The Garden at Holly Hill



Since embarking on my Botanical project I have been asking various folk if they might contribute a piece for this blog and was delighted when my longtime friend the photographer Karen Melvin sent me this – as well as some wonderful images of her beautiful garden just outside Slaley in Northumberland.


In my first year of work here I was caught by the gardening urge when a colleague brought some plants into college for a friend. I visited their garden. It was Frank and Margery Lawley’s first garden at Wallington. It was like nothing I had seen before. Some flowers were 8 feet high! I thought- I had to have some of these dramatic giant plants. Everything was new to me. Our childhood gardens in Michigan were wild places with birch and willow trees, asparagus growing in the meadow grass, a hybrid tea rose by the door, a conifer to mark the edge of your yard. We mowed to keep the woodland back.



In Slaley all the first plants I got from the Lawleys died. I later found out what treasures they were as I got my eye in. I visited gardens. We cut trees down around the cottage. I carried little plants home in my pocket from Newcastle covered market. I started collecting architectural plants. Cottage garden plants with flower structure like eryngiums, astrantias, aquilegias, tall lilies, poppies, alliums give such a nice mix of soft colour along with things that seed around like campanulas, geraniums, sisyrinchium. I clipped a yew hedge, half of it grown from seed, into Bauhaus shapes, a cube, a cone, a globe, a spiral, a half arch like the kids’ blocks with the other half over the drive like it was just thrown down. A larch tree appeared growing out of a quarry wall crevice so I am trimming it like a Japanese bonsai in the ground. This leads to the moss garden, drying up now. It did so well last year. Dead moss covers the whole length of a dry stone wall in undulating dried-up mounds.


A peacock arrived at Holly Hill out of the blue and stayed all winter, roosting high up in the sycamores. Last year he ate all my gooseberries and blackcurrants. This year he got old enough for a mate, and we (in the five Holly Hill cottages) were all debating whether to get rid of him or to find him a mate. He left just as the gooseberries and blackcurrants were coming into season. Silly peacock. And we have had more strawberries this year than the past thirty years put together.



Karen Melvin 21 July, 2013

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4 thoughts on “The Garden at Holly Hill

  1. sfoxwriting says:

    Great Picture ! Check out my blog at and please check out a number of articles there is something for everyone 🙂

  2. Pauline says:

    Gorgeous photos of a beautiful garden, thanks for sending them Karen and for posting them Linda xx

  3. what a lovely su
    rprise to read the contribution from Karen M on my way to bed! Just about my favourite garden of all time. I was at the open afternoon recently – timed my wee holiday in Northumberland around it and wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Have been enjoying imagining how wonderful it must be looking since then with all the sunshine. My own has never looked so good. I feel inspired by Karen to try to write something about it. Thank you both. Mandxxxx

  4. Sasha Brookes says:

    Dear karen, what splendid photographs, and how interesting to hear about the beginning of the garden. Thank you for sending me the link Sasha

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