Virginia creeper-covered lychgate, Rowntree Park, York

Cool Gardens: Rowntree Park, York

Restful park near York city centre

Another in my Cool Gardens series – and another from York. Rowntree Park is new to me and I imagine to a lot of tourists, but not to the locals. Next time you’re in the city, make a detour and get some fresh air back into your lungs. Pictures by Vanessa Sundin.

Rowntree Park, which has won a Green Flag Award every year since 2004, is just a short walk from the city centre, on the banks of the River Ouse, and was the perfect setting for an autumnal stroll.

After a £1.8million Heritage Lottery Fund-aided refurbishment, the 30-acre park was restored to its original splendour – but thanks to cuts, for how long? (We’ll get onto that later.)

The park was a gift to the City of York by Rowntree & Co in 1921 and is a memorial to the Cocoa Works staff who fell and suffered during the First World War.

A set of decorative wrought-iron gates off The Terry Avenue entrance, made circa 1715, was also presented by the firm, in 1954, as a memorial to those killed during the Second World War. The park’s centrepiece, a lychgate covered in Virginia creeper, has two bronze plaques commemorating both occasions.

Planting and wildlife

As we visited in early autumn, we were too late for the best of the borders and too early for the most vibrant tree colours but it was still a lovely place to explore.

Herbaceous perennials in abundance, bamboo and grasses, pockets of annuals, a rose pergola and a wonderful woodland walk make it a great place to chill out away from the city.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The park is also home to the tansy beetle, the ultra-rare (and ultra-green) insect found only around 30km of the River Ouse floodplain. It’s Yorkshire’s arthropod version of China’s giant panda, existing only on tansy flowers. We may have caught one on camera – any experts out there?

As in the Museum Gardens, there were grey squirrels everywhere, stocking up for winter, along with ducks and geese aplenty.

The Friends of Rowntree Park

The group was formed in 1996 to work with City of York Council. The Young Friends and the Very Young Friends have since been formed.

I was astounded to read there were no permanent council gardeners anymore in the 30-acre park due to cuts and volunteers did the gardening work! Apart from them doing a fantastic job, parks are vital to the health and wellbeing of their neighbourhood and desperately need investment.

If anyone in the York area can help, please do – this is one asset the city cannot afford to lose.
For more information, visit

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Park facilities

  • The events and entertainment space is available for hire year round
  • Woodland walk and tree trails
  • Ornamental lake, half of which is available for use by model boats
  • 6 tennis courts
  • Skatepark
  • Basketball court
  • Rowntree Park Reading Cafe
  • Toilets
  • War memorial
  • Children’s play area
  • Orienteering map, activity sheet and information leaflet are available to download
  • Dogs on lead welcome
  • Table tennis tables
  • Rowntree Park Tennis Club

Useful information

  • Address: Rowntree Park, Terry Avenue, Micklegate, York YO23 1JQ.
  • Opening hours: The park is open daily apart from Christmas Day, from 8am Monday to Friday and 9am Saturdays and Sundays, closing at dusk.
  • Accessibility: There is easy access with mostly level paths. See the DisabledGo website for information for the Rowntree Park Reading Cafe.
  • Getting there: Buses run frequently from the city centre to Bishopthorpe Road then follow signs down Butcher Terrace to the Millennium Bridge. Travel by bike or foot along the riverside or across the Millennium Bridge.
  • Parking: Car park on Terry Avenue, or on-street parking in the surrounding streets (don’t be rude and block residents in!)
  • Flooding: As the park is in the River Ouse floodplain, it is closed when river levels are high, even if water has not entered the park for safety reasons. If a flood occurs, it may take several weeks to reopen.
York Museum Gardens

Cool Gardens: York Museum Gardens

History-packed oasis in the centre of York

In another of my Cool Gardens series, I pay a visit to the York Museum Gardens, bursting with history, fine planting – and squirrels. Pictures by Vanessa Sundin

Tear yourself away from the Minster or The Shambles and make a beeline for the Museum’s Gardens. Not just the grounds of the museum, the gardens are steeped in history and well worth a visit in their own right.

The 10-acre garden is set in the medieval ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and was established in the 1830s by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, which was granted the land on condition that botanical gardens would be created. These were created by Sir John Murray Naysmith and originally contained a conservatory, a pond, and a menagerie. Since 2002, the gardens have been managed by the York Museums Trust.

The Multangular Tower, St Mary’s Abbey, and Hospitalium

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This early 3rd-century tower is the best example of standing Roman remains in York. The tower stood at the west corner of the legionary fortress, one of the two corner-towers of the huge stone wall that looked down onto the river.

The small stones in the lower half are Roman whereas the upper half was reconstructed in the medieval period.

The Benedictine abbey of St Mary’s was first built in 1088 by William the Conqueror to reinforce his hold on the north after the Norman Conquest. King Henry VIII pensioned off the monks in 1540 and the buildings were converted into a palace for the King. They fell into ruins before being excavated by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in the 1820s.

You can see the remains of the walls of the nave and crossing of the church, and the cloister. The outer walls were built in the 1260s and are the most complete set in the country.

The Hospitium was built as part of the abbey in the medieval period, used for housing guests. The stone ground floor dates to the 1300s with the watergate arch added around 1500. Now, it’s a popular wedding and entertainment venue.

The planting

York Museum Gardens won the Gold Award of Yorkshire in Bloom for three successive years. The collection is spread across themed borders.

Prairie Border: One of the newest borders, you can see plants from the North American prairies that are popular gardens plants today. Autumn is a great time to visit – watch out for Rudbeckia and grasses.

Fern Garden: Also an update, but you wouldn’t believe it. Stones from the abbey church have been used to create beds of native and non-native ferns. Trees include Gingko Biloba and the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis). There’s also a nod to the Victorian stumpery with an upside-down tree! Spot the 300-million-year-old fossils of plants from the museum.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Observatory Border: Plants with starry flowers and contrasts of light and shade.

Rock Garden: Built in tribute to the Victorian plant hunters the Backhouse family, the area was created in the 1980s by Askham Bryan College students using alpines and dwarf conifers among blocks of limestone.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Butterfly Border: A mix of trees, shrubs, and perennials to provide nectar for pollinators.

Oriental Border: Elements of Chinese and Japanese garden culture. Plants, rocks, and water are chosen and positioned to have a symbolic meaning.

Storytelling: Planted with herbs, shrubs and cottage plants, this sheltered spot is a tranquil meeting space for schools, families, and children. You can sit on the Roman column and tell your children a story.

Garden wildlife

The garden is awash with grey squirrels, quite unafraid of visitors and far too busy gathering nuts to bury for the winter! Hedgehogs and foxes can be found, as well as more than 40 species of birds, including treecreepers, coal tits and sparrowhawks.

Numerous species of moths and butterflies are found here, including the White Spotted Black micro-moth.

The endangered bright green Tansy Beetle also can be found, which live only in a 30km stretch of the banks of the River Ouse.

In 2012, 30 beetles were introduced to specially planted beds, to increase the range of the beetle.

Opening times, tours, accessibility

  • Address: York Museum Gardens, Marygate, York, North Yorkshire YO30 7DR.
  • Garden opening: October 1-March 24, 2018: 7.30am-6pm. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve: 7.30am-4pm.
  • Accessibility: The gardens have a series of wheelchair-friendly paths.
  • Free garden tours: Every Sunday, 1-2pm. Meet inside the Museum Street gates, no need to book.

Cool Gardens: Helmsley Walled Garden

North Yorkshire garden saved from the brink

In my series, Cool Gardens, I aim to highlight inspiring and unusual growing places, both near and far. This time, I’m a bit closer to home in North Yorkshire.

If you’re looking for somewhere to spark your gardening enthusiasm or a place to reflect in glorious surroundings, Helmsley Walled Garden is for you. Continue reading “Cool Gardens: Helmsley Walled Garden”

Cool Gardens: Pike Place Urban Garden, Seattle

Gardening gem in the Emerald City

In the first of my new series, Cool Gardens, highlighting inspiring and unusual growing places, I found a real gem – Pike Place Urban Garden, Seattle. The Emerald City lives up to its nickname – I’ll be writing about other gardens I stumbled upon too. Pictures by Gary Welford.

Continue reading “Cool Gardens: Pike Place Urban Garden, Seattle”

Cool gardens: Crook Hall, Durham

Durham City’s hidden garden gem

Crook Hall
Glorious summer borders

Fans of gardens and afternoon tea have to put Crook Hall on their ‘to do’ list, hidden in the heart of Durham City.

The 13th-Century Grade I-listed medieval hall provides a spectacular backdrop to the stunning gardens, each one with a different but distinctly English theme.

Soak up the atmosphere over a home-made cream tea in the courtyard or in front of a log fire in the Georgian dining room.

And that’s not all – there are gentlemen’s tea, sparkling afternoon teas, and tipsy tea – with vintage teapots full of cocktails!

Crook Hall hosts many events, especially during the school holidays, so do check out their website, as there’s always something going on.

The gardens are a short walk from the market place. Country Life described the hall as having “history, romance, and beauty”.

Opening hours

Crook Hall and Gardens is open every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday from 10am-5pm, price £7.50 per adult, £7 concessions, £5 per child. Annual prices: adult £19.50, concession £17.50, family £39.50.

Winter opening (November 1 to February 28), open from 11am-4pm, so there is £2 off the normal entry fee.

House and gardens are normally closed to the public on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The Garden Gate Café is open all year, seven days a week from 9.30am-5pm.

How to get there

Crook Hall is on Frankland Lane, Sidegate, DH1 5SZ, a short walk from The Gates Shopping Centre. Follow the road next to the river from the Riverside and The Gates Car Parks, opposite the Gala Theatre. Pre-booking is essential for certain events. Season tickets and group discounts are available.

For further information, call 0191 384 8028 or email:, or visit

Cool Gardens: RHS Harlow Carr and Harrogate

Enjoy Harlow Carr’s Winter Walk in all its glory

Harlow Carr, the most northerly of the RHS’s four gardens, lies outside Harrogate, in North Yorkshire. It’s a grand place to stay for a short break – excellent restaurants, shopping, beautiful buildings  – and plants, obviously.

We visited on a Tuesday in February and it was still busy. The biggest draw in the garden in February is the Winter Walk, full of dogwoods, birches, Prunus serrula, hellebores, winter aconites, and snowdrops – the colours beggar belief.

It’s so important to visit big gardens to pick up tips – one thing I’ll remember is the use of died-back Perovskia (Russian sage) stems, a blue/white contrast to the dogwoods. That’s the last time mine get cut back in autumn.

We were lucky to have a still, sunny day, perfect for walking around the arboretum, Geoffrey Smith’s streamside walk and the kitchen garden.

The alpine house was just starting to come into its own, with perfect, fragile little blooms.

There’s a section of gardens through the ages, complete with still-frozen Edwardian pond and Jekyll-style planting.

After almost three hours outside, scones, fat rascals and cakes (fresh raspberry macaroons) at Betty’s were a treat.

There’s also a sizeable garden centre and terrific book and gift shop, as you expect. My haul? A couple of cannas, two packets of seeds and roll of twine – very modest.

It’s a place you could never tire of coming back to, as every time there will be something new to see. Even my other half, who is no gardener, enjoyed it. A must if you’re in Yorkshire.

Harrogate: Places to stay, eat and drink

Cakes at Jakes

We stayed at The Camberley, 52-54 Kings Road, Harrogate, HG1 5JR, opposite the conference centre and a few minutes’ walk into town. Bed and breakfast for two nights was £130. The hotel has a green/use local produce policy.

To book, phone 01423-561618, email or log on to Insert BEDPOSTS into your online booking to receive an 8 per cent discount.

For excellent food with a twist, try Runamocha bistro and steakhouse, 15 Cheltenham Crescent, HG1 1DH, phone 01423-538009, email, or log on to, or Facebook/Runamocha.

I had sea bass with a lobster and crab risotto, while Gary chose a tenderloin of pork Sunday lunch with all the trimmings. The restaurant also does splendid-looking Mad Hatter’s afternoon teas.

Light refreshment at Major Tom’s Social

Staying on the cake theme, Jakes, 47 Oxford Street, HG1 1PW has a tremendous choice – I picked Tunisian orange, while Gary had pistachio.

Jakes is in the oldest building in High Harrogate and is spread over three floors, with an extensive artisan Italian menu and wine list. For details, log on to

Last but not least, Major Tom’s Social, The Ginnel, HG1 2RB, an eclectic craft beer bar, part of the Space vintage emporium, (including second-hand record shop Wall of Sound).

If you like proper beer, the Dandy to read and old 70s board games to play while relaxing in squashy old leather sofas, this is the place for you. I went twice in a day.