Seasonal Garden Highlights

A garden for plant-lovers - created and cherished by two great gardening enthusiasts, Sir Charles Monck and Sir Arthur Middleton. Today you can experience the truly dramatic Quarry Garden with its exotic trees and shrubs, and enjoy colour and spectacle in the magnificent Rhododendron Garden, Terraces and Winter Garden. Take a journey through a year of seasonal garden highlights at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens.

 

View of the quarry garden at Belsay Castle

The Quarry Garden in spring

Belsay Hall in Spring

Visitors to Belsay Hall are in for a feast of colour during spring, as many plants begin to flower throughout the gardens. Spring and early summer is also when the quarry is the showpiece at Belsay.

Early spring brings out the deep blue glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa sardensis) which grace the terraces as well as stripped squill (Puschkinia scilloides) with their pale blue flowers with dark blue stripes down each petal.

Daffodils flower freely at Belsay in spring, providing a carpet of rich buttery yellow stretching far and wide across the gardens, while dog's tooth violets and spring snowflakes collect in snow-like drifts, bringing light to the darkened edges of the surrounding wood.

View towards Belsay Hall

Spring time at Belsay, showing the daffodils in full bloom in front of the hall

HELLEBORES

Hellebores can be found throughout the terraces and children's garden, including the Lenten rose Helleborus orientalis, H. argutifolius, Helleborus x hybridus and the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger.

The meadow garden, which is surrounded by large magnolias, also has many unusual and beautiful bulbs and plants growing in it. Snakes head fritillaries, oxlips, cowslips, wild orchids, camasias and many species of lilies, of which Belsay has an important collection, can be found.

Species of rhododendrons can be found flowering in spring in the quarry, such as Rhododendron barbatum, R. arboreum var. roseum and the scented purple flowering R. praecox.

Quarry Great Arch at Belsay Hall

Fresh spring foliage of ferns appearing in the Quarry Garden

Belsay Hall in Summer

Following the vibrant spring, the colour at Belsay Hall builds through summer with the flowering of rhododendrons, lilies and irises.

The formal terraces below the hall are a highlight of a summer visit. Old English pinks and musk roses combine with original magnolia plantings and overflowing herbaceous borders. From the terraces the spectacular rhododendron garden can be viewed, giving one of Belsay's most photographed views in June.

Rhododendron flower bed at Belsay Hall

The Rhododendron Garden viewed from the Terraces

LILIES

The terraces are also planted up with many different species of lilies, some scented, and none more so than the rega lily, Lilium regale. This was one of E. H. Wilson's most valuable introductions, found in China in 1903, and is perhaps one of the easiest and less fussy of the species to grow.

POCKET HANDKERCHIEF TREE

Belsay was home to an early introduction of the pocket handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana). After the loss of the original tree, a planting programme was set up and several young trees were planted.  In 2003 one of the larger specimens in the west quarry entrance began to flower.  Improving with each year, it is a magnificent sight in flower throughout the summer.

Quarry arch at Belsay Hall

The great arch in the Quarry Garden in summer surrounded by exotic ferns and shrubs

EXOTIC FERNS AND SHRUBS

The planting within the quarry is luxuriant; a mixture of exotic ferns, spreading perennials, huge umbrella-like Gunnera leaves and shrubs such as tree peony, rhododendrons and the beautiful white flowered Eucryphia. Foxgloves and other natives settle in the niches or ledges of the surrounding quarry walls.

Species rhododendrons are in flower in the quarry until August, the last to flower being the scented Rhododendron auriculatum. The meadow is full of interest with snakes head fritillaries, oxlips, cowslips, wild orchids, camasias and lilies.

The aristocrat amongst all bulbs, the lilies, will flower from mid May through to September, from the diminutive Lilium pumilum to the tall growing Lilium henryi, and we have over 40 species throughout the garden. The National Collection of Spuria Iris come into their own during the summer months, flowering for a brief period they can be seen at the base of the walls of the car park. 

Belsay Hall holds a National Plant Collection of Spuria Iris

Belsay Hall holds a National Collection of Spuria Iris

VOODOO LILIES (DRANUNCULUS VULGARIS)

This bizarre plant is native to the East Mediterranean. It belongs to the Araceae and is related to the well known Arum.  The plant is rather robust, with very attractive foliage; the stalks can grow up to two metres in height.

The leaves begin to die back when the plant is blooming, the beauty at this stage barely hints of the amazement that is still to come! As the flower (both male and female) unfolds it reveals a long, black spadix which can reach a total length of 135 centimetres, enveloped by a large very deep purple- black bract. The striking beauty of this plant can be a little surprising as the mature flower gives off a nauseous dungy rotten meaty odour. The nasty smell of rotting meat is designed to attract flies for pollination. Fortunately the smell usually lasts for just one day.

Flies attracted by the smell slide down the smooth surface of the flower and become trapped for a day by the smooth surface that prevents them from climbing upwards. During this time they crawl over the stigmas, dusting them with pollen. In the next days the flower begins to wither and the flies are freed to visit other flowers and continue their role of pollinators. It is a poisonous plant that animals do not approach. They spread by self seeding and by bulb offsets.

Quarry Garden at Belsay Hall

Autumn view of the Quarry Garden

Belsay Hall in Autumn

The autumn colours are spectacular at Belsay. At the quarry entrance, the brilliant white bark of Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, along with the red leaved Euonymus give colour underneath a massive towering beech, its copper leaves provide a taste of what is ahead. A planting of large Aralia give colour along the fern walk, opening to a meadow area surrounded by magnificent specimens of Persian Ironwood, Parrotia persica, with Cornus kousa and the scent of burnt sugar filling the air from the yellow to copper coloured Japanese katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum

The tall Cryptomeria japonica add their magnificent height (growing in often only a few inches of soil) and various mosses and lichen grow on the rock faces, some of which are unusual to this area of Northumberland. Light purple autumn crocus also flower in the meadow. An original planting of Enkianthus campanulatus and Eucryphia lighten the quarry, near the Rhododendron arboreum var. roseum whose flowers wait to open in November.

On a rock pinnacle nearby, a massive Vitis coignetiae gives a spectacular crimson and scarlet show, towering 30 foot above the quarry below. In the west quarry, large beech trees show their autumnal leaves making a golden carpet on the quarry floor, with mosses and lichen on the rock face.

THE WINTER GARDEN

In the winter garden, the shapes and textures of plants come to the fore. The cloud shaped holly and box give contrast to the dark red stems of Salix fargesii and flame red leaves of Parthenocissus quinquefolia, all under-planted with winter flowering heathers in pink and white.

On the terraces, flowers such as cimicifuga (Actaea), toad lilies (Tricyrtis), repeat flowering lupins and the remaining blooms of scented musk roses lead onto the winter garden. The garden is also a haven for the endangered native red squirrel. Many of which can be seen daily in the paddock and winter garden throughout October and November.

Lawns in the gardens at Belsay Hall

Winter Garden with croquet lawn

Belsay Hall in Winter

In winter the landscape appears stripped back, revealing Belsay's winter finery and showing off the underlying design of the 30-acre garden. In the crisp frost and low sunshine, the formal beds on the terraces look sharp and symmetrical, filled with the strongly-scented flowering Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa). In milder spells, viburnums and winter flowering iris add a dash of colour to these gardens.

From November, pinkish red rhododendrons burst into flower in the quarry garden, with a large Chusan palm planted by Sir Charles Monck adding a taste of the exotic among the ice and snow. The shapes, textures and colour of the many conifers stand out against large variegated and yellow-berried hollies and cloud shaped box. A 92 foot Douglas fir planted in the 1830s towers above the garden.

View of Belsay Castle with deep snow

The Castle and the Jacobean domestic wing in snow

SPECTACULAR SNOWDROPS

The humble snowdrop provides the most magical spectacle around Belsay. From the early 18th century, it became a tradition for the ladies of the house to plant many thousands of bulbs. In the depths of winter, they create a vast white carpet. Records show that the first snowdrops were planted at Belsay in the 1700s by Lady Anne Middleton, which began a tradition of the Lady of successive Baronets planting snowdrops in the garden, fields and woodland surrounding Belsay Hall. 

This has resulted in many thousands of snowdrops that visitors today can see during February and early March, which give a spectacular display in the quarry garden and woodland floor.  Along with the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, the double-flowered species of Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' can be seen. The taller Galanthus 'Sam Arnott' can be found in the winter garden.

Snowdrops with Belsay Castle beyond

Snowdrops with the castle beyond
© Graeme Peacock

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