Restoring the Rock Garden is the first project for Phil Cormie, newly appointed Head Gardener at Newby Hall. The task is in excellent hands as Phil previously worked at the Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park in North Yorkshire.

This part of the garden was completed in 1914 just before the outbreak of WW1 and includes a waterfall, stone bridge (which also acts as an aqueduct) and huge rocks covered with plants and trees. However over the years, it has become overgrown with many of the plants disappearing due to the lack of light.

Although no plans survive from this period, Ellen Willmott, an eccentric horticulturist and friend of Robert Charles de Grey Vyner, great-great grandfather of the current owner, was involved with its construction. Willmott had first-hand experience of making rock gardens as there was one at her family home in Essex which was built in 1880s by James Backhouse of York. It’s possible that this company was also involved at Newby Hall as they were well known for their alpines and underground fernery.

I visted the rock garden last summer and found that many of the plants and trees had outgrown their space – time for action! The team at Newby will be working closely with specialists Kevock Garden Plants & Design to ensure that the area is conserved for future generations.

Head Gardener sitting on stone seat in rock garden
                                               Phil Cormie, Head Gardener at Newby Hall
                                               Credit: Charlotte Graham

Phil Cormie comments: ‘Transforming and renovating the rock garden is a huge project and causes quite a dilemma as it’s obviously important to retain the spirit of the place. The overgrown tree canopy did give the air of a secret garden but this caused the herbaceous underplanting to be wiped out due to a lack of sunlight. There are no original plans or planting schemes so we are trying to interpret what we believe to be the original vision for the rock garden – huge rocky outcrops with intimate planting pockets for unusual alpines. By removing some of the tree canopy, we have already started to unveil the scale and drama of the rock faces which are spectacular!

Visit if you can, it’s a beautiful garden and in 2019 was awarded for the second time Historic Houses Garden of the Year. This September, it’s also becoming the permanent home of the Harrogate Flower Show


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