Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’) combining with the yellow of Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’ as if waving hello to the pink coneflowers, Echinacea pallida. Behind these is the 4.4m wall surrounded by the towering pin oaks, (Quercus palustris). The sculptures are Pitchfork (Yellow), 2013, by Sir Michael Craig-Martin and The Three, 2017, by Rebecca Warren.

Year-round beauty at The Hepworth Wakefield

Designing a garden from scratch, Tom Stuart-Smith created a changing spectacle of colour. Now its cultural gardener Katy Merrington leads our first Masterclass for 2021. Words Alys Fowler, photographs Jason Ingram.

There are many elements that make up a good public garden and the one at The Hepworth Wakefield in West Yorkshire has bagged them all. This award-winning gallery has had the foresight and ambition to create a truly unique garden. As its wonderfully titled cultural gardener, Katy Merrington, explains: “It’s very rare to make a garden of such quality, and then to make it free and open 24 hours a day.”

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Join Katy Merrington at the first of our 2021 Masterclass series

Masterclass 2021 is series of three online expert lectures aimed at offering you an illuminating, entertaining and inspiring look into creating great gardens. Katy’s lecture takes place 31 March 2021. Click here to find out more.

About Katy Merrington

Katy has worked in some of the best gardens in the UK and USA including Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh at Logan, Dumfries & Galloway, Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly and Longwood Gardens: Pennsylvania, USA. At The Hepworth Wakefield Katy has worked to build a flourishing oasis rich in successional colour and character.

katymerrington

The garden in brief

Name The Hepworth Wakefield Garden. What Public garden surrounding The Hepworth Wakefield gallery. Where West Yorkshire. Size Just under one acre. Soil Amended urban soils. Climate Temperate with high winds off the neighbouring River Calder and relatively low rain fall. Hardiness zone USDA 9.

The Hepworth Wakefield Garden fits around the angular cubic forms that make up the gallery. The buildings and paths, which were cast in the same pale concrete, reflect the painterly mix of colours that changes with the seasons.
The Hepworth Wakefield Garden fits around the angular cubic forms that make up the gallery. The buildings and paths, which were cast in the same pale concrete, reflect the painterly mix of colours that changes with the seasons.

The garden

The garden sits behind the gallery, which is a series of trapezoidal concrete forms designed by David Chipperfield Architects, and the Victorian mills from which the town once made its fortune. “It’s a uniquely curious setting,” explains Katy. “The context around the gallery is an industrial estate, six lanes of roaring traffic and a raging river.” It needed a thoughtful approach that could create a sanctuary from all of this noise – and who better than a designer at the top of his game, Tom Stuart-Smith.

At the road end Tom decided to put a 4.4m-tall wall to muffle the hum of traffic. “I felt that we had to create a precinct, not in a stuffy collegiate way, but to make a hallowed ground of the space. There’s so much convergency in this garden with the river and the roads, and it needed a sense or curtilage,” he explains.

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’) combining with the yellow of Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’ as if waving hello to the pink coneflowers, Echinacea pallida. Behind these is the 4.4m wall surrounded by the towering pin oaks, (Quercus palustris). The sculptures are Pitchfork (Yellow), 2013, by Sir Michael Craig-Martin and The Three, 2017, by Rebecca Warren.
Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’) combining with the yellow of Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’ as if waving hello to the pink coneflowers, Echinacea pallida. Behind these is the 4.4m wall surrounded by the towering pin oaks, (Quercus palustris). The sculptures are Pitchfork (Yellow), 2013, by Sir Michael Craig-Martin and The Three, 2017, by Rebecca Warren.

The planting

This wall creates a sense of protection that is further enhanced by tall pin oaks (Quercus palustris) planted around it to create a secluded woodland feel with planting easing out to more open areas. Pin oaks are used again, at the opposite end as if to bookend the garden and between these are fairly open meadows of colourful perennials with smaller trees.
“I just thought colour is going to be so important in this garden. I wanted a real succession of it from April to November,” says Tom. “There needs to be always something happening for locals, perhaps more than for visitors. It’s quite consciously not a minimalist palette that you might expect to find outside of a gallery, but a civic space,” he adds. For Tom the importance of detail and variety in the planting is a moral imperative. “We know from research that attachment [to nature and place] is much stronger with variety. Increasingly, I can’t stand bland minimalism,” he says.

The crab apple Malus ‘Evereste’ offers three seasons of colour, announcing its arrival in spring with the white blossom just in time for the bulbs. Here Narcissus ‘Thalia’ sits among Tulipa ‘Negrita’ in the foreground, in the middle Tulipa ‘Purple Heart’ and Tulipa ‘Merlot’ in front of the beech hedge.
The crab apple Malus ‘Evereste’ offers three seasons of colour, announcing its arrival in spring with the white blossom just in time for the bulbs. Here Narcissus ‘Thalia’ sits among Tulipa ‘Negrita’ in the foreground, in the middle Tulipa ‘Purple Heart’ and Tulipa ‘Merlot’ in front of the beech hedge.

The concept

This, in part, is why Katy has been charged with planting 60,000 bulbs, including swathes of tulips – in honour of the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society, one of England’s oldest florist societies – and from spring onwards the garden endlessly shifts. What starts off as a cascade of bulbs with white daffodils and tulips, becomes blossom on the trees, such as Malus ‘Evereste’, and then moves on to perennials, which start off bright and zesty with golden achilleas and the lime-green zing of euphorbias, moving into more painterly phases with pink shifts, such as the Echinacea pallida with the almost neon lift of Liatris pycnostachya. The garden is very flat and these certainly add height. “The liatris are such a character, almost like a comedy element,” says Katy. “Children love them.” In autumn, the garden mellows to the russets and browns of asters and grasses and the fiery oranges, rust reds and bronzes of the crab apples and pin oak.

In spring the white of the blossom of Malus ‘Evereste’ and daffodils ‘Thalia’ and ‘Toto’ is offset by a sea of blue Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’, the purple and white Tulipa ‘Rems Favourite’ and orange T. ‘Ballerina’.
In spring the white of the blossom of Malus ‘Evereste’ and daffodils ‘Thalia’ and ‘Toto’ is offset by a sea of blue Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’, the purple and white Tulipa ‘Rems Favourite’ and orange T. ‘Ballerina’.

The result

“I think because the garden is linked to the gallery, they play off each other, and people come out and start to see the sculptural quality of the plants. Barbara Hepworth really believed in having her sculpture outside,” says Katy. The interplay between the light, art, concrete and planting comes together beautifully in this brave and generous garden.

Useful information

Address The Hepworth Wakefield, Gallery Walk, Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF1 5AW. Tel 01924 247360. Web hepworthwakefield.org Open Garden open daily. Check for current opening times before planning your visit. Find out more See more of Tom Stuart Smith’s work at tomstuartsmith.co.uk

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And cultural gardener Katy Merrington is leading a Gardens Illustrated Masterclass on How to Make a Year-Round Flower Garden on 31 March 2021 at 6pm. Tickets cost £15. Click here to find more information and details of how to book.