In my family, Cartmel in Cumbria, has long been associated with sensory delights, being the home of Sticky Toffee Pudding, a favourite with my boys and always provided by their grandmother on our trips North.  But after a recent trip to this area I can assure you that all your senses will have a treat with a visit to Holker Hall – home of the National Plant Collection of Styracaceae.

From the dramatic ‘Capability Brown’ style entrance drive


through the formal gardens planted out with tulips

the labyrinth


and the sundial


to the woodland, home for the National Collection.

Styrax is the largest genus in this family, but this Collection also covers Halesia, Pterostyrax and Sinojackia.  Small graceful trees found in Europe, Asia and America, they have dainty pale flowers in the spring which were just about to open on our visit.  This specimen of Styrax japonica, bought bare-rooted from Crûg Farm is establishing well in almost ideal conditions – relatively mild climate, being so close to the coast, combined with very high humidity.

Styrax japonica

Although we were a little early to really appreciate the flowers and the rain didn’t help, the following gives you some idea of the delicacy of the flowers.

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Some remedial work had been carried out on this Rehderodendron macrocarpum which had been planted too deeply and it is now starting to put on growth having been replanted at a shallower depth.

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But although generally the garden is run on ‘no prune’ principles, allowing the trees and shrubs to develop a natural shape, Rhododendrons are periodically stripped of new low growth to simulate grazing by animals which would occur in their natural habitat.


Other delights of the garden; the sight and scent of native bluebells – the gardeners were busy digging out rogue Spanish bluebells – interspersed with starry blooms of Camassia.

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Expanses of strong smelling wild garlic used by locals in sandwiches and omelettes.


Wren ‘dormitories’  etched into the trunk of a giant redwood.


Reputed to have been grown from one of the first seeds brought back to this country from Chile, a huge Monkey Puzzle Tree, Araucaria, with its vicious spines.  Ouch.

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And to complete the handful of senses, Indian Black Ducks quacking their way through the shrubbery.


The garden is continually evolving and although it contains a venerable 400 year old Lime tree, new areas are being developed to add to the interest and reflect more contemporary tastes and styles of gardening, including a Pagan Grove designed by the renowned landscape architect, Kim Wilkie.  Definitely worth allocating a day for a visit next time you are in the area.


3 thoughts on “Cartmel

    1. gillians

      Thanks G. Just back from Norwich, so look out for more blogs in the next few days, when I have caught up on my sleep.

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