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Friday, 21 November 2014

There’s time for a dip at Styford Hall

Delphiniums: Standing proud in the deep borders.2507127

By MYLES HODNETT

THEY say calm comes before a storm, but with all the unseasonal weather we’ve been having this month, it’s about time we had some calm after a storm.

And you’ll find that calm this weekend amid the subtle scents and colours of the gardens surrounding a Regency house at Styford.

The gardens of Styford Hall are being opened to the public on Sunday by their owners, Robert and Kyra Dickinson, in aid of the British Red Cross.

And for Kyra, the worthy cause has special significance, because for the past 15 years she has been president of the Northumbrian region of the Red Cross.

“I’m passionate about it,” she says. “It is a wonderful organisation and takes in so many different aspects of life.”

Kyra is also passionate about the gardens and has certainly made her mark on them since she moved to Styford Hall with Robert, five years after her marriage in 1963.

The house itself was built by the prominent Northumbrian family, the Bacons, in 1810 and was later acquired by the British diplomat Sir Percy Lorraine.

A pink rhododendron on the front lawn was brought back from Persia to Styford by Sir Percy when he was ambassador in those far off parts.

His wife, however, was not fond of the North-East, let alone Styford Hall, and they never lived in the house.

So when Sir Percy died in the early 1900s, his wife sold the house to the Dickinson family – whose background was in law – and it’s been in their hands ever since.

When you visit on Sunday, bring your walking shoes because there’s a fine walk through woodland and then along the banks of the Tyne.

Oh . . . and bring your swimming costume as well to make use of the heated pool, with the most unusual changing rooms I’ve ever come across.

It was Kyra’s idea to convert part of the old stable block, with its compulsory clock tower, into changing rooms and it’s an idea that I’m sure would impress Kevin Mcloud of Grand Designs.

Behind the pool, a huge kitchen garden still supplies a rich crop of fruit and vegetables, but these days also houses four herbaceous borders.

The walls used to be heated by a network of flues, powered by boilers, so the Bacon family could be sure of a ready supply of fresh peaches at the dinner table.

You wouldn’t believe it, but the garden still produces a range of fruits you’d expect in a warmer climate.

Redcurrants and Morello cherries adorn the east wall; pears and apples the west, while greengages, Victoria plums and nectarines enjoy the full sun of the south wall.

Delphiniums stand proud in the deep borders, keeping their colourful eyes on petunias, verbascums, peonies, geraniums and bright campanulas.

Admire the white flowers of Crambe with its unusual stems – a flower I’d not seen anywhere else.

Note also the evergreen clematis. It’s white flowers have been and gone, but the drooping leaves would provide a focal point in any garden.

If your tastes steer towards the delicate and dainty, then Gloriosa will bowl you over.

Being a fragile little beauty, you’ll find it safely tucked away in the comfortable surroundings of the greenhouse, where its strange flowers seem to open and close almost like alien hands.

Nearby you’ll probably smell before you see the lone white flower of Gardenia.

There are many buds on this plant, but it’s more of a shrinking violet, shyly releasing its flowers one at a time rather than together in one blaze of glory.

Its modesty belies its wonderful scent though. If someone could replicate that in a perfume bottle, they’d make a fortune.

There are some awesome trees near the house, where you just have to stand back and say, “awesome” – notably a Wellingtonia named after the Iron Duke.

But the first prize for taking the breath away must go to the copper beech. A grand tree if ever I saw one.

Its leaves magically change colour as you enter its shady interior, which I’ve never experienced before. Then again, I’ve never seen a copper beech as big as this.

From in your face to subtlety . . . 600 roses surr-ound the house, bathing it in gentle and calming scents.

You’ll find yourself noticeably relaxing each time you catch a waft from this glorious display, where jasmine provides a backdrop on the house walls.

Don’t step too far back to admire the view though, in case you fall in the ha-ha from where you definitely won’t be laughing.

Other trees to tick off on your tour by the way are a variegated tulip and the oddly-named handkerchief tree. Apparently there are two others in the area – one at Blagdon and one at Belsay. You’ll find it near the avenue of crab apples.

Kyra is from France so you’ll be able to indulge in a game of petanque in the garden – another one of her creations – before cooling off in the pool, listening to the steel band and stocking up at the plant stall. There’s also an impressive tree house which will no doubt be covered in children all afternoon.

Styford Hall is open on Sunday, June 24, from 2pm -6pm in aid of the British Red Cross. It’s just south of the B6530, two miles east of Corbridge.

A rare chance to enjoy a rare day.

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