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PUBLIC PLACES Life at Nidd Hall


At characterful Nidd Hall, it’s a tale of two homecomings for head gardener Harvey Parnaby and his boss, maintenance manager Gary Taylor.


Positioned in picturesque North Yorkshire country between Harrogate and Ripon, the 18th century pile was built by a wealthy Bradford wool merchant. Sporting a `pot pourri of architectural styles`, the country seat is rumoured to have been the place where Edward VIII in waiting met Wallis Simpson.


“I first worked here twenty-three years ago,” says Gary, “leaving as Head Gardener, then returning two and half years ago after moving into maintenance.” Harvey and his team of four report to Gary, who has the say on how the 45 acres of award-winning gardens shape up. “At our weekly meetings, we walk the grounds and Harvey tells me his ideas and the money he wants to put them in practice. I don’t always give him what he wants though,” Gary smiles.


The gardens present a mix of the formal and informal, including a three-acre wood and two-acre lake, replete with fish for guests to try their hand at catching. Sporting facilities include double tarmac tennis courts and outdoor synthetic turf bowling green, one of very few Warner sites boasting one.


“We have a small beach in the grounds too,” Gary reveals. Harrogate-by-Sea? “No but plenty of sand and deck chairs. It’s fenced off to prevent animals doing their worst.”


Among a fine selection of trees are numbered specimen oaks and some old sweet chestnuts, as well as mixed conifers. Gary has just committed funds to an assessment of Nidd’s arboricultural needs. “A tree surgeon is arriving soon to check what needs doing, particularly overhanging branches and dead wood. As a public site, everything is done on a risk basis, with buildings, pathways and car park the priority areas.”


The gardens go back a century, a time when the Edwardians loved nothing better than taking their constitutionals among bracing North Yorkshire country air among manicured borders and beds, exotic trees and shrubs from around the world, brought here by pioneering plantsmen.


Going back twenty years or more, the once grand layout had fallen into disrepair and neglect, but the years since have seen a dedicated team restoring them to their former glory.


“When I first came to Nidd Hall, the gardens they in a sorry state,” Gary reflects. We were haymaking the grassed areas they were so wild. It’s been a twenty-year-plus project to restore them.” All that hard work has paid off - Nidd Hall lifting the Yorkshire in Bloom Gold Award for the last three years. The terrace, parterre and formal beds clustered around the hotel are the jewels in the crown, with prime roses and colourful bedding plants a delight on the eye, Gary explains.


“The `Bloom` awards are judged partly on developments planned. “In our case, these involve overhauling the parterre and revitalising the old box hedging.“ “Harvey conducts hour-long tours twice a week for guests, taking in the Japanese garden, another draw for visitors,“ Gary says. “The gardens are key to our offer. We strive to entertain guests outdoors as much as we can, with archery and rifle shooting as well as the sporting elements. They are all part of the mission to retain guests on site.”


After leaving the destination to take up maintenance projects, Harvey, 50, returned refreshed five years ago in pursuit of excellence once again.


In what is a deeply rural setting, Harvey focuses on creating conditions for wildlife to thrive. “The grounds team have built plenty of bug hotels and hedgehog homes to encourage the right environment for them,” he explains.


Surrounded by a private estate, as Nidd Hall is, brings its own rewards, he adds. “The owner releases pheasants for shooting and some of the cannier ones skoot over into Nidd Hall to escape the gun, and we benefit.”


Large stretches of lawn set off the woodland areas, however the team is not too precious about the cultivar mix. “As we pursue green practices wherever possible, we don’t mind a few weeds in the sward,” Harvey says.


“We tend to keep application of chemicals to a minimum,” Harvey says, “as this goes against our wildlife policy. The Husqvarna rideons do the job, while Hayter Harriers are nimble enough to handle the finer, smaller areas between beds.”


After heavy workload over winter, spring arrives in a rainbow of rhododendron and azalea colours. “All the team are qualified to use knapsack spraying and chainsaws, so it’s all hands on deck to keep paths weed-free and trim back shrubs and any unwanted growth.”


Nidd Hall’s own apprenticeship scheme is running well, Harvey explains. “Luke Kay is training up with us at the moment. He’s a grand lad and works as hard as any of us at keeping up the high standards here.”


At our weekly meetings, we walk the grounds and Harvey tells me his ideas


118 PC April/May 2019





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