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Newby Hall’s new head gardener and rock garden revamp

Head gardener Phil Cormie. Picture; Charlotte Graham
Head gardener Phil Cormie. Picture; Charlotte Graham

Five-year scheme to transform historic Edwardian rock garden

Historic Houses Garden of the Year Newby Hall is set to get a rock garden transformation, being led by new head gardener Phil Cormie.

Phil Cormie has joined the North Yorkshire garden’s team from the county’s Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park and his first task is to rescue the overgrown rock garden area.

Built before WW1 when the trend for rock garden construction was at its peak, Newby’s example includes a waterfall, stone bridge that doubles as a miniature aqueduct and many vast rocks covered with rare plants and trees.

The gardening team on the overgrown rockery. Picture; Newby Hall
The gardening team on the overgrown rockery. Picture; Newby Hall

Plantswoman’s legacy

Ellen Willmott, the visionary plantswoman (of Eryngium Miss Willmott’s Ghost fame) and a friend of Newby’s owners at the time, was integral in its conception and construction.

Work on the garden ended in 1914 when many of the estate workers went off to war and many did not return.

Over the years, plants and trees have matured and outgrown the space. Working with specialists Kevock Garden Plants & Design, Phil Cormie, and Newby’s owners Richard and Lucinda Compton, aim to transform the space for generations of visitors to come.

Head gardener Phil Cormie. Picture; Charlotte Graham
Head gardener Phil Cormie. Picture; Charlotte Graham

‘Irresistible chance’

With a team of six, Phil Cormie is keen to ensure Newby remains one of the best gardens in the UK. He said: “The chance to play a part in shaping the spirit and the story of Newby Hall was irresistible.

“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.

‘No original plans’

“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.”

Already a star of film and screen productions such as Peaky Blinders, Victoria, Gentleman Jack and the ABC Murders, Newby Hall will step further into the spotlight later this year when the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show permanently moves site to its grounds.

For more information on Newby Hall, visit www.newbyhall.com.

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