The gardens at Lawson Park are an integral part of Grizedale Arts' identity. They influence and feed into our programme, and form the basis of research and practice across a range of disciplines.
Of a site of circa 15 acres, around 5 acres is presently under cultivation, offering diverse growing spaces that provide us with the opportunity to experiment with different techniques and aesthetics, and to grow a large amount of food to eat, share and preserve on site. Uncultivated areas are carefully managed to encourage the site’s extraordinary range of wildlife, which includes red and roe deer, badgers, stoats, foxes, pine martens, newts, toads, frogs, grass snakes, adders, slow worms, lizards, voles, field mice and moles, as well as many bird species including buzzards and peregrine falcons.
When Grizedale Arts first relocated to the site of Lawson Park in 2000, there was no garden whatsoever in evidence. It was said there was a potato / vegetable patch which sustained the last farming family to occupy the Lawson Park land in the 1950's, but by 2000 the near-derelict site had only a few hazel & birch coppices, an elder and a rowan. Nearly two decades later, the smallholding includes extensive ornamental, fruit and vegetable gardens, water gardens and polytunnels. As challenging a site as it is beautiful, occupying a south-west facing slope some 180 metres (600 feet) above sea level, Lawson Park has two natural streams and uninterrupted views of the Old Man of Coniston mountain. Yet challenges lie in Lawson Park's high rainfall, short growing season and frequent, very high winds at all times of the year. However, with bloody-mindedness and creative endeavour in equal measure, it has proved possible to create a fascinating and productive site that continues to evolve and feed into the wider programme and activities of Grizedale Arts.
The gardens – and the work they demand of all of Grizedale’s staff and visitors - now articulate the philosophical aims of the organisation and can act as a test-bed for horticultural and farming experimentation as well as for artists’ and architects’ projects.
The present gardens began on a wet February weekend in 2001, when Adam Sutherland and partner Karen Guthrie (already a keen gardener albeit an urban one) planted a hedgerow of native plants along the eastern bridleway boundary between the edge of Grizedale Forest and Lawson Park. Largely unplanned at this early stage, a compact ornamental area on the eastern side of the farmhouse developed from many seed-grown perennials propagated by Karen as time and finances allowed. Now the most mature area of the gardens, this original stock has over time been augmented with further selections from successful genera, and selected bulbs, trees and shrubs that have proven themselves able to withstand the demanding conditions.
Keen to avoid a traditional Lake District garden design of lawn and shrubs, Karen keeps this area’s experimental plantings in flux, influenced over the gardens' lifespan by a succession of interests. These have included European prairie planting style, Japanese design, and observations of the wild, upland landscapes of the immediate vicinity of Lawson Park and her native Scotland.
Lawson Park’s gardens are divided into distinct areas and are classified as either 'Ornamental Gardens' or 'Productive Gardens'. Buildings in each space can be explored here.
Restricted budgets have never allowed for a large-scale landscape design to be implemented at Lawson Park. However, we have benefited from advice from many talented and inspiring visiting designers and gardeners: Landscape architect Lyn Kinnear was among the earliest advisors, as was Becky Sobell, assessing the ‘blank canvas’ around the farmhouse as Sutherland Hussey Architects also began their revisioning of the interior spaces.
Since 2017 artists Tanad Williams, Andreas Von Knobloch & Tom Watt have developed and built some graphic concrete additions around the buildings, with - in 2019 - some design input from architect Takeshi Hayatsu.
From 2006-2008 professional gardener George Watson joined Karen and Adam part-time, moving from a traditionally-run local ‘estate’ garden. George was a disciplined and gifted ‘old school’ gardener, instrumental in teaching Karen and Adam about the necessity of efficient (some would say ruthless) maintenance and passing on a lifetime’s knowledge about overcoming Cumbria’s many challenges to the gardener. Many of the ideas and plants George brought us thrive to this day and we owe him a huge debt in helping us during the toughest years of establishing the garden.
Karen Guthrie has remained as Lawson Park’s Head Gardener, and in 2014-2015 Stephen Rae gardened with us, then Grace Holland and Ann-Catherine Andersson joined us as part-time gardeners in 2015.
Adam Hughes joined in 2016, with seasonal support from Pippa Martin. We generally encourage everyone working with us and staying at Lawson Park to spend some part of the day working outside, alongside other domestic work needed on site. Work parties and volunteers are an important part of the annual maintenance regime now, and many volunteers opt to specifically concentrate on land work.
The gardens were selected by the prestigious National Gardens Scheme to open to the public for charity in 2008, and despite the reliably awful weather on Open Days, we welcomed over 500 visitors including the Hardy Plant Society and many local groups over the coming years. Red tape concerning our access road prevents us from taking part in the National Gardens Scheme now, but small groups and members of the public may arrange in advance to visit Lawson Park for a small charitable donation. To arrange, email us in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org
On Sunday June 30th 2019, we open the gardens to the public in support of the Stroke Association. Information can be found here.