The Orchard and Dovecote at Acorn Bank, Cumbria

Acorn Bank Virtual Garden Tour

Our latest Virtual Garden Tour has arrived to help you through isolation and lockdown. Here's the National Trust's Acorn Bank Garden and Watermill

Gardens across the UK have shut down, and our usual garden visits have been halted. At Gardens Illustrated, we’re still trying to bring garden people together, which is why we’ve started a virtual garden tour series. Each week we’ll dive into one gorgeous garden, offering history alongside current videos and photographs from the people who run it. It’s not as perfect as wandering the borders in person, but watching a little slice of what’s happening in gardens throughout the country right now is a lovely way to spend some of the time we have in isolation.

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Summer house, Iford Manor
© Marianne Cartwright-Hignett

This week we’re peeking inside the National Trust’s beautiful Acorn Bank Garden near Penrith in Cumbria. Head gardener Heather Birkett shows us around sections of the garden, which was a Knight’s Templar site in the 1200s. It was donated to the National Trust in 1950.  Discover our other virtual garden tours here. 


Author Dorothy Una Ratcliffe donated Acorn Bank to the National Trust and the oldest part of the garden, the Italianate Sunken Garden, dates back to the mid 1600s. The ornamental pond in the Sunken Garden is home to all three native species of Newt – Palmate, Smooth and Great Crested.

The garden has the largest herb collection of the National Trust and the herbs include dye, industrial, culinary and strewing herbs. There is also a significant reference collection of 175 apple cultivars, with a specific focus on heritage varieties from the north west of England and other cultivars that can cope in the cold and damp climate.

One of the walls in the Herb Garden was originally heated using internal horizontal flues connected to 3 fireplaces. This extra warmth was used to keep frost off apricot blossom. Some of the apricots grown here were given to Lady Anne Clifford in the 1660’s along with some damsons. We still have lots of damson trees in this part of the garden, but now our apricots are grown in the greenhouse!

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Interesting plants at Acorn Bank

  • Narcissus ‘Telemonius Plenus’ – a frilly double cultivar that dates from 1600s
  • Malus ‘Lemon Square’ – an apple cultivar particular to the Eden Valley in Cumbria, home to Acorn Bank. Thought to be very closely related genetically to ‘Golden Spire’, but here at Acorn Bank behaves quite differently.
  • The smallest plant in the Herb Collection is Smooth Rupturewort (Herniaria glabra). Never growing taller than 4cm, it forms a lovely bright green mat. Traditionally used to treat urinary tract infections and cystitis, and was only harvested whilst in flower. It grows easily from seed and would make an interesting alternative to grass for a lawn!