Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
1:00 AM 18th November 2023

22,000 Bulbs To Be Planted In Holker Hall’s Most Ambitious Scheme Ever

Photo credit: Jonathan Becker
Photo credit: Jonathan Becker
It is all hands on deck at Holker Hall, as the gardening team embrace one of its biggest ever planting challenges: more than 22,000 bulbs in just a few weeks.

The tulip displays in the spectacular 25-acre garden have become a tourist attraction in their own right, and head gardener Matthew Murgatroyd is determined to make his mark.

Matthew, formerly Deputy Head of Gardens at Highgrove, the private residence of King Charles and the Queen Consort said:

“I have just completed my first full year here.

“It’s been great. It’s just a fantastic garden to work in.

“The first year is always a year of observation, so I am going into my first winter where I can really come up with new things and new ideas.”

And his ambitious plans will see more than 22,000 bulbs planted at Holker Hall and Gardens, near Cartmel, in Cumbria over the next couple of weeks – weather permitting. Matthew will be joined by his five other garden team colleagues, but admits it is a challenging time.

He explains:
“We’ve had a slow start this year because of the weather,” he explains. “It’s challenging, working the wet garden.

“There’s a team of us and although we have specialisms, we all get involved in planting bulbs. Ita bit of a thankless task stuck on your own.

“Last year we probably planted about 14 or 15,000 bulbs, so this year’s 22,000-plus is one of the biggest amounts Holker has ever planted.”

Despite the grand scale, Matthew, originally from Levens, says planting for Holker is not dissimilar to how you would plant at home.

He says:
“There’s no secret shortcut. What we do just varies depending where we’re planting: if we’re planting in grass we will use a bulb planter; for the small areas where we plant small bulbs like crocus and some anemones, we plant those with a crowbar – we literally drop a metal bar in the ground and backfill that hole.

“When we are planting our pots we will take the soil down to a layer and then plant and cover the bulb. However, a lot of the time we will literally be on hands and knees with a trowel and plant one bulb at a time, especially if it gives us the best effect we want.”

This year the majority of bulbs being planted are tulips, as these have become a spring highlight at Holker. The gardening team won’t be planting any daffodils for the 2024 season, but Matthew explains this is because they have already had such success in naturalising – allowing the bulbs to spread naturally – the existing daffodil collection.

He continues:
“Tulips are not very good at flowering a second time.

“They are bred so much for the single flower and most varieties you get have not focused on repeat flowering. If you’re at home planting tulips after the first year you could cut the flower buds to stop them flowering, a few years later they can flower again really nicely. It’s just not viable for us.

“It also means we can change the display each year, so if you come this spring it will be a totally different display to what you’ve seen previously.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Becker
Photo credit: Jonathan Becker
Holker Halls has been developed by the Cavendish family since the 1600s, and current owner Lucy Cavendish is an artist.

Head gardener Matthew says it means she comes up with the colours and framework for the displays, and then it is his responsibility to find the right tulip form, at the right time, in the right height to match Lucy’s colour and creativity.

Holker Hall and Gardens is currently closed to the public, but the café opens on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Christmas, and visitors get access to the first two gardens free-of-charge during this period.

Matthew says:
“They have got great formal structure, which is really nice to see in the winter. We have a lot of topiary and if you get a frosty morning you see all the contrasting shapes freshly cut by the garden team.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Becker
Photo credit: Jonathan Becker
Matthew’s Top Tips for bulb planting at home

● Plant in November or early December, once the soil has gone cold
● Make sure your soil is free-draining, use compost or horticultural grit to help with this.
● Think about height differences with your bulb choices: it’s nice to have some really tall tulips and then some lower height, so you get contrast
● Match your colours: so choose the same colours in different shapes / heights / varieties
● Think about naturalising your bulbs: use daffodils and let them naturalise, so you don’t have to plant every year. You can then use tulips as your ‘wow’ factor
● Pick varieties that flower throughout spring, so you have colour as long as possible into the season.
● In high-risk areas putting manure on top of where the bulbs are planted can help stop pheasants and squirrels digging up the bulbs and eating them
● Don’t always plant tulips in the same place, consider alternating the types of bulbs you plant.