and pears and the kitchen garden grows a range of vegetables with a selection of soft fruit.  The cut flower garden is an area to sow different annuals every year in rows to cut for displays in the Orchid House.  Productivity is still very important, however the garden now is a place for relaxation and exploration, representing different horticultural techniques to our visitors but also encouraging them to take their time, rest on a carefully positioned bench or enjoy a picnic on the grass.

Design influences

The garden has been shaped by a number of passionate individuals. Alison Ticehurst began the creation of this beautiful space, followed by a number of gardeners over the years, including Paul Radcliffe, Norman Potter, Helen Fletcher and Mike I’Anson.  Volunteers have always been a key element in the running of the garden and today they undertake all the maintenance, working with the garden’s volunteer coordinators to keep the garden looking wonderful. Helmsley is not a highly manicured garden, it is gently tended with a relaxed, accessible look to charm visitors and inspire them with ideas for their own gardens.  More formal gardens of the garden include

  • The Clematis Garden
  • The White Garden
  • The Secret Garden
  • The Garden of Contemplation
  • The Physic Garden
  • The Kitchen Garden

The borders along each of the three garden walls have a different theme. The colourful iris border runs along the west facing wall leading to maple corner and the wildlife pond. The wildlife garden stretches along the north facing wall to the central gate, leading to the foliage border, whilst the long border runs from one end of the garden to the other.  East facing, this border is at its best in spring with a mix of peonies and spring bulbs.

Double herbaceous borders run the length of the garden and provided one of the locations for the latest film version of The Secret Garden in 2018.  Lawns link this patchwork of vibrant planting, giving restful areas and are a mix of closely cut grass and meadow-like spaces with colourful bulbs and annuals changing throughout the seasons.

For more information about plants in the garden, please just ask.  Volunteers and staff are always ready to help and if someone doesn’t know – they will find someone who does!