Alnwick Garden: A Rosy Treat

Last month Alnwick Garden invited bloggers to attend one of two days as part of their “Bloggers Week”. It was scaled down somewhat from the original event, but COVID – 19 had put paid to that. I was pleased that it had been rescheduled and it was nice to get a treat, so I booked my free ticket. I’ve been many times previously and used to have a members pass. I stopped that after they started a special offer which gave you entry for the year on a single admission ticket and haven’t been since, until this recent visit. It was also one of my first trips out to a public place since lockdown – it was going to be interesting to see what measures had been put in place and also how I felt about being in a busy location.

If you decide to visit, I strongly advise you to check the Alnwick Gardens website beforehand to check if advance booking is required and if there are any restrictions on opening hours or the facilities available. Everywhere is subject to quite rapidly changing guidelines in these difficult times.

As a disabled visitor I was able to show my blue badge use the designated forward parking area by the entrance. I had brought my own disability scooter, because the gardens own scooters and wheelchairs were not available for visitor use. A one- way system was in use to facilitate social distancing. which included a couple of small kerb bumps that in other circumstances I would have tried to avoid with the scooter, but they were not too bad and I got over them ok. As we approached the pavilion area it did seem more crowded, which did make me feel uneasy – Social distancing was just about manageable but I was still reaching for my mask! I think that this was mainly because the cafe was not open at the time, so more people were milling about – a couple of stalls were serving refreshments along the walkway to the left of the pavilion which seemed to add to the congestion. There were plenty of hand sanitiser points around.

The first sight of the cascade as you come through the pavilion courtyard remains as spectacular as ever. At regular intervals an additional sequence of fountains plays out, which is lovely to watch. Part of this is accompanied by the delighted shrieks of children trying to dodge the jets of water that shoot over the walkway in the centre of the cascade

The central cascade is flanked by hornbeam tunnels which have matured beautifully.

The one way system in the garden itself was not so easy to follow, especially when I’m used to following the easiest paths for the scooter . Most parts of the garden are reachable by scooter, with fairly gentle ramped paths throughout. Because of this we somehow bypassed the area of the garden which has a series of water features hidden from the rest of the garden by hedges.

July is my favourite time to visit when the Rose Garden is at its best. The scent is intoxicating. Out of interest I checked if I could still smell the roses with one my homemade masks on – I could not, so that’s an interesting test of their efficiency!. Until you visit a place like this it’s hard to imagine what variation in fragrance there is between different roses. Some are quite spicy, others have citrus notes. There are a stunning variety of different colours and forms too, from massive many-petalled blooms to sprays of tiny single flowers.

At the centre of the rose garden is a pergola covered in climbing roses and clematis, with an ornate urn. There are lilies here too.

in addition to the amazing planting and water features there are a few unexpected ornamental items, like this little frog statue, which I love.

Even the wrought iron gates are works of art

The path slopes upwards through the trees at one side of the cascade to the walled garden at the top. This is another feast for gardeners with stunning herbaceous borders that thrive in the shelter of the tall old brick walls. Earlier in the summer the delphiniums near the walled garden entrance are one of my favourite elements of this part of the garden, though the planting has highlights at all times of the year. They are past their best now but there are many other plants to enjoy, including a stunning bed of alstroemerias, in shades of red, orange and pink.

The centre of the walled garden has a formal layout with beds and paths bordered by clipped hedges, some low to show off the flowers inside, some high, like the ones surrounding this little secret garden with its central fountain

Following the path from here to the other side of the cascade we arrived at the cherry orchard, which is a vision of blossom in the spring. The path zig zags down through the trees (the corners are a little bit steep and the path is not a smooth as elsewhere in the garden but I managed (there is a steeper path with steps straight down the bank for those able to use it). In amongst the the trees are some swing seats for those whose want to stop for a breather here.

The path leads along past a large duckpond towards the poison garden, which has a fascinating collection of poisonous and medicinal plants. Visitors here are escorted by guides that begin their tours at regular intervals.

Between here and the pavilion there is another lovely border, planted in shades of blue and yellow. We grabbed a coffee from the stall here and sat watching the bumblebees visiting these electric blue and silver eryngiums.

The one-way system exited through the gift shop. I have to say this was the most stressful part of the visit. Even though my visit took place before masks became mandatory in shops, I felt safer wearing mine. Despite signage, few of those using the gift shop seemed to be observing social distancing and the route meandered through the shop displays and the shoppers, rather than directly to the exit door. The gift shop used to be in a separate building and visiting it was optional. It seemed ironic that we were corralled in this way at a time when social distancing is needed – rearrangement of shop fixtures would help.

With that exception, I enjoyed my visit. The gardens are as lovely as ever and there was plenty of space on the lawn for families to picnic and enjoy the space.

Just before we left we caught the climax of another fountain display. It ended with the large fountain in the lower pool getting higher and higher.

Have you visited the Garden? What did you think?

Making Masks

As face coverings are required in shops from tomorrow, I’ve been busy making my own. There are loads of patterns available on the internet – there seem to be three main types: pleated, shaped and with a pocket for a removable filter. I made a couple of pleated ones a while ago, but decided I needed more. I now have enough use once before washing ready to use again and I can even co-ordinated with outfits! I’ve already noticed discarded disposable masks lying around – I’d far rather have reusable ones and not contribute to litter and plastic pollution.

There are lots of guidelines about using masks correctly. Of course they have to cover mouth AND nose, without gaps at the edges. They should be removed and handled with the elastics rather than the fabric and washed after use.

I experimented with some different designs and decided the shaped ones fitted me better. I used one of the the Big Community Sew patterns – The website includes a couple of patterns (one shaped, one pleated) and instructions, along with lots of videos of people from Great British Sewing Bee making them. I did modify the method though. My version includes 3 layers of fabric (as recommended by World Health Organisation) instead of two. This is how I did it.

I used an old sheet for the inner and lining and print cotton for the outer layer. I only used the lining pattern piece, cutting 3 pairs of pieces.

With a 1cm seam allowance, and right sides together, machine stitch the long curved edge of each pair, then cut notches in the seam allowance and press.

Next, stack the three sections together as follows to ensure the centre seams are hidden.

Bottom: outer print layer right side up

Middle: lining, right side down

Top: inner layer, right side down.

Then stitch the three sections together, 1cm from the top and bottom edges and turn inside out. Press.

Fold all the raw edges on both ends of the mask inside (1cm) and press. Measure how much elastic you’ll need. to fit round your ear, allowing 1cm at each end to stitch inside the open edge you’ve just pressed under. (I use about 18 cm each side, but it’s worth measuring – I’m having to redo the elastic on one I made for K as his was too small!). Insert the elastic to form ear loops at each side, pinning the ends of each elastic piece Icm inside the opening. Stitch all the way round, simultaneously closing the open ends, securing the elastic and top stitching the top and bottom edges.

And that’s it!

I now have a quite a selection, from florals, to pinstripe, animal print to nautical. Which one do you like best?