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Things to do in the garden at Acorn Bank

Lush border in the garden at Acorn Bank, with blue and yellow flowers. In the background is the grey stone wall that borders the garden.
Enjoy a peaceful wander through Acorn Bank's gardens, and take in the changing seasons. | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

Discover what lies within the garden’s 17th-century walls - stroll through the traditional fruit orchards, see what's on the menu in the vegetable patches and take in the aromas of the herb garden, which is the largest in the National Trust's care and home to over 275 varieties of herbs.

Spring in the garden

The highlights in the garden at this time of year can both be found in the orchard. Starting in mid-April, Edwardian daffodils burst up from the ground, carpeting the orchard with shades of cream and yellow. We have 16 named cultivars of daffodils, one of which dates back to the 1600s.

Later, in May, pale pink blossom unfurls from the trees above, and delicate snakes head fritillaries emerge. At the end of May and into June the Herbaceous Border and Herb Garden come into their own.

The woodlands are carpeted with wild garlic in May – recognisable by their delicate white flower and strong smell.

A potted history

The 17th-century walls shelter the National Trust's largest collection of medicinal and culinary plants in the herb garden, and the traditional orchards are surrounded by herbaceous borders. Beyond the walls, the new orchard contains a growing collection of local apples.

A series of small, linked gardens celebrates continuous development and adaptation over at least 350 years. The first brick-lined walls date from around 1650, originally enclosing a productive vegetable garden with a smaller area for fruit. This was protected by a wall heated with the flue gases from three fires.

By the 1830s the emphasis had moved towards fruit production and more decorative elements. There was also a lower garden on the banks of the Crowdundle Beck which was used to grow vegetables, but this is now woodland.

Dorothy Una Ratcliffe’s legacy

Dorothy Una Ratcliffe carried on this work in the 1930s and 1940s with a walled garden full of fruit and flowers. She added new and salvaged ornamental ironwork and statuary by creating a wildflower and bird reserve on the bank behind the house and a pond between the house and watermill.

Daffodils and apple trees were protected from the wartime Dig For Victory plough by making a new vegetable-growing area adjacent to the walled garden.

Discover the scents of the herb garden

The team at Acorn Bank has directly managed the garden since 1969. The first herb garden was laid out by Graham Stuart Thomas in the smaller of the walled gardens. This herb garden was redesigned and comprehensively replanted in 2003. It now holds over 275 different varieties and is the largest medicinal Herb Garden in the National Trust's care .

A Silent Space

We're part of an initiative called 'Silent Space', which was set up in 2016 to invite more peace and quietness into people's lives. Gardens around the country had the opportunity to opt in and offer visitors an area to switch off from technology and stop talking. Every year or two we switch up the location and this year it's in the Herb Garden. All you need to do is put away your phone, close your eyes, take a deep breath and soak up the sounds and smells, as the special collection of plants quietly grow around you.

This Silent Space is available for peace-seekers seven days a week, from 10.30am-5pm.

Want to know more about Silent Spaces? (external link)

Stroll through the orchard

The garden is also becoming increasingly known for its orchards. A collection of more than 100 local apple varieties has been established in Dorothy Una Ratcliffe’s vegetable garden, and a succession of manure hotbeds have also been built in this area to provide early salad crops for the tea-room.

At the top of the orchards there is a teaching apiary with four buzzing beehives, which was established by Penrith Beekeepers.

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