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.

We think that the unusual layout of the garden, a slight parallelogram, was designed to make the most of the sun, angling the south facing wall to catch as much sun as possible.  Throughout the 1700s there was much experimentation and many new advances in horticulture; serpentine walls were all the rage in many elegant walled gardens, providing more wall space to grow newly discovered exotic fruits.  Helmsley’s ‘collapsed’ rectangular layout may well have been an experiment in maximising warm sunlight in what is very much 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 we very much wish to retain an element of this today.  The walls are lined with stone fruit and apples, we have cordoned and espaliered apples and pears and our kitchen garden grows a range of vegetables with a selection of soft fruit.  The cut flower garden is an area where we can 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 one of our expansive lawns.

Design influences

The garden has been shaped by a number of passionate individuals. Alison Ticehurst began to create the beautiful space we see today, followed by a number of gardeners over the years, including Paul Radcliffe, Norman Potter, Helen Fletcher and Mike I’Anson.  Volunteers have always been an important part of how the garden has evolved and today we are entirely reliant on our volunteers for the day to day upkeep of the garden.  This means the more that volunteers are involved with the design and development of the garden, the more able they are to care for it.  Helmsley is not a highly manicured garden, it is gently tended with a relaxed, accessible look that we hope resonates with our visitors and gives them ideas for their own gardens at home.  We do have formal gardens set within the walls, namely

  • The Clematis Garden
  • The White Garden
  • The Secret Garden
  • The Garden of Contemplation
  • The Physic 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 our maple corner and our wildlife pond. The nature garden stretches along the north facing wall to the central gate, leading to our shaded garden, whilst the long border runs from one end of the garden to the other.  This border is east facing and is at its very best in spring with a mix of peonies and spring bulbs.

Our famous central border is the Hot Border, packed with glorious colour from July to October and was one of the locations for the filming of The Secret Garden in 2018.  Our 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.

If you are looking for more information about plants in the garden, please just ask.  Our volunteers and staff are always ready to help and if someone doesn’t know – they will find someone who does!  You can also try Candide’s great Plant Finder app to help identify some of the plants in the garden, downloadable here to your phone.