Harrogate is digging for victory
PUBLISHED: 17:35 14 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:12 20 February 2013
Most towns enjoy a cycle of bloom and bust when it comes to their floral displays, but Harrogate is the exception. Jo Haywood reports Photographs by Joan Russell
Harrogate has been Yorkshires garden town for at least a century, providing a much needed injection of colour in what at times has been a black and white world.
But it actually all began inLeeds, where the door to the lord mayors rooms was thrown open for the inaugural meeting of the North of England Horticultural Society in 1911.
Its original aim was to act as an umbrella organisation for horticulture in the north and to arrange first class shows where northern exhibits could be judged by standards suitable for the colder climate. It has successfully managed to tick both boxes in the ensuing years and now supports more than 50 horticultural charities and groups and organises Harrogates popular biannual flower shows.
From 1927 onwards, the society concentrated its efforts on staging one main show each year, based in Harrogate, which frequently played host to the Princess Royal, its patron from 1948 to 1965.
The Prince of Wales is the current patron and many features of the 2011 centenary shows are being designed to reflect his interests.
Four horticultural colleges and four garden designers are creating gardens for this years spring show on a theme of sustainability, reflecting Prince Charles interest in the subject and the work he has overseen at Highgrove.
Another new feature this year is Gardening with Nature, where eight charities and groups are creating an area within the specialist societies marquee to teach people how to encourage wildlife in their garden. This area will be interactive and visitors, will be encouraged to enter competitions, learn how to weave and build wormeries.
This area will lead visitors through to the Harrogate College garden. Entitled Optic Nerve, this is a unique sensory garden made from recycled materials. Sustainability, accessibility and interactivity are integral to the garden and visitors will be encouraged to explore, hunt for worms and bugs, plant a seedling and visit the bug hotel (its a B&B not bed and breakfast; bees and butterflies).
All the plants and shrubs will be sourced locally and rain water collected to feed and nurture them, making the garden truly sustainable. And, as an added bonus, the garden will be donated to the people of Harrogate after the show for them to enjoy for years to come.
Harrogate Borough Council is also doing its bit this year to make the spring flower show a success, returning after a lengthy break with a preview of Postcode from Harrogate, a highly unusual artwork you really have to see it to believe it that will be moved to one of the towns parks after the show.
All this garden-based activity should create quite an appetite, which should ensure good-sized crowds in the cookery theatre and food marquee, where local chefs will show how to turn free food into tasty treats (dont worry, were not talking roadkill) and how to make the most of seasonal produce.
While the North of England Horticultural Society is a grand old centenarian founded in 1911, the Northern Horticultural Society was founded in 1946, making it something of a whipper-snapper in comparison.
It merged with the Royal Horticultural Society in 2001, meaning the RHS got its green-fingered hands on Harlow Carr, the beautiful botanical gardens opened by the Northern Horticultural Society in 1950 on 10.5 hectares of mixed woodland, pasture and arable land at Harlow Hill in Harrogate.
The gardens, which stand on what was once part of the Forest of Knaresborough, have subsequently been extended to 27.5 hectares.
Since the RHS merger, there have been many developments including the creation of the Rose Revolution Borders, Gardens Through Time and the Winter Walk. The main borders have undergone a stunning redesign and the annuals meadows have been creatively themed using willow woven sculptures.
The woodland has also been regenerated and now includes a rhododendron glade full of spring flowering bulbs; a new Alpine House has opened; and an exciting new Learning Centre, designed to be one of the greenest buildings in the country, has opened for business.
But its not just visitors who get an unforgettable floral experience in Harrogate, the residents do too, thanks in no small part to its hard-working council parks department.
Each year, the judges recognise the enthusiasm of all involved, whether that be from the council, Harrogate in Bloom, local businesses or the very high standard attained in many private gardens, said Councillor Anthony Alton, whos responsible for the parks team.
And, of course, the host of partnerships and Friends Groups who are involved on a voluntary basis and who do so much to support the districts floral ambitions. Everyone has the same thing in common to make the most of our natural heritage.
This isnt just about gardens, its about our whole approach to our environment, as well as how clean our streets are kept.
As well as the volunteers and the parks operational staff, there are those in the office who plan the flowerbeds, the nursery staff who grow over 500,000 plants annually and even the parks finance and admin teams. They all make it possible. The recognition we have received from the numerous horticultural competitions both at home and abroad, never fail to give us a buzz.
And the winner is
Usually Harrogate. Alan Titchmarsh has said Valley Gardens is his favourite park and hes not the only one to fall for its charms. The RHS Britain in Bloom judges deemed it the countrys top public park in 2009 a discretionary award that was the icing on the following very substantial cake.
Harrogate won the Yorkshire & Humberside in Bloom title from 1975 to 1999, and again in 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008.
The town was an All England finalist in 1975 to 1977, plus 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1988 (joint third).
It was a finalist in Britain in Bloom in 1989 (also taking the All England award),1991 1994, 1995 and 1997, was runner-up in 2000, and took the coveted Britain in Bloom title in 1976, 1977 (plus an Entente Florale win), 1979, 1981, 1983, 1986, 1992, 2003 (plus a gold medal).
Harrogate scored a gold award in 2004 (plus Entente Florale), 2005, 2008 and 2009 (plus the Britain in Bloom title and the discretionary Best Public Park title).
And, as if all that was not enough (for one county, never mind one town), it was also awarded a silver gilt award in 2007, a silver gilt Champion of Champions in 2006 and 2010, and an RHS discretionary award for tourism last year.
How to get there: Harrogate is 15 miles north of Leeds on the A61 and 21 miles west of York on the A59. The town's railway station provides a link to the rest of the network. Use National Rail on 08457 484950/ nationalrail.co.uk to view timetables and check availability. For details of the local bus service, visit harrogatebus.co.uk or phone 01423 566061.
Where to park: There is car parking available at Park View (78 spaces), Montpellier (65), West Park (50), Station Parade (25), Dragon Road (187) and Hornbeam Park (98). Long stay options are available at Jubilee (440), Victoria (786) and West Park (331). Up-to-date prices are available at harrogate.gov.uk.
What to do: Harrogate is known as a spa town, so a first port of call for many visitors is its Turkish baths and spa, where they can take the waters and enjoy a relaxing massage. Other attractions in and around the town include the recently restored Royal Hall, the Great Yorkshire Showground, the open parkland of The Stray.