The Farmhouse Garden

The longest established and most colourful part of the Lawson Park garden, this 1200 sq m site sits east of the farmhouse and slopes southwest down towards the cottage and hostel. It is dominated by deep, irregular borders, separated by wide pathways. At a change in level there is a natural rockery and a wide gravelled area that is more sparsely planted, giving way to the Bog & Woodland Gardens.
The stream was walled by James Herd and includes a recent sculptural dam and dais adjoining the meadow, by artists Andreas Von Knobloch, Tom Watt & Tanad Williams, who we first worked with on the 2016 ‘A Fair Land’ exhibition at Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art.


The Farmhouse Garden is separated from the public bridleway and Grizedale Forest by a native species hedgerow planted in 2001, the first feature ever planted on the site. Hard landscaping close by the perimeter is kept to a minimum with slate gravel and some low retaining drystone walls. Borders closest to the hostel paradoxically retain a sward of native species plants, a reminder of the impermanence of any garden, but especially one in this site. These also allow residents compelling opportunities for Ruskinian close study of ‘wild’ plants, as they enter and leave the hostel. In 2017, a clutch of hatched grass snake eggs was found in the vegetation just 50cm from the front door.

Many of the plants in this area have been propagated since 2001 by Karen Guthrie, and the main border planting is frequently changed according to what succeeds and what fails to grow, as well as a developing aesthetic for the area. As the soil has been improved with many successive yearly mulches, it has been possible for the planting palette to be widened, albeit with some disadvantages to plants that benefit from drier / less fertile conditions. We use bold and sculptural herbaceous and biennial plants, with few trees and shrubs – the area has no deer fencing and must withstand occasional browsing. After an extensive late spring mulch (we alternate between composted green waste and spent mushroom compost) and some indispensible staking, the borders are encouraged to grow vigorously and densely with little intervention, and are left to seed until the following spring, providing an interesting winter silhouette and food for birds.

Broadly speaking, the borders are inspired by the European prairie planting style popularised by Piet Oudolf, but over time have been adapted to suit our wet and exposed conditions – for example, we need to stake about 50% of the area to support the growing plants in summer.  Oudolf’s close observation of natural plant community behaviors resonates with the influence of Ruskin that we instinctively feel is present in our work in the landscape. We quote the colour and textural schemes of our surrounding mountains: for example, purple and yellow appear together in the landscape in heather, native foxgloves, gorse, tormentil and buttercup - and we have also combined these colours in the borders with purple fennel, loosestrife, Kamchatkan ragwort, crocosmia and kniphofia. We like to use species close to those found in nature, often with fragrant or edible properties, and are constantly researching plants related to those that thrive, to try out. Comparably mountainous regions all over the world can yield plants that do well here, and we especially like to adopt those from areas where Grizedale has worked – for example, a signature plant the plume poppy (macleaya cordata) is native to NW Japan and grows all around Toge, where the ‘Seven Samurai’ project took place.

A new border was made in the Farmhouse Garden in late 2017, in (relatively) well-drained, low fertility soil, and 2018’s drought has had a positive effects on the establishment of its colourful plant palette – including sanguisorba, achillea, sedum, geranium and bergamot, with winter-flowering heathers and hellebores for early interest that can be viewed from the hostel dining table. Another significant change to this garden was the 2016 felling of the dense evergreen tree plantation that lay to the east of the site, from the bridle way up to the horizon. What had been a garden cast into deep shade for many winter months, is now sunny and open in aspect. This has been mostly a benefit, although fewer trees means more surface water reaching the garden. We also decided In summer 2018 to vastly reduce the height of the native hedge we planted in 2001, to take in the ‘borrowed’ landscape of the newly-open eastern horizon so that it could be seen from the farmhouse.

The natural rockery in the foreground of this garden grows a number of self-sown trees that we are 'bonsai-ing' in situ, many native self-sown mat-forming grasses and plants. Architectural plants such as sedum and phormiums anchor the whole design in the winter. We are always trying to integrate more winter interest plants but find that many struggle in the extreme weather conditions. Though generally a sunny site, it can be a very slow spring in this area of the garden, with frequent hard frosts sometimes into early May.


Raison d'etre

This garden is visible from almost all of Lawson Park’s windows, so it was naturally the first area to be cultivated at the site. The intention (as with the rest of the site, but especially so here) is for the garden to be a site of ongoing experimentation with species’ durability, meaning/s (symbolically, historically and contemporaneously) and aesthetic combinations.


A selection of plants


Date Established



Karen Guthrie, Adam Sutherland, James Herd, Andreas Von Knobloch, Tom Watt, Tanad Williams, Takeshi Hayatsu

About the designers/maker/s

Karen Guthrie and Adam Sutherland have lived and gardened on site since 2001. Walling has been undertaken by James Herd and James Howson and the hedgerow was laid with David Johnson of Coniston in early 2008. In 2017/18/19, a dias and linear concrete walls were designed to contain a lower level of raised bed, bringing the garden closer to the main building, by Andreas Von Knaublauch, Tom Watt & Tannad Williams who enjoy working like crazy.


Adaptions / renovations

Hard landscaping improvements during refurbishment over 2008/9 including re-routing main site driveway, more drystone retaining walls and concrete pathways adjacent to the hostel and house. The planting is always in flux, being largely perennial. A concrete staircase and dais to the north of the warden’s cottage was added in 2017/18 by artists Andreas Von Knaublauch, Tom Watt & Tannad Williams. Significant changes to the area immediately east of Lawson Park’s facade began in 2018/19, rerouting vehicle access to the other side of the building and replacing expansive weeded areas of gravel with planting and soft landscaping. These were designed by Karen Guthrie with Takeshi Hayatsu.