The walled garden
Here, laid out beneath the imposing walls of Helmsley Castle, is one of Yorkshire’s most delightful retreats. You can first stroll through five beautifully planted acres among drifts of yarrow, marigold, echinacea and dahlia, an explosion of colour in high summer. Weave your way through the wildflower meadow flush with daisies, poppies and bright blue cornflowers.
Explore the vegetable garden bursting with produce: peas, beans, courgettes, sweetcorn and cardoons. The fruit trees are ripening with apples to juice alongside gooseberries, redcurrants and raspberries. Then sample all this great, fresh, seasonal produce which enriches the Vine House Café, charmingly sited in one of the restored Victorian glass houses.
The story of how it all came about is as remarkable as the garden itself. Built in 1759 to provide fruit, vegetables and flowers for Duncombe Park the big house that once employed 20 gardeners. But the garden fell into sad neglect after the First World War when the gardeners never returned.
For a time it was run as a market garden, but by the early ‘90s when a local woman Alison Ticehurst found it, the garden had long been abandoned. Alison had a bold vision: to restore the garden and create a tranquil space for horticultural therapy to help people with mental, social or physical difficulties.
She raised the money, recruited volunteers and cleared the ground. They had just started planting when Alison died suddenly.
Friends and volunteers carried on the work so that today her legacy is this exquisite garden and the therapeutic work she held dear. Throughout the year, two horticultural therapists support vulnerable adults for whom working outdoors among the flowers and plants provides invaluable benefit. ‘If she could see it today she would be amazed,’ says Tricia Harris, the Kew trained head gardener and marketing manager.
Up at the Vine House Café, brother and sister duo Sam and Mollie Chapman are preparing lunch. The Chapman’s took over the Vine House (and, yes, it is laced with vines) as an independent operation in 2017. And they’re loving it. ‘It’s a lovely place to be’ says Mollie ‘and since taking over we’ve added more seating outside, a children’s play house, vintage crockery and cookery books to browse, even cuckoo clocks’ pointing to a collection on the wall behind her.
Mollie at just 23 has been working alongside her mum in the kitchen, ‘I’ve learnt everything from my mum,’ she says and now feels well prepared to present the fresh, seasonal menu that happily reflects what’s growing in the veg patch. ‘We try to offer good, simple food using the best ingredients’. To prove her point, they’re harvesting beetroot, salad leaves and green beans so lamb rump with mint salsa has green beans on the side, mackerel comes with a green bean salad and her own-made hummus layered with spinach, beetroot, olives and pesto.
Sam Chapman is working front of house, bringing out coffee and fresh scones and a bountiful display of cakes from the counter: chocolate brownies, lemon drizzle, flapjacks, carrot cake, raspberry slice, treacle tarts and gluten free orange and polenta cake.
After coffee and cake, lunch or afternoon tea and if you please, one of their gin cocktails, visit the plant and veg. sales which, along with the entry fee, goes towards the upkeep of this precious garden. A walk among the vivid collage of fiery reds, yellows, purples and bright oranges of the ‘hot border’ is confirmation that Alison’s legacy is alive and blooming.