A look at the Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park at The Hutts in Grewelthorpe

Peter Roberts in his stunning Himalayan garden

Peter Roberts in his stunning Himalayan garden - Credit: © Simon Ryder

Thousands of visitors will be flocking to the slopes of this lofty North Yorkshire garden this month. Jo Haywood sneaks in ahead of the crowds

A recently-installed pagoda gives visitors a splendid view of the lake

A recently-installed pagoda gives visitors a splendid view of the lake - Credit: © Simon Ryder

As we stand outside a miniature thatched summer house created by Victorian designers Henry and Julius Caesar (yes, really) on a glorious, blue-skied Yorkshire day, the previously flowing conversation suddenly stops. All that can be heard as we take in the glories of the Himalayan-inspired landscape is the gentle chatter of birds and the odd snap of a rabbit-broken twig.

The steep, densely planted slopes and glistening, valley-bottom lakes that make up the 25-acre Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park at The Hutts, Grewelthorpe, just three miles south of Masham, are quite something to behold – even after torrential rain has left the ground muddy underfoot and there’s lots of last minute tidying-up to do before the public is granted access.

It’s often described as one of the county’s horticultural hidden gems, but 10,000 people manage to find it every year when it opens for just seven short weeks.

This year, you only have from April 25th to June 14th to enjoy the 1,400 rhododendron varieties, 250 types of azalea and 150 different magnolias – believed to be the largest collection of its kind in the north – that cloak the steep hillsides from the valley floor to the owner’s house, which sits at 850ft above sea level.

The Hutts (derived from the Norse for ‘head of the valley’) is home to Peter and Caroline Roberts. They bought the property in 1996 when most of the site was coppiced hazel woodland infested with Japanese knotweed and the rest was overshadowed by dense, dark Sitka spruce.

Peter, a successful serial entrepreneur and the man behind the expansive PureGym chain, was inspired by original plantings of hybrid rhododendrons along the drive and set out on a fact-finding tour of other rhododendron gardens including Bodnant in Colwyn Bay, Ray Wood at Castle Howard, Holker Hall in Cartmel and Muncaster Castle in Cumbria.

He also sought advice from recognised rhododendron expert Alan Clark, the former curator of Muncaster Castle garden, who immediately spotted the North Yorkshire garden’s potential for Himalayan-style planting.

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And so, Peter began transforming his grounds, supporting plant research trips to the Sino-Himalayan region and investing in wild-origin plant material to bring new, exciting life to his hilly homestead.

‘What has been achieved here in not quite 20 years is pretty amazing,’ said head gardener Jens Nielsen who took over in November after 18 years in Scotland looking after the gardens at Glendoick near Perth and the National Trust of Scotland-owned Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran. ‘It’s still a work-in-progress though. Himalayan gardens take time,’ he said. ‘If you want instant gratification, then perhaps this is not the sort of garden you should be considering.’

So, what makes The Hutts an ideal location for a Himalayan garden? Acid soil is, apparently, essential, as is a high level of rainfall.

Native trees provide dappled shade and shelter neighbouring plants from direct sun, strong winds, hard frosts and low temperatures (which was particularly helpful in 2010/11 when temperatures plummeted to -17 degrees). And there is, of course, the unique topography of the site which creates numerous micro-climates.

‘Some of these plants should not be alive here,’ said Jens, stroking the leaves of a ridiculously verdant rhododendron. ‘But the micro-climates created in various pockets around the garden mean they don’t just survive, they thrive.’

The Hutts’ garden team have been hard at work in the closed season redeveloping the grounds and opening up areas previously unseen by the public (so it’s well worth another visit even if you’ve been before). New paths have been created and seating added so visitors can enjoy the woodland walks then take a breather while admiring the 60 or so sculpture exhibits, including a dramatic new piece at the centre of a restored lake, Sunrise by David Williams-Ellis, one of the world’s leading figurative sculptors.

‘The sculptures give our work a new dimension,’ said Jens.

‘This is already a challenging and exciting landscape to work in and they only add to that.’ n

The Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park at The Hutts in Grewelthorpe is open until June 14th (Tuesday to Sunday, plus Bank Holidays) from 10am to 4pm. Admission is £7.50 (children under-12 free). For details, call 01765 658009 or visit himalayangarden.com.