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Are you sitting comfortably? – Part 7 in this very occasional series

When checking through my past posts in this series I actually found 4 that I had prepared but never posted, so here is the first rather late as it is No 7! Enjoy anyway!

We will began my seventh selection of seats found in gardens I visit with Jude the Undergardener aka Mrs Greenbench, with a selection we discovered while exploring the wonderful Lake District. We will begin in the garden at Hill Top, where the seating was all very rustic.

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The selection at Ruskin’s Garden, Brantwood was even more rustic and fitted well in their environment.

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The seat we loved most of all at Brantwood was a big throne of slate slabs which was Ruskin’s Seat where he sat and thought and did much of his writing.

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In complete contrast the seats at Holker Hall were very varied both in design and materials they were constructed from.

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So that is it for my 7th post in this very occasional series of posts on garden seating. i hope you found them comfortable and enjoyed the views from them. I will be compiling number 8 as soon as this is published so we have lots more seats to sit upon.


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Wonder Walls

We always enjoy discovering what plants manage to grow in walls and marvel at how they get a foothold and seek out enough food. You can imagine how delighted we were when we came across this 50 metre long wall which was a garden in itself.

This garden on a wall was at Sizergh Castle, a National Trust property in the southern end of the Lake District in Cumbria. there were other interesting “wall gardens” here too.

The wall runs the length of the Dutch Garden and is constructed of limestone. It is now home to many very happy looking plants. They are a sort of hanging garden!

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Along its top edge a narrow border adds an extra dimension to this wall. Forget-me-Nots in pink, white and the more usual blue provide splashes of colour. After enjoying the vast range of plants growing in the gaps, crevices and cracks of the wall a shelter with a comfortable seat provides a convenient resting place.

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Within the gardens at Sizergh we found other examples of “hanging gardens”, one hanging from a flight of stone steps covered in alpine plants, presenting a colourful display. These decorative steps had been roped off to stop anyone using them and damaging the plants growing there. Many visitors stopped to take photographs of this mini-garden which I presume came about by accident. The plants probably self-seeded into the gaps between the stonework. Similarly plants have taken up residence on the side walls of the steps.

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In the kitchen garden at Sizergh the stone walls that make up the sides of the old cold frames also became a habitat for self-seeded little plants.

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The walls around the kitchen garden gave the impression of more hanging gardens for us to enjoy. Many of the plants in these walls were wild flowers of hillsides and cliff faces or ones normally grown on rockeries. It was interesting seeing thes plants growing vertically instead of as mats on the ground.

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Ferns were particularly happy growing in the shade of the walls where they could establish themselves in cooler damper conditions found there.

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These walls also had extra habitats added to them to encourage even more wildlife to shelter or set up home.

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For my final wall I include this stretch of the castle walls themselves where little creeping daisies, Erigeron karvinskianus had settled in happily showing off its flowers in white and many shades of pink.

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We were amazed to find so many plants growing in these walls at Sizergh and wondered how many thousands of tiny critters we could not see as well as small mammals and birds were also sheltering or living there in their own secret miniature world.

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A Real Nursery – Halecat

While in the Lakes as we drove to the gardens of Brantwood we noticed a sign to Halecat. This rang a bell loudly for us, as we had intended to seek this lovely nursery out. Halecat is an independent nursery where the owners Tom and Abi grow most of their plants from seed. We had invited Tom to come to our Shropshire Hardy Plant Group to talk to us about getting the nursery established. He brought along an amazing selection of plants for sale. So having seen the sign we planned to visit a few days later.

Halecat Nursery was rescued from dereliction by Tom and Abi. They took on an old nursery that had been closed for years and slowly the woods that surround it had encroached into the site itself. Years of hard work and dedication has returned it to a working nursery.

We followed that sign down lanes that got narrower and narrower but soon found the nursery entrance. It looked like no other nursery we had ever seen before. Blackboards were full of information, informing the visitor what was in season now, what the nursery staff were up to and any nursery news. Unusual containers were full of equally interesting plants. A large sign invited you to the self serve cafe where you made your own drinks and put your money in an honesty box. It was all very friendly and inviting. We were pleased to notice that the nursery had won a Gold Medal and Best in Show award at the recent Holker Hall Garden Festival.

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When we arrived owners Tom and Abi were busy in one of the polytunnels potting on seedlings. A large bell was hanging outside the office for customers to ring when they wanted help or wished to be served. When it rang either Tom, Abi or one of their employees soon arrived on the scene.

Looking over the site we could see that the many raised sale areas were intermingled with display gardens. It had a very lively look about it. Several prospective purchasers wandered around the gravel paths. Plants were labeled with all the information a gardener could want to know, the plants soil requirements, aspect etc as well as an accurate description of the plants. We found many plants we had never come across before so these labels were most useful.

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Our visit emphasised how much better these independent nurseries are for the real gardener compared to the modern chain garden centres. Here at Halecat there were no gifts, no pet food, no clothing sections and no outlet shops. So refreshing! And above all the staff know about plants and gardening.

As you must have guessed, we didn’t come away empty handed. We found room in the car for a few special plants. The temptation was simply too great!

We came away with Polygonum , Nepeta s, Pentstemen, a tiny Iris sibirica and an alpine Aquilegia

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A Week in the Lake District – Part 7 – Holker Hall

I had recently read a book on the original creation and the more recent re-design of the gardens at Holker Hall so I was really looking forward to visiting it to see it for real. The book made mention of many rare and interesting trees being planted which made me extra keen to visit.

We hoped it would reach our expectations as it was the last day of our week in the Lake District. We looked forward to a gentle stroll around a peaceful, atmospheric garden. We were not disappointed in any way! Holker’s gardens were full of variety and surprises, with a careful balance of the formal and informal.

As we entered the garden we were presented with this vista, a vista full of promises to come.

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Taking each pathway off from the central path we discovered beautiful examples of formality, neatly cut grass, hedges carefully clipped and seats neatly tucked into niches.

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But formality cannot work without carefully chosen and well-grown plants.

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As we moved away from the formality of the first section of the garden we found gentle meadows which presented a complete contrast.

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The meadows contained surprises, a stone circle, a maze, seats of single blocks of slate and the most beautiful sundial.




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It was hot wandering out in the open space of the meadows so it felt good to wander around shaded areas and an Italianate water garden.

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One of the reasons to visit Holker Hall is the collection of rare and unusual trees. They were underplanted with meadows of grasses and wildflowers which gave the wooded area the character of a real William Robinson styled wild garden

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We were amazed by the number of interesting trees at Holker and enjoyed discovering several champion trees. There were so many special places throughout the gardens where shrubs and trees were sensitively grouped to set them off in the best light.

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A Week in the Lake District – Part 6 – Bluebells

The Bluebells in our Shropshire garden were flowering and sharing their rich scent with us early in May, so we were more than a little surprised to find them only just coming into flower when we visited the Lake District a month later. While driving the perimeter road around the lake called Thirlmere, we followed the road as it moved into woodlands of tall trees elongated as they fought to reach the light.

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Beneath the canopy, the play of light and shade fascinated us as explored the woods.

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As we explored further we noticed a haze of blue appearing among the fine grasses of the woodland floor. On close inspection we realised they were Bluebells, the wildflower of spring.

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Please enjoy this final set of photographs showing the richness of light in the woods around Thirlmere, one of the many bubbling streams and some of the wild plants growing there.

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A Week in the Lake District – Part 4 – Brantwood

I had read a book about the making of the gardens at Brantwood in the Lake District, so when we found ourselves nearby we were determined to make time for a visit. Brantwood was the home of John Ruskin who believed in gardening with wildlife so his garden is often described as one of the closest to the ideals propounded by William Robinson.

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We visited on a hot sunny day so were pleased that we were exploring a woodland garden. As with other places we visited in the Lake District we were astonished to hear so much birdsong, missing now in much of the UK due to modern agricultural practices. Thrushes both Song and Mistle, along with their cousins the Blackbird, seemed to sing loudly from every tree. Blackcaps, Robins, Wrens and Whitethroats performed with equal gusto from the layer of shrubs and bushes.

Every surface whether ground, tree trunk, wall or rock-face seemed to be home to plants. We had to look everywhere all around us to make sure we didn’t miss a hidden gem or two.

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From the highest parts of the garden we glimpsed on occasion views of Coniston Water. It is possible to arrive at Brantwood via the lake on a steam paddle boat.

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The woodland garden felt just as Ruskin wished it to when he wrote about gardening there. He wanted to look back at where he had been gardening and see no sign that he had been there, just the hand of nature.

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As we wandered the garden paths through the valleys, alongside streams and beneath trees we kept a look out for Ruskin’s seat, set in his favourite part of the garden. It was beautifully crafted from local slate and was now weathered and covered in lichen. I think this would please Ruskin if he could see it now.

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A Week in the Lake District – Part 5 – Buttermere and Crummockwater

During our week in the Lake District we enjoyed visiting gardens as we do wherever we visit, but we loved the special landscape all around.

The area around Buttermere and Crummockwater particularly impressed us as we drove around exploring the district in the evenings when the light was adding an extra dimension. Even the views from the road were impressive.

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The breed of sheep specially adapted to the landscape and climate of the Lakes is the Herdwick, which I mentioned in my post about Beatrix Potter. The vast majority of sheep we saw in the area were Herdwicks so it was hard to believe that it was at one time an endangered breed.

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I hope you enjoy the following set of photos of the views as much as we enjoyed the views themselves.

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The Lake District is full of surprises and this slate sculpture was a wonderful surprise!

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buildings climbing plants colours fruit and veg garden photography gardens open to the public grow your own hardy perennials kitchen gardens National Trust The National Trust village gardens

A Week in the Lake District – Part 3 – Hill Top

We were looking forward to visiting the Lakeland home of the children’s author and artist, Beatrix Potter and discovering more about her life. We already knew she was far more than just the author of the Peter Rabbit series of books. She was a farmer, conservationist and wildlife artist and generous donor of land to the National Trust.

We followed narrow lanes to the village of Near Sawrey and squeezed the car into a tiny car park and purchased our timed tickets. Hill Top is very popular but also tiny so the National Trust have instigated a timed ticket system. A short wander through the village and we walked through a gate to find a blackboard with a lovely welcoming message chalked on it.

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We walked up the long garden path towards the cottage itself.

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The front of Hill Top was swathed in scented, white flowered Wisteria which brightened up its drab grey finish. Borders of typical cottage garden plants sat on both sides of the front porch. The cottage was originally a farmhouse built in the 17th Century and bought by Beatrix in 1905 using the proceeds from her first published book, the one and only “Tales of Peter Rabbit. The cottage featured in her children’s books.

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Photography was not allowed in the cottage itself but walking from room to room it felt as if we were seeing it just as if Beatrix Potter had just popped into the garden to cut some flowers. Letters she had written were awaiting an envelope on her writing bureau and drawings and paintings were sat on her desk. Furniture seen by thousands of children for over a hundred years in illustrations in her Peter Rabbit series of books were in every room.

We moved back outside into the sunshine and found the little vegetable garden well known as the garden of Mr MacGregor. Hazel bean poles and an old wheelbarrow and watering cans seemed so familiar.

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From the vegetable garden we gained great views of the cottage.

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We wandered back down the sloping garden path and enjoyed the cottage garden flowers with their bright colours and rich scents.

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When Beatrix Potter died she left 14 farms and their land plus sheep that grazed on it to the National Trust. Since then the National Trust have continued to purchase large areas of the Lake District which helps keep it such a beautiful place for all to enjoy.

Wherever you go in the Lake District you see Herdwick Sheep grazing in the fields from lowland fields to upland fell sides. Beatrix Potter helped prevent this local and specially adapted breed of sheep from becoming extinct. She was the first female President of the Herdwick Sheep Society.

After visiting Hill Top we wandered back through the village and in a front garden we noticed a scarecrow based on Mr MacGregor. The villagers are obviously proud of their most famous past resident.

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Aira Force – the walk back.

After enjoying the sights and sounds of the Aira Force water falls we followed the stream as it wandered through the wooded hilltops before we started our walk back down the valley. As we had been sat resting we were mesmerised by the songs and calls of so many birds in the trees and understory. This we would soon discover was to be a feature of our week in the Lakes – the sheer number of birds astounded us! At Aira Force we could hear Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Goldcrests, Coal Tits and all the thrushes, the Song Thrush, the Mistle Thrush and the Blackbird. We heard several warblers too and recognised a few such as the Wood Warbler, Garden Wabler and the Chiffchaff as well as their larger cousins the Redstart, Whitethroat and Blackcap. It made for an entertaining time and emphasised how important these areas of countryside managed by the National Trust are as nature reserves.

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We changed direction and began the gentle descent. We enjoyed different views of places we had admired on our ascent.


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We took a slight detour from the main path to a damp more open area where different plants were growing and even the air itself felt damp to our skin. We were tempted to follow this detour just because of this beautifully constructed stone track. We just had to follow it! It reminded us of the work by land artist Richard Long.



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Our detour finally took us back to our original pathway and we enjoyed the sounds of the tumbling stream once more.

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So we found ourselves back at our starting point having enjoyed a stimulating, beautiful wander up and down this wooded valley. The waterfall, Aira Force, was the icing on the cake! A great day out!

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A Week in the Lake District – Part 2 – Aira Force

For our second day in the Lake District we made for the great outdoors to explore some ancient woodland with a stream running through it. Aira Force is the waterfall at the top of a gentle ascent up through the wooded valley.The wooded valley is owned by the National Trust so we had a warm welcome as we do at most of their properties. A beautifully carved wooden finger post gave us the choice of going left to the tea room or right to Aira Force. You’ve guessed it – we went left first and enjoyed a mighty good coffee and cake break.

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We were soon on our way up the valley after a quick look at a map where some lovely benches crafted from single chunks of slate caught my attention.

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As we walked towards the more wooded section of the valley we initially had open grassland along side the path, but we soon found that the trees increased in number and the atmosphere changed completely. Woodlands have their own brand of intimacy that engulfs those who walk in them. There is something about the light creeping in through branches which highlights areas to draw the observer in. We discovered the wonderful original signage used to identify the main tree species. They were very rustic and in keeping with the setting.


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The seasons come late to the Lake District so the tree foliage was still Spring fresh.

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As this woodland was once the grounds of a shooting lodge there were areas for seating with ornamental paved areas and surprising finds. The second photo shows the patterns made by coins being hammered into the trunk of a fallen tree – we just couldn’t work this out!

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As in all woodlands we explore we found some interesting creative works sculpted by Mother Nature.

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As we moved slowly uphill we followed the stream and even when we couldn’t catch glimpses of it we could hear its incessant burbling to our right.

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The damp atmosphere within the wood allowed mosses, ferns and foxgloves to grow on any natural surface.

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Where light penetrated shade wildflowers were in bloom. Bluebells and Bugle painted a blue haze on the woodland floor.

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As we approached the waterfall open views were suddenly revealed as our path came to the wood edge, and we enjoyed a glimpse of lake and mountain.

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As we followed our path upwards we could hear the waterfall roaring in the depths of the valley, before it suddenly appeared, a sparkling ribbon dropping down the valley.

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This was the end of our upward journey so we stopped to enjoy a well-earned rest. We sat on an old wooden bench listening to the many woodland birds all around and above us. In the second part of this post we will be making our way back down the valley.