Even better than the fact that Himalayan gardens exist here, and just eight miles from our house, is the fact that they’re next to the village of Grewelthorpe. And if that isn’t the best village name in England, I don’t know what is.
All the same, what are Himalayan Gardens, complete with a sculpture park doing in North Yorkshire?
Twenty years ago, Peter and Caroline Roberts bought a twenty acre woodland garden. It wasn’t up to much really. Coppiced hazel, an infestation of Japanese knotweed, dense dark Sitka spruce woods. Its redeeming feature was a drive of rhododendrons, and this gave Peter Roberts his idea. He looked at other rhododendron collections at Castle Howard, at Bodnant, at Muncaster Castle, and was inspired.
Alan Clark, rhododendron guru and Himalayan plant hunter, told him that both site and soil were ideal: ‘I was intrigued by the idea of creating a Himalayan garden from scratch and decided to give it a go!’
Clark helped him with early specimens, Roberts supported plant-hunting trips to the sino-himalayan area … and the gardens began.
You won’t just find rhododendrons and azaleas though. There are massed plants that you’ll find in many well-stocked British gardens. There are drifts of narcissus in the spring. There are carpets of bluebells. There are several lakes on site. Word has got round the bird and insect community that this is a fine place to live, and any birdwatcher or entomologist could have a busy time here. As could visitors who enjoy coming across an eclectic mix of sculptures during their walk.
My photos have disappointed me. They give little impression of the rich feast of colour provided by hillsides covered in an ever-changing pageant of different varieties of rhododendron and azalea.
Nor can you see that this is a work in progress. Peter and Caroline Roberts are constantly developing the site, planting and extending the collection. On Saturday, just after our visit, a new arboretum opened.
Go while you can. This special place is open for two months only every spring, and for a further couple of weeks in the autumn. It’s worth a detour (Susan Rushton, I’m looking at you).