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Harewood Gardens

Horticulture and its role in tackling climate change

Trees in the West Garden

The West Garden at Harewood

During the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, the horticulture industry, alongside agriculture and many others, will be presenting its sustainability targets and demonstrating the progress being made towards net zero. Sustainable food production, urban tree planting, reduction in the use of peat, investment in renewable energy, increasing circularity in horticultural plastics and the responsible management of water resources are among many environmental issues affecting the horticulture industry that will be discussed at the climate change summit.

The role of Gardens

Gardens are vital to our health and wellbeing, as well as to the health of the planet. They provide space for relaxation, exercise and play, as well as for the growing of beautiful plants and nutritious food. Crucially, gardens also serve as valuable havens for wildlife and so are environmentally and ecologically important. It is estimated that UK gardens cover a total area of over 430,000 hectares – more than four times the total area of our National Nature Reserves*. And with the number of gardening enthusiasts in Britain now at 30 million*, there is a huge potential for gardeners to collectively play a major role in mitigating the impact of climate change. This can be done in many ways by adapting our gardening methods to reduce our carbon footprint, planting more trees and shrubs, and creating more wildlife habitats in our gardens to support biodiversity.

How are the gardens at Harewood contributing to the climate change emergency?

Soil

Crops growing in the Walled Garden at Harewood

Crops being grown by the ‘no-dig’ method in the Harewood Walled Garden

Soil stores carbon captured from the atmosphere through plant photosynthesis. Soils generally contain about three times more carbon than the atmosphere. When soil is dug over, this carbon is released back into the atmosphere. The action of digging over the soil also destroys the intricate networks of beneficial fungi, microbes and organisms living in the soil. This symbiotic ecosystem of soil-borne organisms is known as the ‘soil food web’ and is vital to plant health, as well as to the health of the planet.

At Harewood, we use ‘no-dig’ methods to grow food crops in the kitchen garden. Instead of digging the soil over and releasing the carbon into the atmosphere, we apply composted organic matter to the surface and allow the soil food web to break it down naturally, thereby locking in the carbon whilst protecting the ecology of the soil and feeding our crops in the process.

 

Peat

A digger carrying compost and mulch

Huge piles of leaves collected from the grounds at Harewood being converted into our peat-free compost and mulch

Peatland habitats as blanket bogs, raised bogs and fens cover around 10% of the UK total land area.* Peatlands have formed over many thousands of years, they are essential terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and support a unique biodiversity. Undisturbed peatlands also store huge amounts of carbon below ground, but the carbon is released into the atmosphere and habitats are lost when peatlands are damaged or disturbed through activities such as drainage, peat extraction, agriculture etc.

We don’t buy peat composts or use any peat in our gardens at Harewood. Instead, we produce our own composts and mulches. This is done on site through the recycling of a wide range of green waste materials, including garden clippings, prunings and especially from the many tonnes of fallen leaves, which we collect from all around the gardens and parkland every autumn. We are also looking carefully at the sustainability of our supply chains to ensure that the plants and products we purchase in the future are peat-free.

Biodiversity

Bee and flower

Harewood’s flower-rich gardens are beneficial to vast numbers of insect pollinators

Biodiversity loss through habitat destruction is a primary concern today and one which will be addressed during COP26.

As well as caring for the ‘world beneath our feet’ by protecting a myriad of soil-borne organisms through our ‘no-dig’ system, we work diligently to protect and enhance biodiversity throughout the gardens. Harewood contains a diverse range of habitats for an abundance of wildlife. Birds, fish and mammals, including bats, hedgehogs and otters live in the lakes, ponds, rivers, woodlands, grasslands and hedgerows, as well as the many old buildings, walls, ditches and even compost heaps and log piles. Our gardening practices support the stable food chains required to sustain this biodiversity. Vast numbers of bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths visit the garden attracted by our amazingly rich flower borders, meadows and planting schemes. These provide a wealth of nectar pools and benefit huge numbers of pollinating insects. We create habitat piles for beetles and other woodland insects and adjust our mowing regimes according to the seasons so as to protect frogs, newts and toads emerging from the lake and migrating into the lakeside woodlands.

Trees

Beech Tree trunk

A gigantic veteran beech tree in the Lakeside woodlands at Harewood

Trees and woodlands are immensely valuable to us in the fight against climate change caused by increasing levels of atmospheric CO₂ and rising global temperatures. Many experts agree that trees are ‘our most powerful weapon against the devastating consequences of climate change and offer our simplest solution to helping avert the irreversible collapse of ecosystems’*. Global deforestation is a huge concern as habitats are destroyed and the planet’s ecosystems are put at risk. Alongside drastically reducing our CO₂ emissions, we simply must plant millions of trees to restore habitats and create the climate-cooling woodlands and urban greenspaces of the future.

Trees are champions of carbon capture. They absorb CO₂ from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and can lock it up below ground for many years, even centuries. Native broadleaf woodlands play a vital role in locking up hundreds of tonnes of atmospheric carbon per hectare.

Protecting ancient trees and established woodland ecosystems is essential. At Harewood, we plant trees for landscape continuity and conservation, as well as grow young trees from seed in our tree nursery. A large part of our work in the park and gardens is the monitoring and protection of veteran and ancient trees. Not only are these old trees carbon sinks, they are also unique ecosystems and therefore important habitats for wildlife. We responsibly manage and maintain a large number of mature trees at Harewood, thereby preserving our parkland trees and the habitats they support for future generations.

Water

lavender plants on the Terrace at Harewood

Drought-tolerant, perennial lavenders have replaced annual bedding displays at Harewood

Water supplies for public use are under pressure across the UK. It is reported that we need to reduce our demand and cut down on wastage to avoid many areas facing water deficits in the future. The amount of water available for households, industry and farming etc is limited and there is little capacity to meet increases in demand. Such pressures can affect the availability of water to a range of important habitats, such as bogs, fens and marshes, and place them under threat. Water resources will continue to be affected by population growth and climate change, so it is important that we keep the use of drinking water for the garden to a minimum and look to collecting rainwater wherever possible.

Here at Harewood, we have considerably reduced our consumption of water in the gardens. The irrigation system on the Terrace, which was installed in 1993 as part of the restoration project, has now been permanently decommissioned. The twice-annual planting of spring and summer bedding plants has been scrapped in favour of more drought-tolerant perennials, such as lavender. In the kitchen garden, we selectively spot-water our crops and keep this to an absolute minimum through the use of mulches: either compost, wool matting or cardboard. Mulching suppresses competing weeds and prevents the evaporation of soil moisture. We also have a rainwater barrel for collecting rainwater from the glasshouse roof and use watering cans fitted with a fine rose held low over seed drills to avoid wastage.

By using the ‘no-dig’ method, we also avoid soil erosion in the kitchen garden. When the soil is dug over and broken up, subsequent rainfall washes loose particles of soil, along with fertilisers, into land drains and eventually into water courses, where it forms as silt deposits. This ultimately affects the condition of the downstream freshwater environment. By adopting the ‘no-dig’ method and keeping watering to a minimum, soil erosion and siltation are considerably reduced.

 

Plastics

Plastic plant pots

Plastic pots are continuously washed and re-used for plant propagation at Harewood

We all know how useful plastic is in the garden, but it is also widely known that plastic and the processes by which it is made are not good for the environment. Some plastics can take hundreds of years to break down and some can contaminate soil and water as they degrade, causing harm to wildlife.

The decision to plant drought-tolerant perennials at Harewood, such as lavender, as a change to buying in thousands of bulbs and bedding plants each year, was made entirely for environmental reasons. Drought-tolerant perennials not only save water, they reduce soil disturbance caused by regular changeover lifting and planting. This helps the ‘soil food web’ to establish and also prevents soil erosion. And as well as reducing our carbon emissions from vehicle transport, the thousands of lavender plants provide a benefit to insect pollinators and support biodiversity. But one of the main reasons for the change, however, was our desire to seriously reduce the amounts of plastic trays and pots coming into the garden. We also wash and re-use our plant pots and trays for growing a wide range of plants and vegetables from seed and cuttings at Harewood.

 

Fossil Fuels

Robot Mower

Zero-emission robotic mowers powered by renewable energy being trialled in the grounds at Harewood

It is widely known that diesel and petrol-powered engines produce CO₂ emissions, which pollutes the atmosphere. In the garden, this includes lawnmowers, strimmers and hedgecutters. In large parks and gardens like Harewood, covering hundreds of acres, this range extends to include large and small tractors, ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and chainsaws etc.

As well as investing in electric ATVs to facilitate the efficient transportation of staff and goods around the gardens, we are phasing out our petrol-powered hand-held equipment, such as hedgecutters and leaf-blowers and moving over to electric, battery-powered alternatives. This is expensive to do all at once so phasing is important, but the results so far are impressive. Not only are these machines re-charged using renewable energy produced at the Harewood Estate’s biomass energy centre, making them even more eco-friendly, they are safer for the staff to use at close quarters because they produce no toxic emissions. The acquisition of a battery-powered lawnmower for small areas this summer proved to be well worth the investment. We also invested in a battery-powered chainsaw, which offers our grounds team excellent performance without toxic emissions and no risk of spills or contamination from handling petrol. We recently had two models of robotic mowers on trial at Harewood and are looking at having further trials for cutting the larger areas. This could provide an environmentally-friendly alternative to using diesel tractors and gang mowers to cut the parkland areas and also remove the risks of soil compaction around the roots of our veteran trees.

Food

Bed of vegetables growing in the Walled Garden

Organically-grown vegetables intermixed with flowers in the Harewood Walled Garden

Harewood offers people the opportunity to visit a place of great beauty and to engage in creative and thoughtful activities, which provoke new perspectives on art, nature and life. Health and wellbeing, the environment, sustainability and biodiversity is at the heart of what we do here in the park and gardens, and food plays an extremely important part in the overall experience of Harewood today. The food journey doesn’t begin at the table, but in the Walled Garden where it is grown using organic methods and with considerable concern for the environment and the impact on climate change. The soil is carefully nurtured using ‘no-dig’ methods to protect the soil food web, lock in carbon, save water and prevent siltation. We grow fresh, nutritious vegetables, fruit and herbs without the use of pesticides and intersperse our plots with nectar-rich flowers for bees and other pollinating insects.

Produce is harvested fresh and transported half a mile by electric vehicle to the Courtyard restaurant. The chefs take all that we can produce from the Walled Garden and also creatively use a range of farm products and foraged food from the Harewood Estate, thereby seriously reducing the food miles of their overall stock. The vegetables, fruit and herbs from the garden are delivered without any packaging and all stackable crates are washed and re-used. Any damaged or surplus fruit or vegetables from the garden are sent to the Bird Garden for feeding the birds and animals, and all trimmings are composted and returned to the garden as mulch, thereby creating a zero-waste system.

-Trevor Nicholson, Head Gardener

*Sources 

http://www.wlgf.org/garden_resource.html

https://www.rhs.org.uk/garden-inspiration/get-gardening/2021-gardening-predictions

https://www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/about-peatlands/uk-peatlands

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/how-trees-fight-climate-change/

Arboriculture in Action

If you’ve visited Harewood this week, you’ll have seen that part of the Lakeside Walk is closed as some arboricultural work is done on a beautiful beech tree on the path.

Arboriculture – or the cultivation, management and study of trees and shrubs – is a constant feature of life at Harewood, with thousands of trees within the grounds that need careful attention for the tree’s health and for visitor safety. This beech is rotting, so it’s being reduced by 40% to keep it standing and alive for many more years.

The beech from the other side of the lake – the tallest tree in the centre of the image.

Examining the beech tree

This particular tree is a beech, Fagus sylvatica, approximately 300 – 350 years old. Toadstools (which are the fruiting bodies) of the fungus Pholiotus, ‘Shaggy parasol’, which grows on rotten wood, began to appear on the tree, which prompted us to look deeper into the tree’s physical state.

PiCUS tomography measures sound waves as they travel through the tree. The solidity of the wood dictates how fast they travel, allowing us to see a cross section through the stem.

The brown on this tomograph shows good healthy wood; green is wood in transition; and purple & blue shows rotten/dead wood. A tree can still be very stable if it has at least 70% brown around the outside, but as we can see, our beech has gone beyond this point.

This is a resistograph, showing the results of drilling into the root buttresses with a very fine, long drill. The amount of resistance the drill encounters gives an idea of how solid the wood is, up to a metre’s depth.

A further proof of the tree’s internal rooting is the Ganoderma fungus, ‘Beech heart-rot’ – this has just started to show on the surface, and has caused the dead wood inside.

Reducing the tree

We were advised to reduce the height of the beech by 40%. This reduces the weight that needs to be borne by the rotting stem, as well as mitigating the ‘wind sail’ effect. The smaller tree should stand for many more years; without the reduction, we might have seen the tree fall across the path within one or two years.

Arborists who have taken care of Harewood’s trees for many years are on site this week. They have rigged up an ‘English Reeve’, a rope system, between our beech and a large tree a few metres down the path (requiring around 500m of rope!). This will allow them to move the cut branches at canopy level, then drop them onto a clear section of path, to avoid damaging any smaller trees under the beech.

The beech with its rigging

The view across the lake may look slightly different, but we’re glad that this work will keep a beautiful tree standing for years to come.

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.

A Gardeners View of Spring at Harewood

Springtime in the gardens at Harewood means colour. Lots and lots of colour! From the dazzling display of tulips in the borders, alongside masses of hyacinths on the Terrace, down through the West Garden and all the way around the lakeside woodlands.  Here, swathes of daffodils cover the thickly wooded slopes in between groups of stately rhododendrons.

But there is always more than meets the eye at Harewood. Linger in those verdant glades a while longer. Take the time to stroll. Pause and look beyond those perennial showstoppers. Look closer. Look up, even look behind you, and you might be rewarded with a glimpse of something special. Whether it’s the billowing clouds of pure white cherry blossom against the blue sky, or the eerily striped hood of a cobra lily rising from the woodland floor, or a colony of orchids growing on a mossy roof, the richness and diversity contained within these gardens is staggering.
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And that’s just what’s in store for visitors now. Things are only starting to get interesting. Because for gardeners, springtime, of course, means more than colour. It means growth and renewal. It also means a lot of hard work. Harewood is very much a developing garden. We’re busy planting some amazing plants, many of which visitors will see flowering in the gardens this summer, while some will put on growth and then flower next spring, and there are others that may take some years to reach flowering size. The important thing for us is continuity – evolving the gardens through the constant addition of new plants. Enjoy the gardens this spring!

Yorkshire Gardens visit Harewood House Harewood House in Yorkshire has rare plants Flowers in bloom at Harewood House in Yorkshire Rare plants at gardens in Harewood House in Yorkshire See spring plants at Harewood House in Yorkshire Visit Yorkshire Gardens and see Harewood House Gardens in Yorkshire include Harewood House Visit Yorkshire to see stunning gardens at Harewood

 

Harewood Volunteer Programme – why not join us?

Now in its 19th year, the Harewood Volunteer Programme continues to go from strength to strength. In 2016, over 18,000 hours were given by volunteers, supporting Harewood House Trust. With over 200 returning volunteers, the programme, and importantly the people who give their time, are an integral part of the charity.

Each year, all Harewood’s dedicated volunteers attend a Welcome Day as Harewood House once again prepares to open its doors on 24th March. The atmosphere is always fantastic as old friends and new gather together to preview what’s in store for the forthcoming year. This year, a focus on our Victorian heritage awaits with rare objects owned by Queen Victoria on display alongside costumes from ITV’s Victoria series.

Of the 200 volunteers who regularly give their time, over half are based in the House where they play a vital role welcoming visitors. They cast a watchful eye over the rooms they are caring for making sure that our visitors, members, coach groups and schools get the best out of their time in the house.

Harewood House in Yorkshire has volunteeres

Mary Cook has volunteered in the house for over 13 years. Mary said, “I started volunteering after a friend recommended Harewood to me. 13 years later, I’m still enjoying meeting visitors and learning from them.

When you start volunteering at Harewood there isn’t a prerequisite to know everything but as you spend time in each room you gain more and more knowledge. After volunteering at Harewood I’m always buzzing and my mind is full of all the interesting people and fellow volunteers I have met that day.”

Volunteers in Yorkshire at Harewood House Farm Experience

Harewood’s Volunteer Programme extends far beyond the House with volunteers giving their time all year round in the Gardens, Bird Garden and Farm Experience. As a licensed zoo, Harewood’s Bird Garden supports students each year through the volunteer opportunities it offers. Many choose to use their time at Harewood to support further education and career ambitions in zoology and animal welfare.

With 120 acres of formal grounds including the Terrace, Himalayan Garden and Walled Garden, help and support from our dedicated band of garden volunteers is invaluable ensuring the grounds and gardens always look at their very best.

Volunteers at Harewood working in the garden

Alan Skedd, is in his 10th season as a Garden Volunteer. Alan said, “Volunteering is useful, productive and satisfying. I get pleasure from seeing how my efforts make a difference and I hope to continue volunteering until age and my health allows”.

Head Gardner, Trevor Nicholson said, “Our garden volunteers play a vital role in maintaining the grounds supporting with weeding, pruning and other tasks which can be endless in a place as large as Harewood.”

Every department from Marketing to Education values the important role that volunteers have in the Trust. At a time when the demand for volunteers is at an all-time high, we know that we are incredibly lucky to have the support and help of so many dedicated people.

To volunteer at Harewood, is to experience one of Yorkshire’s most beautiful houses and landscapes, and to be part of a very special team. Many volunteers return season after season, renewing friendships and deriving satisfaction knowing they have contributed to history of this great house.

If volunteering at Harewood is something that would appeal to you it is not too late to sign up before the House and grounds open on March 24th. There are many opportunities from the Bookshop which is entirely run and managed by volunteers, to the Shuttle Bus which was responsible for transporting over 21,000 people around Harewood in 2016.
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To join the scheme or if you have any questions simply contact the Volunteer Coordinator on volunteer@harewood.org or visit our website.