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Preparing for Winter and Beyond. Sustainability in Harewood’s Gardens.

Photo credit Trevor Nicholson

Harewood’s Head Gardener Trevor Nicholson takes us through new processes and methods being implemented across the Gardens, as Harewood looks to the future and more sustainable ways of caring for its Gardens and Grounds. 

As autumn gives way to winter, the Grounds and Gardens teams have been very busy, ably assisted by our loyal and enthusiastic band of volunteers. For the grounds team this means the removal of a huge quantity of fallen leaves from Harewood’s verdant lawns. The collected leaf litter is a valuable source of leaf mould for the gardens.

Having made the decision a few months earlier to change the way we grow our vegetables in the Walled Garden to something approaching the ‘no-dig’ system, every leaf – in fact, every scrap of green garden waste – has become significantly more precious to us as a renewable source of organic matter to be re-purposed as a growing medium.

Although we’ve been making compost for many years, the real difference is in the way we now apply it – and why. Call it what you will: ‘no dig’, ‘no till’, ‘reduced tillage’ etc, there are numerous labels; but they all mean pretty much the same thing: put away the spade and stop turning over and chopping up the garden soil year after year!

Photo credit Trevor Nicholson

Regularly digging over and breaking up the soil impacts on the soil ecosystem by disturbing complex ‘food webs’ – interrelations between a multitude of soil organisms and mycorrhizal fungi, which live symbiotically with plants. Leaving the soil undisturbed and placing organic matter onto the surface not only prevents stored carbon from the soil being released into the atmosphere through digging, it also provides optimum conditions to enable the community of soil organisms to flourish.

The beneficial effect of these soil organisms includes increasing the fertility of the soil and improving its structure. One of the most important environmental benefits of adopting this method of surface ‘mulching’ is the retention of soil moisture, which not only saves water, but also reduces soil erosion and helps prevent the silting up of rivers and drainage systems.

Another added benefit to the gardener of applying organic matter to the soil as a surface ‘mulch’ is the control of weeds. This method need not be confined to the vegetable garden. We are experimenting in some areas of the Himalayan Garden with the use of waste cardboard re-purposed as a biodegradable ground cover, which is being placed between plants and topped off with sieved leaf mould.

The composting of our green garden waste and the recycling of biodegradable materials really underpins much of what we are doing in the gardens – now and in the future – as we set our focus on working in ever more sustainable ways and having environmentally considered methods at the forefront of our  thinking.

Best Season yet at Harewood House

Harewood House Trust Director Jane Marriott

2017 promises to be the most exciting season at Harewood House to date. Many people know Harewood for its wonderful 18th century Adam interiors, wonderful Chippendale furniture and Capability Brown landscapes and yet the Victorian story of Harewood is far less well known.

Queen Victoria came to Harewood House in 1835 as a 17 year old Princess, staying overnight in the State Bedroom and dining in the wonderful Gallery. It is therefore with great pleasure that we welcomed ITV to film their ‘Victoria’ series at Harewood last year. The series chronicles the life of Queen Victoria, starring Jenna Coleman and has been seen by over 7 million people. The House was used as a set, to recreate Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, including the wonderful Below Stairs storyline in our kitchens.

Visit Leeds to see locations used in ITV's Victoria series

After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria’s reign was characterised by rather formidable images of her in black, but the young Queen understood the importance of dress as an outward expression of her status. Very little remains of the Queen’s original dress, so the costume designers had to work with paintings and historical documents to recreate the final pieces. Set in Harewood’s beautiful Cinnamon Drawing Room and Gallery, costumes worn by Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria and her Ladies’ in Waiting are on display. These include the dress she wore when she proposed to Prince Albert, the beautiful green shot silk dress from the opening sequence and the sumptuous Coronation Gown.

Harewood’s Victorian history is shaped by 3 other influential ladies of the time. Lady Louisa, the 3rd Countess of Harewood arrived in 1841 with a growing family of 13 children. She set about creating her vision of Harewood to make it more comfortable, efficient and fashionable using the most celebrated architect of the time, Sir Charles Barry, who had recently designed the Houses of Parliament.  Most notable of Lady Louisa’s renovations was the Terrace and as the season develops, please do come and see how the planting in the parterre creates a wonderful tapestry of colour.

Visit Leeds to see paintings of Osborne House at Harewood

Charlotte, Lady Canning, another of Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, was a renowned watercolourist, painting scenes from her travels and giving Queen Victoria lessons in watercolour painting. Harewood House owns 80 albums of her watercolours and we are delighted to have the opportunity to change this display to reflect her time in India after 1856. This will coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Independence of India, a theme which we will reflect in Gavin Fernandes’ contemporary photographs.

See rare photography at Harewood House in Yorkshire

The 5th Countess, Florence Bridgeman, arrived at Harewood towards the latter half of the Victorian period and developed a passion of photography. The notion of the snapshot was developed at the turn of the century by Kodak, as as photography was now accessible to everyone. Our wonderful collection of informal photographs capture life at Harewood, as friends and family are snapped sledging, sword fighting with sticks and balancing glasses of water on their heads whilst out on the lawn!

As the season develops, we will also spend the summer celebrating one of Queen Victoria’s favourite authors, Lewis Carroll, displaying our first edition of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and taking this as inspiration for a summer packed full of family fun activities.
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I am delighted to have joined as Director, as Harewood House is clearly held very dearly in people’s hearts. As a charity it would not be possible to preserve the house, collections and grounds and tell the stories of our history, without our visitors and member’s support. We greatly appreciate that and look forward to welcoming you throughout 2017.

Behind Closed Doors

As the darker nights draw in and the clocks are wound back (yes, all 52 of them), Harewood House has closed its doors to visitors for the end of another busy season. It’s not time, however, for hibernation!

The winter months signal the start of the House and Collections Team’s busiest time of year; the annual deep winter clean gets underway, essential conservation work commences and preparation for the new season begins in earnest.

The closure of the House allows Harewood’s Housekeeping Team (a small, but determined group of just three) to work systematically around the visitor route cleaning from top to bottom – quite literally, so that any disturbed dust falls downwards and can be picked up at a lower level. Tower scaffolding is erected so that cornicing, pelmets and picture frames can be reached, and a buffing machine is brought in to tackle the floors below. Everything in between, from the great mahogany doors to gilded bedframes and fragile ceramics also need to be gently polished, waxed or hoovered.

The often delicate work that the Housekeeping Team undertakes is quite unlike the traditional type of cleaning that takes place in a normal home. To protect fragile historic surfaces and materials, abrasive chemical cleaning agents and equipment are discarded and replaced with sensitive washing up liquid, deionised water and cotton wool. Non-invasive cleaning techniques are also employed which utilise a multitude of brushes with different types of bristles, along with an array of low-suction vacuum cleaners fitted with gauze to catch any loose fibres or gilding – one specialist piece of kit is affectionately known as the ‘turtle vac’, as it can be worn as a backpack whilst working at height.

Although not every object on the visitor route is cleaned annually such as the paintings and books due to their volume and fragility, each item needs to be carefully assessed and checked to record any deterioration that may have taken place over the past year. It’s a time-consuming process, but essential one to monitor the condition of an object and identify any necessary remedial conservation action.

Other simple, preventative conversation measures are also implemented by the team during the five month closed season, giving items the opportunity to ‘rest’ whilst not on display to the public. This is particularly important for textiles, some of the most vulnerable objects in Harewood’s collection, which have a tendency to ‘set’ if left in the same position for too long. All carpets that had been rolled back to create visitor routes through rooms are unrolled once again, along with releasing each curtain in the House from its tie back. A key object is the Chippendale State Bed, famously slept in by a young Queen Victoria; its three mattresses are removed, laid out to air and checked for any signs of pests, and its heavy damask upholstery is untied and allowed to hang loose during this resting period.

The winter months are also a time when specialist and more challenging conservation work can take place. This year, the Collections Team will continue to conserve some giltwood carvings that are currently too fragile to display. The pieces include two 6ft supporting caryatids (female figures) from a mirror attributed to Chippendale the Younger, which have been exposed to historic water damage and high levels of humidity and dampness. As well as the removal of a layer of harmful dirt, the team use special adhesive in three strengths to tackle differing types of damage. The strongest glue will be used to re-adhere flaking gold leaf, the middle strength to smooth out wrinkled gilding, whilst the weakest mixture is used for cleaning. So far, the team have spent over 20 hours cleaning and consolidating the first caryatid, and look forward to tackling the second in the coming weeks.

For all great country houses, inventory work and the continual improvement of storage for their collections is an inevitable feature of any winter schedule. Often however, behind the scenes, projects such as these can continue to be undertaken throughout the open season and a number of significant projects are now nearing completion, including the inventory and re-housing of an important amount of metal work and silver. Each piece was first carefully polished, then meticulously listed and photographed to create an accurate overview of the collection, and finally, matching sets were re-united with each other. Meanwhile, the store room received a conservation-grade make-over by reupholstering shelves and draws with a specially designed silver cloth, a cotton textile with anti-tarnishing qualities due to small particles of silver embedded within its fibres. The fabric also works to reduce the sulphurous gases present in the environment that cause corrosion, ultimately reducing the amount of cleaning required.

A separate two month project has also seen the re-housing of Harewood’s collection of over 700 prints and framed artworks. Once again, an initial cleaning process was implemented, damaged prints were un-framed and loose prints placed in conservation-grade polyester sleeves and boxes.  Each individual print and framed picture could then be listed and photographed. This long process enables us to have a precise accountability of the collection and plan for its future care and preservation.
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For housekeepers of old, ‘putting the house to bed’ meant to shut up a stately home for winter whilst its family was away; it is perhaps now a misleading expression. For Harewood, the closure of the House to the public marks the start of a crucial period of activity for the care and conservation of its world-class collection. Harewood House certainly never sleeps.

Explore the Himalayan Garden at Harewood House

The Himalayan Garden at Harewood is a marvelous place to explore during spring. The bright colours of the rhododendrons, the fresh green leaves in the trees create a wonderful atmosphere which is a complete contrast to the formal Terraces which Harewood is best known for. It’s a place which includes a massive variety of naturalised planting which has matured since it’s creation in 2007. Here are a few highlights visitors to the garden can enjoy now.

Spring Blooms at Harewood

Visit the Terrace at Harewood in Yorkshire

Next year is an important year for the gardens due to the ‘Capability’ Brown Tercentenary celebrations with our own exhibition programme forming part of Harewood’s response. All eyes will be on the gardens and landscape so we want them to look their very best. We have reintroduced a tulip scheme in the Terrace borders to give a strong early season display. We have planted 3,600 grape hyacinths in the Pyramid beds on the West Upper Terrace, with the deep purple foliage of Heuchera being included as part of the scheme.

Throughout winter we have been busy planting thousands of bulbs along the Lakeside and within the Bird Garden naturalising the space. With 10,000 English Bluebells, over 1,000 Snake’s Head Fritillary and 7,000 botanical daffodils (Narcissi) introduced on the grassy slopes, spring promises to be filled with colour. That’s not all! 4,000 Wood Anemones, Cyclamen and many more have been planted to enrich these woodland gardens.

Our major project work however has been concentrated in the Bird Garden with tonnes of overgrown shrubbery being removed. New views across the Lake have been opened up and we have an exciting planting scheme to follow which will be introduced throughout 2016.
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We are all looking forward to seeing you again at Harewood this season.