RHS Harlow Carr

It was a few weeks ago now (Blogtober Day 21, to be exact!) that I drove from Winwick across the moors to Skipton to pick up my lovely friend Lucy for a visit to the RHS Harlow Carr garden.  You may remember that I joined the RHS earlier this year when I visited the newly-opened RHS Bridgewater outside Manchester and one of the benefits of membership is that you get to visit all of the RHS gardens with a friend who can come along for free.  There’s nothing nicer for me than strolling around a garden that you don’t have to look after yourself with a friend who oohs and aahs at all the plants as much as you do, and I am blessed to have friends to do that with!

It had rained for days before our planned visit and I’ve got to say that it was with some trepidation that I opened the curtains on that Thursday morning, fully expecting to have to put on full wet weather gear and be ready to see a garden washed out with the rain.  But no!  By some miracle, the rain had stopped and the sun shone and the drive into Yorkshire “over the tops” was a beautiful as any I have made before.  Empty roads, blue sky, my heart was singing as loudly as I was singing along to the radio!

A tarmac road runs into the distance between green fields. There is a dry stone wall to the right and the sky is blue with wispy clouds.

Harlow Carr is just outside Harrogate, about a half hour drive from Skipton.  After fortifying ourselves with a farm shop breakfast and buying picnic supplies, Lucy and I set off and it wasn’t long before we had parked up and were standing at the entrance ready to go in.  That sky!  There is absolutely no filter on this photo, it really was that blue!  You could swim in it, couldn’t you?

A sign at RHS Harlow Carr against a stone building and a blue sky.

Now this is the point where I need to warn you before it’s too late that there are A LOT of photos in this post (we visited shortly before Hallowe’en so I feel like there should be some kind of shivery B-E-W-A-R-E-! sound that comes out of your computer 🙂 ) so now is the time to get yourself a brew or a biscuit if you think that you might be needing a snack before you reach the end of the post 🙂

One of the things that I was really hoping for was to see some Autumn colour.  I had been bemoaning the fact during my Blogtober posts that the leaves hadn’t been as colourful as the previous year and certainly in Winwick there hadn’t been much to see at all.  Over in this part of Yorkshire though, further North than Winwick and probably a little higher in altitude as well, it had obviously been a bit colder which is just what you need for Autumn colour.

We set off from the entrance building, past the pumpkin display and admired the borders full of late Dahlias, Verbena bonariensis and Cosmos.

A view from below the welcome centre across a perennial border to the welcome centre.

And then, we set out through the gardens to the woodlands and there, there, was my Autumn colour.

A view from the welcome centre across a large lawn to borders filled with trees and shrubs, all with autumn colours of reds and oranges

And not just there – everywhere!

A yellow Japanese maple stands out against other plants and the blue sky A view across a newly built path to a green lawn and borders filled with trees and shrubs in autumn colours A beautiful yellow-leaved tree is reflected in the water of a small lake. Other trees and shrubs are also reflected, as is the blue sky. A border of hostas with leaves that are turning from green to yellow. Two brown metal deer outlines stand on the grass surrounded by trees. They look as if at any minute they will stop eating the grass and run for the cover of the trees.

Oh, the leaves were just beautiful.  And the sun, that round ball in the sky that we hadn’t seen for weeks, warmed our faces as we walked and chatted and there was nowhere else in the world right then that I wanted to be.

Each of the five main RHS gardens feature different sections within them, so there’s a waterside area, a woodland area, walled gardens, kitchen gardens and depending on where the garden is in the country, there might be sub-tropical or exotic gardens with plants that you might not otherwise see or be able to grow in your own garden.

There are often garden exhibits and the one at Harlow Carr which is there until Summer 2022 is the Four Seasons sculpture trail; four faces representing the seasons created by American artist and film maker Philip Haas, and based on Renaissance paintings by 16th Century Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo.  You might have seen these paintings of people with faces made of fruit – and here they were as 4.5 metre (14.7ft) fibreglass heads which are quite peculiar things to come across!

A large sculpture of a face made out of fruit and vegetables sits in a wildflower border. The sky behind is blue. A close up photo of a large sculpture of a face made out of fruit and vegetables against a blue sky.

I don’t think I’m going to put one of those in my garden!

We took a circular route around the gardens, passing these sycamore key sculptures which swayed gently in the breeze.  I have seen things like this at the RHS gardening shows in the past and have always thought how wonderful they looked (until I saw the price ticket and then they didn’t look quite so good! 🙂 ), and these were no exception as the metal keys twisted and turned.

Two metal sycamore keys feature on a kinetic sculpture in the centre of a flower border.

The path took us into the Teaching Garden where there were lots of little garden plots and garden sheds designed to inspire would-be and experienced gardeners alike.  I was very taken with the pond in the Teaching Garden, not least because of the beautiful curve to the wooden boards around it.

A large pond cut out of a wooden decking walkway with curved edges. There are plants growing both in and out of the water.

Can you see the plant over to the right?  The one with the huge leaves that looks a bit like rhubarb?

This one …

Giant gunnera leaves, easily 1m (3ft) across, growing next to a pond.

It’s a Gunnera manicata and is in fact a form of rhubarb – it’s common name is giant rhubarb (no prizes for guessing that one!) – and it’s HUGE!  Never mind giant, I always think of it as prehistoric rhubarb and I would never be surprised to see a dinosaur munching its leaves.  It grows up to 2.5m (8ft) tall and wide so isn’t really a plant for a smaller garden, but it looks amazing here where it is very happy with damp feet next to the pond.

We also spotted water snails in the pond and once we’d seen one, we could see plenty of them, balanced on the vegetation and minding their own business, as snails do.

A close up of a black water snail in the pond.

We walked on into the Lakeside garden and sat for a while on a bench in the sunshine.  I was never very good at sitting down on benches and taking in the surroundings when I was younger but I’ve practised hard over the years and now I am excellent at it; at taking in all the things that I can see, hear and smell, at feeling the wooden bench against my back and realising that it is actually more damp than we had first thought and it was time to move on.

There was a Clematis by the archway as we left to continue our way along the path and although the flowers had gone, there were masses of woolly seed heads.  I think this is known by the common name of “Old Man’s Beard” but I’m not sure if that’s for a specific Clematis variety and I don’t know which one this was.

Circular fluffy seed heads of a clematis plant.A close up of the fluffy seed heads. Some are white and others are pink.

The sky was still amazingly blue with not a cloud to be seen.  Look at those colours!  I am so glad that I have been able to take photos because these are images that I want to be able to remember for a long time!

Yellow and golden leaved shrubs spill over a concrete wall against a brilliant blue sky background.

We passed some pots full of Rudbeckias.  Oh, I do love their cheery orange faces, they’re right up there with Calendula marigolds for me as happy flowers and it was a delight to see so many of them still in bloom.  There were lots of them in the borders at Harlow Carr in different varieties as they come in sizes small to large and shades of yellow to deep orange and red and I love them all.  I have plans for lots more of them in my borders next year!

Five terracotta-coloured pots of red, yellow and orange Rudbeckias growing against a dark green conifer hedge.A close up of a Rudbeckia flower. The leaves are shades of yellow, red and orange and the centre of the flower is a large, deep chocolate brown button.

We walked on around the lake and towards the woodland area.  Despite the recent rain, the path wasn’t too muddy at all and the air smelt of that wonderful mix of leaves and damp earth.  The stream running alongside the path actually looked quite low considering how wet it had been, but we could see that there were other parts of the garden where it was distinctly boggy.

A view across a stream to a wooden gazebo and beyond that to trees in autumn shades.

Looking down over the edge of a stone bridge to the waterfall of the stream. There are ferns on either side of the stream.

You can see that it’s later in the year from the low sun and the long shadows through the conifers.

The sun is low in the sky and shining from the right of the photo through conifer trees. There are long shadows on the ground.

Another view of the conifer trees showing the length of the shadows.

From the shady woodland, we headed up towards the Kitchen Garden and the Alpine House.

There was still plenty growing in the Kitchen Garden …

Raised beds in organised rows with flagged paths between them. Espalier apples are growing on wires stretched across the length of the first raised bed.

and of course we were there at the right time of year for the apples!

A single green apple tucked amongst the leaves on one of the espalier branches.Lots of red apples tucked amongst the leaves of an espalier apple tree, framed by a blue sky.

The greenhouse was full not of late tomatoes or other fruits but pumpkins, squash and chillies!  So many varieties of them in one place!

A wooden greenhouse filled with an arrangement of pumpkins, squash and chillies in shades of yellow, red and orange which fill the entire greenhouse.A closer view of the pumpkins at the back of the greenhouse.A close up view of a wire robin sitting on a staging bench between pots of chillies.

It always makes me happy to see a robin in the garden!

And this geranium was just outside the greenhouse (I think it’s a lemon geranium) – aren’t the leaves beautiful?

Variegated green geranium leaves.

The RHS is working hard to encourage gardeners to be as sustainable and ecologically-friendly as they can with their gardens and I loved this little insect house with its green roof full of Sempervivum (house leek) – oh I do love a house leek plant!

A brick-built bug house with a green sempervivum roof. There are places in the brickwork for bugs to shelter over the Winter.

Round to the Alpine House and there were more varieties of Sempervivum and other alpines than you could shake a stick at.  I was very happy looking at all those little (sometimes) spiky plants – I can’t begin to tell you what it is that I like about them but I can remember bringing some home from my Grandad’s garden when I was small and growing it in our garden so maybe that’s the connection that makes me happy.

A view along the stone walls of the raised beds of the alpine house. There are pots of alpines displayed in the beds. Four photos of alpines in a collage. Three of them are green with spiky or square leaves and the fourth has pretty blue flowers.

A large terracotta pot of cobweb Sempervivum plants.

At this point, we realised that it was lunchtime so we found another bench and unpacked the picnic we had brought with us.

Lucy and Christine sitting on a wooden bench with a picnic. Lucy is at the top right of the photo and Christine is at the bottom left. Between them are brown paper bags containing a sausage roll, cherry tomatoes on the vine and two large mushrooms.

In case you’re interested, Lucy has a Mediterranean vegetable slice and I’ve got a sausage roll (both very good, we were pleased with our choices!), we’ve got cherry tomatoes, fruit and yes, those are raw mushrooms because I like eating them raw 🙂

Our bench was behind a hedge and we sat in the dappled sunlight with another robin bouncing around our feet for a long time (no wet backsides this time!).  It’s not often that we get those times when there’s nowhere that we need to go and nothing that we need to do other than be exactly where we are, and I am doing my best to notice and appreciate them whenever they occur.  In our fast-paced technological world, not much stands still for very long and these fleeting moments when it feels like time really has stopped are, in my view, a gift to be treasured.

Eventually, though, it was time to move and we took a last stroll around the perennial borders before heading towards … ah, I’ll tell you that in a minute!

Oh, the colours were glorious and what I liked was that many of the plants that were still flowering are ones that are easy to get hold of through garden centres and even supermarkets.  I have a lot of plants waiting to be planted out in the garden and a fair few of them were here in these borders.  I just need to get my act together and get my borders planted up now!

A border of vibrant flowers in shades of pink, purple and white.

This gorgeous feathery grass is Pennisetum villosum and I have tried on countless times to grow this but it never survives the Winter.  Seeing it in a garden further North than mine gives me hope that I perhaps could do if I was able to cover it during the colder months … it’s definitely something for me to consider!

Feathery grass flower heads of Pennisetum villosum

Cosmos … these are lovely flowers; they always look a bit like a child’s drawing of a flower to me, and they come in lots of bright colours.  Unfortunately, snails and slugs also think they are lovely and I’ve not been able to grow them without them being munched into oblivion very quickly, although I have noticed this year that the ones I grew in pots in the borders seem to have survived, and I’ve also seen a frog and a hedgehog in the garden this year too so perhaps I have a slug patrol to help now!

Bright pink cosmos flowers in a border. The pink flowers have yellow centres.

This is an Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) – so late in flowering but how lovely that it is!

A white Oriental poppy about to burst free from its green flower casing. A view along one of the perennial borders. There is a section of wooden bench in the bottom right hand corner and Lucy is walking along the gravel path. The sky is blue.

At last, we decided that it was time to leave the garden and we followed the little path that took us to the exit gate.  One more look over our shoulders and then the gate closed behind us.

A path runs between borders of autumn shades of red and orange to a view of trees behind, also in autumn shades. The sky is blue.

We hadn’t quite finished our visit to Harlow Carr as it was just about time for a treat at Betty’s Cafe Tea Room.  Betty’s is well-known in Yorkshire as a traditional cafe where you can have tea or coffee, always served in on a tray with silver pots, tea strainers so that you don’t get a mouthful of tea leaves (no tea bags here), cakes (including their famous Fat Rascals), full meals or an afternoon tea of sandwiches, scones and cakes on a tall stand.  There are several locations of the cafe and they all have the same atmosphere of quiet sophistication and generally being rather posh.  It always feels very grand when you’re in there and I felt very under-dressed for the occasion in my walking boots and jeans – but nobody minded at all and after a longer wait in the queue than we had expected (although it did give me time to nip to the cafe shop to buy my husband a Fat Rascal as he really likes them), Lucy and I found ourselves seated at a marble table with our tea pots.

A silver tea tray containing three tea pots and a sugar bowl is to the right of the photo. To the left of the tray are silver salt and pepper pots and to the left of the photo is a silver milk jug and beneath that, Christine's cup of tea. The table is brown marble.

We also had a toasted scone which neither of us had had before – I expected it to be a warmed up scone but this had actually been toasted and slathered with butter which had soaked all the way through and it was really difficult not to snaffle it all in two enormous greedy bites!  Oh it was so good, I can highly recommend that you try toasting a scone sometime, it’s definitely worth the effort!

Another view of the brown marble table showing Christine's tea, a tea strainer and to the left, three plates containing toasted scones. The top plate has two scones on it, the bottom plate has one and there is a third plate on a stand with one more scone on it.

And then, with all the tea drunk and not so much as a crumb of the scones remaining, we left Betty’s and Harlow Carr and drove back to Skipton.  Ah, it had been such a wonderful day, full of colour and good company and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I’d really like to go back again and see how the garden has changed in a couple of months, and I think that to make sure I get the most out of my RHS membership I should really do that – it would be a waste otherwise, wouldn’t it? 🙂


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48 Responses

  1. lojo says:

    lovely you have inspiired me to go tnankyou

  2. Jacqui says:

    What a fabulous description and collection of photos! I almost feel like I was there with you, right down to the picnic and toasted scones. Thanks very much for taking the time to share your trip with us. Lovely to see the sun on a day like today that’s been wet and dreary.

    • winwickmum says:

      Well the crazy thing was that it rained again the next day, it was just that one day of glorious blue sky and colours! I think someone must have been smiling on us 🙂 xx

  3. Glenys Riggs says:

    I have toasted scone, when I fancy one and they are still in the freezer!! Didn’t know that it wasn’t just something I had invented!!

  4. Geeha says:

    Wonderful photos, really felt I was there! A real tonic on a grey wet day. Thank you

  5. Audrey Sayers says:

    Your photos and comments were great .This time of year is so great to see the Autumanall colours ,there are so many .Great idea for yarn colour inspiration .

    • winwickmum says:

      Definitely! I could see all of the colours in my Autumn Leaves yarn there – and could probably have created some more Autumn colourways out of the shades too! xx

  6. Lenore says:

    What a fabulous day out on such a glorious day. Thank you for sharing so many photos. No teabags in this girls house either 😆😆. I always toast my scones when there are some left over next day. I top them with lots of butter, grill some cheese on top and then smear with vegemite – delicious. Xx❤️🌺

  7. Corinne says:

    Thank you for letting us join in your travels. The gardens are beautiful. I have a Clematis tangutica ‘Bill Mackenzie’ which grows up through a fir tree in the garden, and it has silky seed heads just like those in your photos.
    My Dad used to have a turned out tyre full of sempervivums!

    • winwickmum says:

      Maybe all clematis have similar seed heads then. I’ve got one in the garden but hadn’t actually noticed if it did that because at this time of year it disappears under another plant! It was very fashionable to have planters made of turned out tyres at one point, wasn’t it? I saw one yesterday and was thinking that it had even been a thing to make on “Blue Peter”! 🙂 xx

  8. Christine says:

    Beautiful Pictures. I enjoy them very much.

  9. Helen Tawn says:

    Lovely photos! You were lucky with the weather…. I too finally joined the RHS this year and since we are only 40 mins from Harlow Carr, it’s enabled us to enjoy visiting the garden at different times and really appreciate the changing seasons. RHS Bridgewater is on my list for next spring… Did you manage to make it out through the plant centre without buying anything? If so that’s quite an achievement! xx

    • winwickmum says:

      I think that making the effort to join encourages you to go more often, doesn’t it, and there are so many more plants there than I would have in my garden that it’s a real treat to see them change through the seasons xx

  10. Sally says:

    How lovely to journey through this fabulous place with you- especially from the other side of the world! Thank you

  11. sylvia scott says:

    thank you I am English but live in Australia ,which I love, but I do miss the UK countryside

    • winwickmum says:

      I imagine that it’s all quite different where you are now, especially those kangaroos which are considerably bigger than the bunnies we get in our garden from time to time! 🙂 xx

  12. Gerri Dauer says:

    Thanks for sharing your fun day and beautiful pictures.

  13. ChrisG says:

    Thanks for sharing your glorious day out with Lucy, what gorgeous colours! My grandma used to grow rudbeckia in her market garden, and I recall helping her cut them (& gladioli) for collection some 55 yrs ago ☺️

  14. Maureen Bromley says:

    What a lovely visit you had. Its a while since we have been there, maybe time to visit again. We still have cosmos flowering in our garden, we also live in Yorkshire. Betty’s is a lovely place to go. I am so glad you enjoyed it. Love your blogs. Maureen Bromley

    • winwickmum says:

      Thanks Maureen, it’s lovely to hear from you! It has been very mild recently, hasn’t it, and the good thing is that we get to keep the flowers for a little longer! It looks like there’s been quite a bit of work done at Harlow Carr recently so it might be time to visit to see what has changed 🙂 xx

  15. Laura says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post with gorgeous photos , each one of them was a feast to my eyes .
    I never knew about this garden and we live about 1.30 min from it .we will be visiting it for you . 💐

  16. Susan Rayner says:

    Gorgeous photos – the garden is looking fabulous – we visited once in Septemmber many years ago on the way to somewhere else and absolutely loved it!! And the tea room too! We are so lucky to live 3 miles from RHS Wisley and they have many of the same displays including the weird “heads”!! Maybe we will see you down in Surrey one day!!

    • winwickmum says:

      The heads must be doing the tour of the gardens so perhaps they’ll end up at Bridgewater next summer after being at Harlow Carr! I have been to Wisley (one of my best friends lives in Surrey) but it’s been many years now and I probably should go again! 🙂 xx

  17. Christine Knowler says:

    Thank you for sharing your day at Harlow Carr. Our nearest RHS garden is Hyde Hall and I often go there with my walking friend. So lovely to see the seasons changes in the plants.

    • winwickmum says:

      The RHS gardens are lovely places to walk around and just enjoy the fresh air and the plants, aren’t they? I think I appreciate that so much more now I’m the age that I am! I’m glad you get to go with your walking friend – I think these gardens are meant to be enjoyed with company! 🙂 xx

  18. Genevieve Feurer says:

    Oh, un grand merci pour cette merveilleuse balade.

  19. Mary Wilson says:

    Oh, your photos are stunning Christine. Loved the sky, autumn colours and the beautiful Cosmos. There wasn’t one photo I didn’t like. Those toasted scones looked yummy 😋 You must have had a brilliant day. Thank you for sharing a part of your day out. Mary 😊 xx

    • winwickmum says:

      I’m glad you liked the photos, thank you! We had such a lovely day, the weather was just perfect and finishing the day off with a toasted scone was just the thing 🙂 xx

  20. Barbara says:

    What an amazing place to visit with so much variety. That blue sky and low autumnal light sets it off to perfection. And afternoon tea. Sounds like a perfect day. B x

  21. Bobbie says:

    What a treat this post was! Thank you. You shared plants I have heard of or read about but never seen.

    • winwickmum says:

      There were lots of plants that I hadn’t seen either, especially in the sub-tropica garden! It’s really good to be able to see them out in the borders – although it does make me want to grow them all! 🙂 xx

  22. Deborah says:

    The photos of the garden are fantastic. I recently visited RHS Bridgewater after reading your blog post. Although it was enjoyable I think it will look so much better in a few years like Harlow Carr, once it is a bit more established. I think I will give toasted scones a try.

    • winwickmum says:

      Yes, Bridgewater is still very new, isn’t it, although it’s changed quite a lot over few times I’ve been this year, most notably in the Chinese garden where it looks like they’re really getting on with getting the building there sorted. I think that in a few more years it will be so much established and everything will look as if it’s always been there. I can highly recommend the toasted scones! 🙂 xx

  23. Donna A Miller says:

    I so enjoy your posts, the wonderful pictures and the great detail you provide for the names of the flowers, trees, shrubs and even the animals you encounter. As I am NOT a world traveler, your blog gives me a feeling of seeing new places and I thoroughly enjoy reading it. Naturally I like the items pertaining to your knitting but the blog makes me feel like you are a true friend. Keep blogging and I’ll keep reading.

    • winwickmum says:

      Donna, your words have absolutely made my day, thank you! I am a details person so I don’t really think twice about giving names to things but I am glad that it is something you enjoy too! I do know what you mean about reading about other parts of the world – I find that with blogs too and I am so happy to think that I am able to give you a little window into my part of the UK! xx

  24. Denise says:

    Loved reading about your day out, and particularly taken with those Rudbekias. Joining the RHS is such a good idea, they have such beautiful gardens. A lovely bonus is the Members Seed Scheme 15 packets for £10, have just ordered mine for next year. That way I get to bring a bit of the RHS into my garden.

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