The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland is one of the most exciting contemporary gardens to be developed in the last century, a magical landscape created from a unique idea.
The Duchess of Northumberland's vision was to create a beautiful public space accessible to everyone; a garden for contemplation, fun, inspiration and education. The Alnwick Garden was officially opened in October 2002 by its patron HRH The Prince of Wales, as the first phase of development was complete. The Garden is now halfway to completion and features spectacular water displays, wonderful gardens and one of the largest tree houses in the world.
The world renowned Belgian designer Jacques Wirtz and his son Peter were chosen to create The Garden, interpreting the Duchess's vision for the 12-acre walled site which was a forgotten and derelict plot before The Alnwick Garden project began work in 2000. Wirtz International's design has transformed it into an exciting scene, dancing with water and ringing with the sounds of life. The Garden is a sequence of busy and quiet spaces, with the gentle and introspective Rose Garden feeling far remote from the children playing in the water jets of the Grand Cascade. An important element of the Wirtz design is the strong green structure which unifies The Garden's diverse themes, visible in the in the beech hedges, clipped hornbeams and yew. In winter, this structure is evident and visitors are able to see the bones of The Garden, while in summer it provides the backdrop for exuberant flower displays.
Sir Michael Hopkins, recognised as a leading international architect, has designed The Garden's Pavilion and Visitor Centre which will open in 2006. These stunning contemporary buildings will house excellent visitor facilities for eating, shopping, learning and relaxing, and places to find out more about other things to do in the region.
However The Garden is more than a garden, and in a relatively short space of time has become recognised not only for gardening excellence but also as a transformational project using its resources to provide real, measurable benefit for people. The vision is being taken forward by The Alnwick Garden Trust who continue to fundraise to complete The Garden by 2008. The Garden is contributing to the regeneration of a rural community as tourism takes on a new level of importance, and as well as being a meeting place for local people provides an opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to experience the arts, enjoy learning new skills and get outdoors for activity or relaxation, and for families to play together.
All surplus revenue is channeled back into the project, helping The Trust go from vision to reality. To find out how you can help click here
The site on which The Alnwick Garden is built has had a colourful history, with gardens being built here designed by leading contemporary designers of their day. How fitting that The Alnwick Garden should have been classed by many as one of the finest public gardens to have been built in over 100 years.
The first garden was laid down in 1750 by the 1st Duke of Northumberland who employed locally born Capability Brown, the most celebrated gardener of the day, to landscape the parkland adjoining the castle grounds.
The origional Alnwick gardens then underwent a century of development. Hothouses were built for raising pineapples and produce was sent to Paris for the 3rd Duke when he was special ambassador there in 1825. This Duke, who was a plant collector, brought plants and seeds from all over the world to be reared at Alnwick. He built a large conservatory in the gardens which were opened to the public one day a week. For her part the 3rd Duchess transformed the site into a garden of flowers.
The reputation of the gardens attracted important visitors from abroad and in the 1800s the head gardener of Tsar Alexander 1st of Russia visited and subsequently 'head-hunted' Alnwick's head gardener, who left for Russia.
The gardens were at their most complete in the mid-19th century when the 4th Duke created an italianate garden which reflected the Italian Renaissance period being created within the Castle State Rooms at that time.
The 4th Duke purchased two pairs of 16th century Venetian wrought-iron gates from Italy. These have been restored and are re-hung in their original positions in The Alnwick Garden, at the main entrance and at the entrance to the Ornamental Garden.
At the end of the 19th century the gardens were at their grandest with yew hedges in topiary, a double avenue of limes, acres of flower garden, five grape houses, five pine houses and a conservatory.
The most important garden designers and architects of their day worked at Alnwick. In addition to Capability Brown, who created the parkland, Decimus Burton (mostly noted for The Palm House and Temperate House at Kew Gardens) also influenced the gardens at Alnwick, although these designs are long gone.
As well as its own network of engineering and water pipes, the present Grand Cascade hides the remains of a network of underground tunnels that provided hot air for earlier greenhouses. The heat was provided by large underground coal-fired furnaces.
Other historical features still visible are the two large earth banks that run down either side of the Grand Cascade. These were first constructed in the garden of the 1850s and became the starting point for The Alnwick Garden. The main axis of the Grand Cascade also runs down to the existing viewing platform which was the site of the 1860 pavilion and will eventually become the site of The Alnwick Garden Pavilion and Visitor Centre.
The historic garden decoration can also be found. It is an early 18th century lead sculpture of a fox sitting atop a fruit-filled urn decorated with masks depicting the four seasons and supported by monkeys.
Two World Wars and the austerity of the 20th Century saw the garden site fall into disrepair.
During the Second World War, the site again provided food when it was turned over for the Government's 'Dig for Victory' campaign, a 1942 scheme that called for every man and woman in Britain to keep an allotment.
The Alnwick Garden was closed as a working garden in 1950 and the site was used as a tree nursery before The Alnwick Garden project began in March 1996.
Since then, visitors to The Alnwick Garden have been able to watch history being made once again, as the site has become a magical landscape full of ideas, opportunities and fun.