Yorkshire is a county of great gardens, and one of the most celebrated is the garden at Newby Hall. The late Major Compton, father of the present owner, inherited house and garden in 1925. The garden looked very different then, and he soon set about improving it. At that time, he wrote, … a number of paths wandered pointlessly through rough grass. There was a period-piece rock garden designed by Miss Ellen Wilmott (of garden fame) and a Victorian parterre on both south and west fronts. I was determined, in those early days, to make a garden worthy of the beautiful house, and I soon realized that to enable me to do so, I would have to have shelter, as the whole 25 acres were very wind-swept. I planned the garden on a central axis, which seemed the obvious thing to do. This axis sloped from the house down to the river some 350 yards away, and to form the axis itself I extended the existing short double borders so that they ran the whole length from the upper terraces down to the river, and backed them with walls of yew. The rest of the garden I built round this axis and the few existing trees, so that by degrees the individual gardens planned themselves, so to speak. In this I was much influenced by Lawrence Johnson’s garden at Hidcote of which I was a great admirer . The Victorian parterres were replaced by plain lawns and flagstone walks, and Miss Wilmott’s large rock garden was joined up to the rest of the garden by suitable paths . . . Further features were added, and the original shelter belts were either thinned or had vistas cut through them. I think at the back of my mind I wanted each self-contained garden to represent a certain picture at a certain time of the year; for instance, one enclosure is called the ‘Autumn Garden’, another the ‘SpeciesGarden’, and others . . . ‘Sunk Garden’, ‘Blue and Yellow Garden’, and so on. The target to be aimed at seemed to me to be (a) privacy and shelter and (/)) sound architectural construction, both of these to my mind being of greater importance than mere colour itself. In many ways one can better appreciate a garden by viewing it in winter rather than in summer.
Above: The sunk garden at Newby is closely-planted, not only with seasonal, but with permanent low-growing evergreens, (such as ericas and Davidii.).
Background, again, is important. Take, for example, roses. So much of their beauty lies in their foliage, so admirably designed to set off flowers. This foliage beauty is so often lost by surrounding the roses with grass and greenery. At Newby we tried the experiment of a sunk garden with flagstones, and a surround of copper beech – a perfect foil for the delicate foliage and lovely flowers of the rose.
As Major Compton described, the garden at Newby is laid out on a gentle slope down to the River Urc, to the south. The main plan of the garden is a simple one, and is built round the two main axes: the north-south axis which consists of a wide grass path backed by yew hedges running down towards the river, as already described, and the east-west axis, which takes the form of a wide gravelled path known as the Statue Walk. These two main paths are very different in character – the grass path is enclosed on either side by broad and generously planned herbaceous borders, while the east-west gravel path is quite different: a broad terrace simply but impressively planted on one side with a formal combination of Irish yew, Cotoneaster horizontalis and purple-leaved Prunus Pissardii. This planting, which otherwise might have made an almost sombre impression, is effectively enlivened by a group of statues from Italy – a little the worse for wear, thanks to many Yorkshire winters, but still graceful and evocative: the pale pearly grey of their worn stone contrasts most effectively with the colouring of their setting, the dark green of the yews, the white flowers and red berries, in turn, of the cotoneaster, and the darker red of the prunus.
The herbaceous borders on the north-south axis are planted, as all such borders should be, with largeof herbaceous plants, interspersed at intervals with flowers of short season. Clumps ol wallflowers, forget-me-nots and tulips being succeeded by antirrhinums and geraniums as the summer advances. Besides the more usual plants to be found in an herbaceous border, there are several in the planting scheme at Newby which specially take the eye, and often invite enquiries: plants such as the unusual Veratrum nigrum, with its deeply ribbed and wine-red flowers; the giant-leaved seakale (Crambe orientalis) with its cloud of tiny white flowers; and several good artemisias such as ludoviciana and Silver Queen, more satisfactory plants than the more usual -and more invasive – A. palmeri. For form, and lasting architectural effect, some shrubs are included in the borders at Newby. These are chosen for their light and graceful habit, rather than for their bulk, for Major Compton thought that such shrubs consort best with the delicate structure and flowers of herbaceous plants. Among these carefully chosen shrubs are Rosa rubrifolia, described earlier, the airy Cytisus aetnensis which casts so light a shade that plants can be safely set beneath it, and Weigela florida foliis purpureis, a pink-flowered, purple-leaved weigela of particularly elegant carriage.
Another delightful part of the garden at Newby is called ‘Sylvia’s Garden’ after Major Compton’s late wife. This is a sunk parterre, partially shaded by a giant cedar tree. Here grow all Sylvia Compton’s favourite plants, and the stone paths are bordered with fragrant cushions of pinks, aubretia, thymes and nepeta. The height of the planting is carefully kept low, to maintain a carpet effect; and the highest plants are lavender and spreading santolina. An exception is made for regale lilies, which, for a few weeks in late summer, are to be seen with their fragrant white trumpets blowing above the over-all haze of pale blue and mauve.
The visitor to this northern garden who has a taste for ‘new’ plants will be gratified by the number of new acquaintances in the plant world he will make at Newby. And the writer remembers meeting there, for the first time, several plants which have remained his staunch friends ever since – Euphorbia wulfenii, for instance, the noblest of all spurges; Pyrus salicifolia, the silver pear, a shapely, small tree; Photinia fruticosa (of which the form Red Robin is outstanding); and the best of all Pampas grasses, Cortaderia bertinii. All friends made at Newby. ‘Meeting’ plants in other peoples’ gardens, making friends with them, so that from then on you either grow them yourself, or greet them as friends when you see them elsewhere, is surely one of the great pleasures of gardening.
OPEN Easter Saturday – second Sunday in October: Monday, Tuesday, Friday 11 a.m. – 6.30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday: 2 p.m. – 6.30 p.m. Sundays,
Bank Holiday Mondays and Tuesdays: 11 a.m. – 6.30 p.m.
LOCATION 156265 Ripon to Boroughbridgc road. Turn right to Skclton after crossing
River Ure. Proceed for 200 yards, then signposted. If coming from Boroughbridgc turn off old AI on leaving town, proceed 3 miles, then signposted.