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`An ambitious planting programme means that the garden now has one of the UK's largest collections of species rhododendrons'

explorer's garden

Laura Fanthorpe meets Peter Roberts, the man behind an exotic Himalayan garden in North Yorkshire

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distinct areas ­ from boggy to dry ­ in the garden and it can be trial and error to work out where certain plants will thrive," says Peter. "Some difficult sections have been planted up four times already." Now magnolias, sorbus and cornus give additional colour. However, it is the rhododendrons that Peter adores: "What most people don't realise is that in addition to the fabulous colours, they have lovely foliage with intricate leaf shapes. Every single variety is different." One such example is Rhododendron roxieanum var oreonastes, with its narrow, glossy leaves. The collection is vast and the rhododendrons add splashes of bright colour to the hillside. Rhododendron `Roza Stevenson' stands out with its elegant, creamy white blooms, as does `Nancy Evans', an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner with Rhododendron Sheltered site gorgeous yellow and `Halfdan Lem' Exotic plants thrive pink petals, coloured like in the sheltered garden, the inside of a sea shell. The which has a northerly aspect, a enormous red blooms of `Halfdan series of natural springs, and Lem' are showy, while `Loderi ericaceous soil, all on a slope down Venus' has huge blooms and a to a lake. lovely scent. Rhododendron The original part of the house, `Starbright Champagne' has new which overlooks the valley garden, growth that is burgundy red, fades was built in 1780 although there to pink and then to white. was a settlement there from the However, Peter doesn't limit Norse times. In the grounds his love of exotic plants to there were remnants of an old rhododendrons. Other star rhododendron garden, including performers in the garden include a magnificent 100-year-old plant Azara lanceolata, a Chilean smothered in blooms. It was evergreen shrub with yellow petals, this original garden Peter decided while the pink heart-shaped flowers to reinstate. of Dicentra spectabilis hang over all His first job was to eradicate a Japanese knotweed infestation from the coppiced woodland. "It looked like a jungle!" he says. Another task was to remove overgrown sycamores to let more light into the undergrowth. Then he started planting up the garden. The idea was to grow many varieties, then collect seed and cuttings from them to sell in a nursery. Rhododendrons, azaleas, and magnolias loved the site and grew extremely quickly. An ambitious planting programme, and a collecting trip to Bhutan in 2008, means that the garden now has one of the UK's largest collections of species Metal herons rhododendrons. in the lake "There are many different and

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`i love the sense of fun you get in experimenting with unusual plants'

Gunnera by the lake with heron sculptures behind idden from sight in a wooded valley, amid sweeping farmland in North Yorkshire, is a spectacular garden. The Himalayan Garden is a 20-acre rich tapestry of spring colour. It has more than 1,000 rhododendrons, 250 azaleas and 160 magnolias, as well as the glorious primulas, bluebells and daffodils that carpet the ground. At Grewelthorpe near Ripon, it is a true plantsman's garden ­ its creation is testament to one man's enormous enthusiasm and knowledge. Peter Roberts started the project in 1998, two years after buying the house and land. "I was not interested in gardening to start with," he explains. "Then one day I got advice from Alan Clarke, an eminent Himalayan plant collector, who said our garden was one of the best possible sites for this type of garden. This intrigued me, so I decided to give it a go!" Since then, Peter has developed an enormous passion for his plants. In the woodland garden, 850ft above sea level, visitors will find plants from around the world, including New Zealand, Mexico, Northern India, Bhutan, Tibet, China, the Himalayas, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, Nepal, Chile and Japan. "It is not just a landscape, but a comprehensive plant collection," says Peter.

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visitor informAtion The Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park, The Hutts, Grewelthorpe, Ripon HG4 3DA Open 24 April-13 June 2010, TuesdaySunday 10am4pm. Open Bank Holiday Mondays. Visit www. himalayan garden.com Facilities ­ plant nursery, tea room, toilets The garden is not suitable for wheelchair access

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the narrow pathways, and Acer palmatum `Katsura', with its lime green foliage tinged in red, grows like a weed. "I love the sense of fun you get in experimenting with unusual plants," says Peter. "Chilean plants just shouldn't be able to grow in this part of the world but, against the odds, they do." Standing at the lowest point of the garden, you look up and see vibrant patches of colour billowing up the sides of the hills, threaded with zigzagging paths. The air is heavily perfumed by the scent of the spring blooms, which mingles with an earthy aroma from the woodchip paths. Visitors can walk along these paths, past the green shoots of hostas, the hellebores and snakeshead fritillaries. Bluebells carpet the ground, looking beautiful next to pink rhododendron blooms. Not a single bluebell appeared on the site before work started on the garden, but opening up the canopy has allowed light to reach them.

The spiral copper fountain by Giles Rayner put down the pellets and lost every single one! There are difficulties with controlling pests on such a vast scale, and Peter has had to install wire fencing around the boundaries of the garden to rabbit-proof it. The garden has been recreated as a sculpture park. Eight new sculptures have recently been installed, with the centrepiece a new work by Giles Rayner, a leading UK water sculpture artist. Other sculptures include works from a Zimbabwean group of artists. Peter plans to keep on adding sculptures, one or two every year. Metal mushrooms spring up from the undergrowth, while sculptures of dragonflies sit on rocks beside boggy areas, looking perfectly in

Plants for sale & nursery

Pest control

The birdsong is noticeable and, as you wander around, birds rustle in the undergrowth before hopping out, surprised at your intrusion. "We wanted the garden to look as natural as possible, as if the plants have always been here," says Peter. He is keen to encourage birds in the garden, and believes numbers have increased since the planting scheme began. The birds act as a natural defence against slug and snail damage. However, slug pellets are still scattered around the primulas, which are the most vulnerable to attack. One year they decided not to

Rock waterfall

The lake

Large leaf rhododendrons

Hybrid rhododendron bank

While yoU're in the AreA Newby Hall & Gardens Ripon, North Yorkshire HG4 5AETel. 0845 450 4068 or visit www. newbyhall.com Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden, Ripon, Nr Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG4 3DY Tel. 01765 608888 or visit www. fountainsabbey. org.uk Constable Burton Hall Gardens, Leyburn, North Yorkshire DL8 5LJ Tel. 01677 450428 or visit www. constable burtongardens. co.uk

place next to towering gunnera. Throughout the garden, sculptures of hands and shells look so polished you just have to touch them. An open field next to the woods shows off a sculpture of a 6ft swift, wings extended, flying between two oak trees. In the lake, metal herons eat metal fish in the shallows. The Himalayan Garden also has a nursery selling nearly 200 different varieties of rhododendron as well as many other unusual ericaceous shrubs and perennials. The majority of the rhododendrons and azaleas are sourced by seed from the Himalayan area. What makes this garden so interesting is that it feels a bit like a secret club, with a dedicated group of followers. Once people discover it, they come back year after year. "Sometimes I overhear visitors saying `Oh, there's a new plant here'," says Peter. "They really remember how everything looks and are excited every time we add to it." The collection is continually evolving, meaning that there is always something new and exotic to discover at the Himalayan Garden in North Yorkshire.

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