Yesterday, we visited Alnwick — that’s pronounced ANN-ick.
Why the extra letters? The [American] world may never know.
We’ve been staying in Edinburgh, in Scotland, but Alnwick is a wee bit south into England; the town’s big attractions are a castle and a garden. We visited on a Sunday, so most of the shops in town were closed, but traffic on the one road in and one road out was absolutely nutty.
To weather in Scotland has been incredibly mild and sunnier than usual lately, so the garden was just mobbed!
But this isn’t the formal, straight-laced type of place you conjure up when you think of a garden in the UK. This garden is a charity, dedicated to community and education.
In other words: an absolutely glorious place.
The Duchess of Northumberland founded the garden as we know it in 1996. When we arrived, Ian August, who’s been in the garden’s employ since its inception and is now garden liaison director, took us into a room just off the gift shop and talked to us for about 15 minutes.
The garden had a sort of “soft open”; instead of one grand opening, it was planted and developed in phases, and the public was invited in almost immediately. Developers originally estimated that they’d get 67,000 visitors in the first year and require about 25 employees. They were a bit off: In just the first three months, there were more than 250,000 visitors and needed more than 100 employees!
To say the least, Alnwick Garden has been a hit. Phase two of development has recently been completed, and phase three puts the final touches on the space. They’re testing out new walking surfaces and perfecting some of the accessibility aspects, as well as installing the last of the physical gardening spaces. If I were a regular visitor to the garden, I think I’d prefer seeing it completed in stages like that — always something new to check out!
The gardens, of course, were lovely. It was separated into sections: a rose garden that wasn’t in bloom yet; a “poison garden” used mainly to educate visitors about drugs and other dangerous plants; an ornamental garden with tall hedge walls; a bamboo labyrinth. But the best part about the garden wasn’t plant-related at all, though: What I loved most was the kids.
They. Were. EVERYWHERE.
And they weren’t just staying close to their parents’ sides. They were playing in the water features, running in the grass and chasing one another through the labyrinth. This is a place where kids felt comfortable, a place kids thought was fun!
Families brought picnics out and sat to enjoy them on the lawn; the queue (that’s British for “line”) for the ice cream stand wrapped around the corner after the lunch hour passed. The kids especially loved waiting for the jets to go off over their heads on the cascading fountain display, just off the main lawn. (Check out the photo!) You could hear them squeal from anywhere in the garden when they finally shot up. I couldn’t have had more fun playing in the fountains myself.
This hands-on, educational family atmosphere is something all attraction gardens and garden centers alike should strive for, no matter where they are. I suppose there’s a place for serene beauty and quiet reflection, but these days, the more people we can entice to get passionate about plants, the better!