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Caitlin Wall

A Change in Planting Schemes on the Terrace

The Terrace at Harewood - hedges and planted lavender

In the latest blog, Head Gardener Trevor Nicholson explains new planting schemes on the Terrace and how they tie in to Harewood’s Sustainability & Biodiversity Agenda.

Committing to our Sustainability & Biodiversity Agenda has meant we’ve had to make some pretty bold decisions lately. We are implementing a reduced tillage (‘no-dig’) policy in the Walled Garden, reviving our green waste composting system and moving towards becoming a completely ‘peat free’ garden as well as making many more other adjustments, such as weed control using cardboard re-purposed as a mulch etc.

Every year for the past 25 years we have planted two schemes, a spring-flowering scheme in autumn and a summer-flowering scheme in late spring.

All this has come with a lot of hard work and there is much work still to do as we continue to experiment and adjust to new ways of working. In the gardens, the most visible change made for environmental reasons is the U-turn away from the planting of annual bedding plants in the parterre. Every year for the past 25 years we have planted two schemes, a spring-flowering scheme in autumn and a summer-flowering scheme in late spring.

As well as costing thousands of pounds every year, planting the twice-annual bedding schemes were incredibly demanding on our small team as well as on some of our natural resources, especially water in the summer months. Our carbon footprint was also a consideration as consignments of bulbs were being shipped from Holland each year and 15,000 bedding plants packed onto trolleys were being transported from a nursery outside York. And with all of this came the twice-yearly mountain of plastic plant pots and plastic trays.

There were also questions: how were all the plants and bulbs we were buying in each year being grown? Sustainably? Organically? Peat free? And what does the carbon footprint actually look like all the way along the supply chain? The growers we have used for decades to supply the plants and bulbs for our bedding schemes are good growers who care for the environment and who have their own environmental policies. And of course, we want to support growers, especially local businesses. However, we needed a circuit-break, some ‘time out’ to review our own environmental policy and plan for the future.

Lockdown : An opportunity for gardening reflection

The opportunity to pause came during the first lockdown when we had to decide whether to spend thousands of pounds on summer bedding plants that possibly no-one would see or whether we should take the plunge and leave the parterre fallow for a season. Given the situation regarding the pandemic at that time, the fact that we were without our volunteers and with garden staff on furlough leave, we couldn’t risk the former, so we took the tough decision to cancel our order of summer bedding plants for 2020.

Over the past year we have been thinking about alternatives to using spring and summer bedding in the parterre. For ecological, environmental and biodiversity reasons we decided to ‘go perennial’. In the end we opted for lavender as the main planting, accompanied by a flash of variegated sage. This was for a variety of reasons: Lavender not only originates from the Mediterranean regions and is therefore perfectly adapted to the aspect and conditions on the terrace, it was an obvious choice as a garden plant for an Italian-style garden such as the parterre – sun-loving, drought resistant and tough, whilst also being an evergreen, highly-scented, popular, useful and beautiful herb. On top of all that, lavender ticks another important ‘eco’ box: Biodiversity. Lavender is a magnet to bees and one of the best plants for pollinators, providing a rich source of nectar both to bumblebees and honey bees, as well as butterflies at an important time in the foraging season.


With the lavender and sage all now planted, we will be keenly observing what a difference the planting of these evergreens will make. How long before they grow woody and leggy? How long will it take to clip all the lavender each year? Can we use the dried lavender flowers and clippings for essential oils or in pillows? It’s a new venture for Harewood and there are a few unknowns. It sees the first use of perennial planting on the parterre since the Arts & Crafts era of the early 20th century, when the parterre looked very different to what it does today. Both the lavender and the sage will require less water, and when fully grown will provide the structural infill to the box scrolls that will give the Terrace a real Italianate feel, standing up to the terrace stonework and the imposing south façade of the House.

Even in these early days, it feels like the right fit for Harewood today. As our aspirations in the gardens and grounds around sustainability and biodiversity begin to gain momentum, we see long grass regimes around our veteran trees becoming more established, allowing grassland soil micro-organisms to flourish. Alongside new policies for preserving deadwood habitats, the preservation and care of our soil ecosystem, as in the Walled Garden, is an inherent objective. For the first time in a generation the soil in the parterre can rest undisturbed for a while to enable roots, mycorrhizae and soil invertebrates to thrive and coexist symbiotically. And who knows what benefits this will bring to the health and wellbeing of the garden.

Open History at Harewood

As we prepare to launch our inaugural Craft Spotlight this Saturday 26 June 2021, Hannah Obee, Director of Collections, Programming and Learning, takes us through why Craft Spotlight was created,  our Open History programme and Harewood’s commitment to being open and honest about its past.

Black Lives Matter. We knew this, we agreed and we felt we were addressing this, promoting diversity and inclusion through our exhibition and learning programmes. Then on 25 May 2020, George Floyd was murdered on a street in Minneapolis. Suddenly the lens we looked at the world through fractured with a brutal reminder of the vast spectrum of challenges faced by Black people.

While Harewood has repeatedly been committed to addressing its past, opening debate into our roots in the Atlantic Slave Trade, culminating in a year-long programme of events to mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery in 2007 and giving emerging artists a platform, by commissioning artists of diverse heritage, from Sonia Boyce to Rommi Smith; the momentum of the BLM movement last May stopped us in our tracks and made us reassess our contribution.

Artist Chris Day in his workshop

Craft Spotlight : Chris Day

During our 2019 Harewood Craft Biennial, I read a report that 96% of professional, full-time crafts people identified as White British. We had already decided this lack of diversity would be a key subject for discussion in the next Harewood Biennial. What we needed though was a consistent response to this lack of racial equality in the Craft world, so we developed Craft Spotlight. This provides funding and a platform for an emerging maker of diverse ethnicity to showcase their work, promoting Craft to people of diverse heritage and ensuring their voices are represented at Harewood. The inaugural display opens 26 June 2021 in All Saints Church at Harewood and features the work of emerging glassblower, Chris Day. His research into Black history and his personal experience made him want to create work that started challenging conversations around Black history including the Transatlantic Slave Trade. His aim is to inspire more Black glassblowers through his own work. Craft Spotlight will continue to be staged in the years between the Biennial.

Photograph of George Bertie Robinson

George ‘Bertie’ Robinson

This year we also begin an annual series that will celebrate and share the often-untold stories of people of African descent with Yorkshire connections throughout history. For 2021, we have teamed up with Leeds-based DSRG (the Diasporian Stories Research Group) to bring to life Bertie Robinson: The Footman from St Vincent (17 May – 31 October).  George ‘Bertie’ Robinson travelled with the 5th Earl and Countess from the West Indies to Leeds in 1893 aged 13. Harewood’s first black member of staff, his personal story is extraordinary and compelling. Yet it also lays bare the impact of colonialism in the West Indies post-slavery and attitudes to race in Britain in the early 20th century. These led to him losing his job after nearly 30 years of working for the Lascelles family. New discoveries made while researching the exhibition are included in the display on the State Floor. Our Assistant Curator and Archivist, Rebecca Burton, uncovered letters from his mother Amelia Robinson to the 5th Countess of Harewood while an email to DSRG answered some long-asked questions of what happened after Bertie was sacked. We are very grateful to the Wray family for allowing us to share their story.


Two actors in victorian costume reading and looking at books in a library

A Storm at Harewood with Heritage Corner

Finally for 2021, Heritage Corner brings its unique brand of insightful Black History Walks to Harewood in A Storm at Harewood on selected dates between 12 June and 14 August. Following the success of their regular events in Leeds City Centre, Joe Williams and Vanessa Mudd take Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal performance at Harewood in 1847 as a jumping off point to explore African and West Indian connections to Harewood in an imaginative, fun and family-friendly guided walk of the House and Grounds.  Exploring 2,000 years of African presence in Yorkshire, the walk will provide a greater understanding of Africa’s rich history and contribution to the region.

Gathering Dust – Monitoring Dust on the State Floor

With the House opening for a new season, after almost seven months closed, the welcome return of visitors and staff means higher levels of dust.

Collections Care Assistant, Amy, is therefore working on a programme of dust monitoring across the State Floor to highlight how frequently objects need cleaning, so the team can effectively allocate resources, and establish the impact high visitors numbers, the grass being cut, or rock salt in the Winter months has on the levels and types of dust found. On your next visit to the State Floor, well-trained eyes may spot some of the two types of monitoring stations.


A Microscope Slide placed on the State Floor

Microscope slides have been placed on flat polished surfaces to establish how many days, on average, before the dust build up obscures the glossy finish and needs gently removing. Whilst dust can attract pests and become fixed to the surface if it is left, frequent cleaning can also cause damage, especially to delicate surfaces or areas of existing damage.


A sticky dust monitor that has been placed on the State Floor.


Sticky dust monitors have also been placed around the State Floor. These are made from archival grade, acid free board, with double sided sticky tape, and are 2cm by 2cm to make them as small and inconspicuous as possible. After a variable amount of time the sticky dust monitors will be collected in and analysed under a microscope.


Over the past few months, Amy has created a reference guide with microscope images of all the textiles and fibres that can be found across the State Floor, as well as the floors, the Collections Care black jumpers, pollen and grass outside, and hair and skin flakes. When the sticky monitors are analysed under the microscope the guide will help establish what is causing the dust and whether any extra measures can be implemented to minimise the dust. Here’s just a few things that have been found under the microscope…


Dry Soot and Rainwater.

Underlay Fibres

and even a Booklouse !



Looking after Harewood’s 10,000 + books – Our Library Guardians

There are more than 10,000 books held within the 3 libraries – Main, Spanish and Old Library- at Harewood, collected by every generation of the Lascelles family and covering a range of different genres. A dedicated team of Library volunteers check the details of more than 11,000 books on the online catalogue, and adding extra information about their condition, contents, bindings, illustrations etc. This #VolunteersWeek, Kathy, Paul, Susan and Raymond take us through the work they do and what brought them to volunteering at Harewood. 

“It is interesting to imagine who has read the books over the years.”

Retired Librarian 

My name is Kathy and I am a retired librarian, working with a small team of 3 other volunteers to update the catalogue for the library collection at Harewood. We are checking the details of all the more than 11,000 books on the online catalogue, and adding extra information about their condition, contents, bindings, illustrations etc.

Many of the books are 200 to 300 years old, and some are rare and valuable. What makes them especially interesting are the personal histories shown in many of the books. They contain bookplates and armorials belonging to the member of the family who collected them. They often have inscriptions showing who gave the book as a birthday or Christmas present, or who presented the book to show their esteem. Sometimes there are notes in the margins, and occasionally some doodles (such as those where a member of the family was getting bored during a long church service). Some contain sketches done by members of the family.

It is a privilege to work with so many old and rare books. It is interesting to imagine who has read the books over the years. Some of them are in quite a fragile state, with covers loose or detached, leather deteriorating, spines becoming split and corners damaged. We have to be as careful as possible when we are cataloguing these volumes so that we do not damage them further. They have to be preserved temporarily by taping them together, and handling them as little as possible. Conserving these books properly is a huge and ongoing task, but one which is certainly worth doing.

“I very nearly said ‘no’ to an offer to work at Harewood; I am so glad I didn’t.”

Former British Library employee

When I left the British Library and the best part of thirty years spent cataloguing I didn’t want to catalogue another book and I very nearly said ‘no’ to an offer to work at Harewood; I am so glad I didn’t. I was worried about being ‘stuck at home’ on my own all day and every day through the long, cold and wet Yorkshire winters.

The day I come here is often the best day of the week as I become a working person again, I get up early, dress smartly(?), and have a peaceful commute as I am able to leave home later than most people and the roads are quieter. I work in pleasant surroundings with friendly colleagues, no pressure, and the feeling that I am doing something useful again. As we only work in the mornings of our one day a week, I often stay at Harewood in the afternoons in summer, walk in the gardens, or sit and read. I love the Himalayan garden most of all. I previously worked in an anonymous office building on the edge of an industrial estate — here the house and gardens provide an exceptional environment. All this is of course conducive to better mental health in this age when we have suddenly discovered its importance.

“The rewards of working with congenial companions, in overwhelmingly beautiful surroundings, with such an amazing collection of books, and, crucially, no deadlines or statistics to achieve, have been enough to keep me at Harewood ever since.”

Library Volunteer since 2013

In 2003 I responded to an advert sent to the British Library asking for volunteers to join a team working on a new Library Project at Harewood House. I was due to retire shortly and this was a perfect opportunity for me to continue working with books as I have done all my life. I was told that there were already two qualified librarians, transferring records from the existing 20th century card catalogue onto a database. This was the first phase of preparing an on-line catalogue of all the books in the three libraries on the State Floor.

Coming to Harewood was an opportunity to immerse myself in a worthwhile project, helping to secure the future for a valuable and remarkable collection of largely rare books. The rewards of working with congenial companions, in overwhelmingly beautiful surroundings, with such an amazing collection of books, and, crucially, no deadlines or statistics to achieve, have been enough to keep me at Harewood ever since.

During the pandemic we unfortunately had to suspend activity for a while, but I am glad to say that we are now back at Harewood, though we have to work on different days and in different locations. We shall no longer be working as the tightly-knit group we were before, but we shall do our best. I don’t mind working on my own, but I do enjoy being in the libraries, surrounded by beautiful furniture and books and able to chat from time to time with staff, volunteers and visitors.

We do still get asked why we are not wearing white gloves when we handle such precious books, but we tell them that experts consider that bare hands are safer and more sensitive than gloves and thus do less harm.

“I began having ‘Wow’ moments, when a hand written document from a member of the Royal Family or famous people writing to the various Earls dropped from the pages.”

Retired Dentist 

This retired dentist decided there was more to life than teeth. And so, having helped Special Needs children to read and then joining the Leeds University Library as a mover and shelving assistant for six years ending in Special Collections working with important documents, I discovered that Harewood House needed volunteers. I spent two years talking to visitors about the house and its history, all the time looking enviously at the library books and wishing I could get involved with them. Then, lo and behold, I was invited to join the team. My first job, which lasted six years, was to list all the books in the Bazaar Room and the shelves outside the offices and in adjacent rooms.

In came boxes and boxes of books spanning the various ages of the house, from religious volumes to children’s books and novels galore. There are also many years of hand-written weather books of Harewood. I began having ‘Wow’ moments. These were when a hand written document from some member of the Royal Family or famous people writing to the various earls dropped from the pages. I spent the next nine years creating catalogue cards for each volume with author, title, publisher, date of publication and a number. About 3,600 of these books have been entered on the data base and are being archived in detail.

Volunteering for Real World Experience

This #VolunteersWeek, Megan takes us through a day in the life of a Bird Garden Volunteer and how volunteering at Harewood is contributing towards her qualifications. 

My name is Megan and I’m one of the Bird Garden volunteers, I have always had a huge love for animals and I’m currently studying to gain a CMZAAV qualification (Certificate in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium animals) which requires that I volunteer to gain real world experience. I feel incredibly lucky that I’m able to do this at Harewood and work with some of the most amazing animals. My personal favourites are the Humboldt penguins which I’ve learnt to identify, such as Beaky who many of us have a huge soft spot for. Many of my course studies are based on the animals in the collection such as researching their behaviours to further understand them, including how we care, protect and save them. I’m currently working on a project observing Brown Lory behaviours to understand how much they interact with visitors.

A day in the bird garden starts off with preparing the food for all the 50 species of birds – this means a lot of dishes! Once the food is prepped its time to feed and check they are all looking healthy, we do this by just keeping an eye out for any unusual behaviour. Once everyone’s fed, a lot of my time is spent tending to the bird enclosures, often weeding and cleaning. The best part for me is scrubbing down the penguin pools, it’s quite a smelly job but I love it!

Harewood is a fantastic place to volunteer, there is nothing better than being in the great outdoors with nature surrounding you. I am always happy to see visitors enjoying themselves and embracing a passion I hold so closely.