In the Garden with RHS Harlow Carr

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December is a time of great anticipation at Harlow Carr as we wait to hear if our plans and projects for 2017 have been given the go ahead by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Council, the body that approves the RHS budgets, writes head of site Liz Thwaite.

As you’d expect, a lot of planning, discussion, and tweaking has already taken place as we pull together our wish list for the year ahead – but the final decision rests with the council whose role it is to ensure that RHS funds are spent on developments that will bring the greatest benefits to RHS members and visitors.

There’s always an element of healthy competition with the other three RHS gardens - Wisley, Rosemoor and Hyde Hall - as we all make our bids for limited funds – but ultimately everyone benefits from the improved horticulture and first class visitor experience we’re all striving for.

As a charity, we naturally rely on donations on top of our core funding.

An important project we’ve just started fundraising for is our Streamside redevelopment, identified as a priority for improvement by landscape designer Nigel Dunnett, a Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner and one of the key figures behind the London Olympic Park.

Nigel is Harlow Carr’s ‘masterplanner’ and has worked closely with us over the past year or so to cast a critical eye over the garden and see how we can best use the space available to us.

As the inspiration behind the designs of the Olympic Park in Greenwich, Nigel has a wealth of experience in designing horticultural spaces that can be enjoyed and used by thousands of people, as well as being a leader in the design of ‘rain gardens’.

As such, Nigel has focussed us on how we can guide visitors more easily around the whole of the garden so they can enjoy the more underutilised areas of the woodland and arboretum.

He’s also identified ways in which we can use Harlow Carr to inspire people to better manage water and create their own ‘rain gardens’ at home.

Nigel’s design expertise has also been applied to the plans for the arrival space at the garden.

We hope to implement green-roofed cycle storage and self-watering container displays in the near future.

As anyone who’s visited Harlow Carr will already know, the garden is much more than a beautiful green space to enjoy; it’s also a hub for learning.

Our free workshops for primary and secondary schools mean pupils get an early glimpse into the wonderful world of horticulture - who knows, we may even manage to inspire an Alan Titchmarsh of the future.

We’re also keen to showcase local artistic talent, with a range of art and craft showcases planned for the historic Bath House.

Before the first showcase starts in March, however, the Bath House is otherwise engaged as an exhibition venue as we kick start 2017 with Gardens Behind Barbed Wire.

The exhibition – on loan from the RHS Lindley Library in London – tells the story of an intrepid group of British men who set up a horticultural society in the bleak surroundings of the Ruhleben Internment Camp in Germany, and helped to feed their fellow prisoners throughout the First World War.

It’s an amazing tale of how gardening helped the internees cope with captivity, and it’s all the more special because – purely coincidentally - the grandfather of Harlow Carr’s librarian, Sue Padgham, was one of the 5,000 men and boys who were held at the camp.

As this is my last column of the year, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone in the Harrogate district who has visited and supported us throughout the year.

Have a very merry Christmas and we look forward to seeing you in 2017.