Although the term can be overused, Holehird Gardens, just outside Windermere, are what I would truly describe as a ‘hidden gem’. Whenever I visit, I feel like I’ve been transported to another world of complete peace and tranquility. On a warm day, it is heavenly to relax on one of the garden’s many benches and take in the garden, the scents and sounds, and the glimpses of the beautiful surrounding fell and lake views. It is also humbling to see just what can be achieved by a truly dedicated society of volunteers. Whether or not you particularly enjoy gardening yourself, visiting Holehird, in my opinion, is an absolute must.
Holehird recently appeared on BBC1’s Beautiful Gardens from Above with Christine Walkden. The 17-acre site is leased from the Holehird Trust by The Lakeland Horticultural Society, a voluntary organisation which has approximately 1700 members. Around 250 of the members actively get involved with the garden, in a wide range of voluntary roles. Many members come to visit the garden from across the UK, and even travel from abroad – one American lady recently took the trouble to write in to the local newspaper, expressing how much she loves Holehird and being a member.
I’ve just visited Holehird for the first time this year, and was reminded not only that there is something to see at every stage of the year, but also of just how big the grounds are – you can visit in an hour, but to really appreciate it all you should put aside the best part of an afternoon. The site is split into many different areas of garden which include the enclosed Wall Garden (which underwent extensive replanting a couple of years ago), a pond area, the Astilbe National Collection, a rock and heather garden, alpine houses, a woodland walk, and a magnificent display of hydrangeas in late summer, within which are two large picnic benches for visitors to enjoy. To make the most of the time you have available, it is worth visiting the information centre in the Walled Garden first, as they have a range of leaflets detailing trails that you can follow.
The lower walk features a Victorian arbour and water feature, and leads to a kissing gate from which you can take a walk across a steep sloping field to the 3-acre tarn (sturdy footwear and a good level of fitness are advised). It apparently takes about 30 minutes to walk around the tarn, but on the day I visited the tarn, the paths were particularly slippery and I did not venture all the way round.
What I like so much about Holehird is that you feel welcome and comfortable looking round, however much (or little) you know about gardening. For those who really do know their subject, members meticulously label many of the garden’s plants, and they also propagate additional plants for visitors to buy and take back with them. There are four national collections at Holehird, including Astilbe, Meconopsis, Polystichum ferns, and the latest collection to be awarded late in 2014, Daboecia.
Walkers might also like to take advantage of the fact that Holehird can be accessed from Windermere via either Orrest Head or High Hay Wood, and there is an excellent leaflet detailing both routes on the Holehird website (pdf). In addition, there is a 45-minute circular walk through Highlands Wood, an ancient semi-natural oak woodland. I haven’t tried this walk, but the information board provided states that the path can be wet and slippery, and apparently has steep sections, so come prepared!
Holehird Gardens are open 365 days a year, from dawn until dusk. An information desk is manned by volunteers between Easter and October, from 10am until 5pm, and during this time there are self-service machines available for tea and coffee. There are also toilets for visitors on site. It is worth noting that parking can be difficult on Wednesday mornings, as this is when many of the volunteers gather together to work on the garden. Dogs (with the exception of service dogs) are not allowed on the Holehird site or Highlands Wood walk.
You are invited to leave a donation to help the society, which is a registered charity, to continue its extraordinary work – the current suggested donation is a very reasonable £4.00 per adult.