The Leathes Head Garden Blog


24 October 2022

There isn’t a ripple across the surface waters of Derwentwater this morning. The lack of wind in the Borrowdale Valley has ensured the leaves still on the trees are revealing the full glory of their changing colours. The hues of two trees in the hotel grounds stand out in particular. The Acer in the Japanese-inspired Cumbrian Garden is a vivid red whilst the Tulip tree on the front lawn has multitudes of shades of yellows. The hotel gardens achieved a silver award in this year’s Cumbria in Bloom awards. They offer, as ever, a place of quiet contemplation amidst the hurly-burly of life.

16 September 2022
It was a joy this morning to awake and walk around the hotel gardens under beautiful blue skies and with a bright half moon shining down on Derwentwater. The birds seem in a particularly song-full mood, perhaps acknowledging the shortening days. And the first autumnal signs of leaves browning are evident on a number of the tree species in the wood at the hotel. These trees, like others in Borrowdale, are survivors of Britain’s Atlantic temperate rainforest. The Guardian newspaper ran an interesting and topical article about this valley a couple of weeks ago covering its heritage, its challenges and the amazing biodiversity, which we try to preserve in our own small way in the hotel grounds.


11 August 2022

Weeding is probably not most peoples’ idea of fun, but as we do not use chemicals in the hotel gardens, weeding then becomes a labour of love. Especially so on mornings such as we have had this week in the Borrowdale Valley. It gives plenty of opportunity to listen afresh to the wood pigeons cooing, to watch the woodpeckers take peanuts from the bird feeders, and to see the sun struggle above Brown Dodd behind the hotel. Catbells and the surrounding fells across Derwentwater have already been bathed in sunlight, a patchwork of deep purple and green but as the sun climbs higher, the colours fade.


4 July 2022

It has been a wet few weeks in the Lake District. One advantage is both Derwentwater and our own hotel garden pond have filled up. The pond was completed a couple of months ago and has already attracted plenty of mallards and the occasional pink-footed goose. The pond replaces much of the front lawn and has been created to expand further the biodiversity within the grounds. The red squirrel has also returned to the bird feeders, but this is more a consequence of someone in the Borrowdale Valley re-establising control over the grey squirrels. The overwhelming sense in the hotel garden at this time of year is of lush greenery, although there is still plenty of colour provided by the hydrangeas, amongst other plants.


June 2022

We have no records of who designed the garden at the hotel. It seems though a reasonable deduction that it was designed by either Thomas Hayton Mawson, the late Victorian landscape architect, or by someone very much influenced by his ideas.

Mawson’s design hallmarks combined architectural features with planting. The Leathes Head was built in the early 1900s and its gardens were first laid out at that time. Many of the features of our hotel garden mirror other gardens of that era across the Lake District, such as Graythwaite Hall, TH Mawson’s first commission. Another fine example of his work is at Holehird, near Windermere, home now to the Lakeland Horticultural Society. In terms of architectural elements, many of these gardens include crenellated tops of garden walls and fine terracing, both of which can be found in our garden. And as for plants, Mawson’s gardens often incorporated an arboretum and a wide variety of plants, particularly those suited to environments with large amounts of rainfall – and it doesn’t get much wetter than in Borrowdale!

It is a joy to wander around the garden regardless of season, and to appreciate the design considerations that produced it and we do our best to sustain them.


19 April 2022

There has been an explosion of colour these past few days after the wonderful warm weather. The cherry blossom tree is in full bloom, as are the summer sweet and flowering currant bushes. Even the azaleas are starting to bud. There has just been time to settle the honeysuckle to a more advantageous position and plant up some more red and black currant bushes which will hopefully yield an autumn harvest for the kitchen. The large pond on the the lawn is finished, although there remains planting to do. The pink-footed geese have already decided it makes for a pleasant change from Derwentwater. And the birdsong, as usual at this time of year, is a joy to sit and listen to. The chaos of Keswick and the wider Lake District seem a long way away.


13 October 2021

It has been very mild, sometimes a little wet, this month in the Borrowdale Valley. The trees along the valley and in the hotel grounds have shed few leaves thus far although many leaves are now turning colour, including those on the Tulip tree on the hotel’s front lawn. The various tints of yellow on this tree are always amongst the most spectacular colours at this time of year. There is also a surprising amount of colour still in the gardens, and not just the on hydrangeas. And, in addition to the vibrant colours around us, the birdsong stands out as the tits race back and forth to the feeders where they are competing with the woodpecker, a silent, yet frequent visitor. Keswick is still busy after probably the busiest summer season in memory, yet there is plenty of tranquility to enjoy and appreciate in this corner of the Lake District.


17 September 2021

The surface waters of Derwentwater have been calm enough this past week to see clear reflections of the fells of the Borrowdale Valley. There is also a quiet stillness throughout the hotel gardens, disturbed only by the melodic sounds of countless birds flitting through the wood or resting on their favourite branches. Leaf colours are changing to a sharp yellow on the silver birch trees, a couple of which are estimated to be around eighty years old, still youngsters compared to the two hundred year old yew tree at the centre of the grounds. The laurel hedge along the hotel’s wall borders will soon be in need of a trimming but the rest of the wood seems to be in very healthy condition, which is a joy at a time when so many ash and larch trees in the Lake District are being felled because of disease.


24 August 2021

Already there is a transition of seasons underway along the shores of Derwentwater. Autumn is upon us. The nights are drawing in, leaves are turning yellow on some of the trees, the heather is in full flower on the hills around Skiddaw and most flowers are now beyond their brightest blooms. In the hotel gardens, the birds continue to make the most of the available feeders. We have numerous willow tits alongside the more common great and blue tits, chaffinches and a woodpecker. Unfortunately, we also have a grey squirrel, the first we have seen for many years, which has frightened away our regular resident red squirrel. The National Trust highlights Borrowdale’s varied temperate rain forest and our small hotel woodland has both native trees such as oak, birch and ash but also some unusual introduced ones like a North West California noble fir


9 July 2021

The weather has been mostly glorious in the Borrowdale Valley these past few weeks, but we have also had some much needed (light) rain. The great titsblue tits and chaffinches have been busy feeding their young in nests at various places in the gardens but also in those nests quite close to the hotel buildings. It is a time of year when much work is needed in the garden to stay on top of things, although whilst doing so there is plenty to appreciate: listening to the variety of birdsong; admiring the foxgloves, the candelabra primulas, the common bistort and many other flowers and plants; watching the pollinators as they feed from the bountiful nectar. Whilst the Lake District has been as busy as ever recently, the hotel and its grounds seem to rest easily in their own enduring stillness.


May 2021

It has been a colder, wetter May than usual in The Lake District but spring seems to have arrived these past few days in the Borrowdale Valley. In the hotel bog garden we have seen a proliferation of primulas, which no doubt have enjoyed the damp conditions. The most recent sunny weather has brought the azaleas in the Cumbrian crevice garden and some of the rhododendrons into colour, but there is much more to come. The trees are slowly emerging from their winter dormancy, however, the wild cherry is in full blossom. The blue tits, great tits and chaffinches, ever thankful for the feed we put out for them, reward us with their beautiful song as they busy themselves building their nests.


October 2020

Borrowdale is known for many things including ancient deposits of some of the purest graphite on earth. There is an interesting article on the mining history of this material in Cumbria Life this month. Keswick Museum is holding free ‘Drawn to the Ground’ workshops next month as part of the ‘Being Human Festival’. At the hotel, we acknowledged this local link through naming our bar ‘The Graphite Bar’ and having Derwent pencils available for those budding artists amongst our guests, to use to express their creativity. Maybe someone will draw a stag or deer which have become more common in the fells around the hotel, and even occasionally in the hotel grounds, at this rutting time of year.


October 2020

In some ways the heavy rain these past few days has highlighted the depth of the autumn colours along the Borrowdale Valley. The few customers aboard the Keswick Launch are no doubt admiring the atmospheric mist hanging above Derwentwater which is obscuring any sighting of Skiddaw and other surrounding fells. In the hotel grounds, the abundant acorns have mostly now fallen to ground, although the resident family of red squirrels, usually the beneficiaries of this annual windfall, haven’t been sighted for a while. The leaves of the oak tree and those of other species such as the bird cherry are resiliently green. This provides a stunning contrast with the variety of yellows displayed on the tulip tree, the birches and the beeches. The standout colour though on a grey day like today is the crimson red of the nearby maple.


September 2020

The weather has been lovely this week in Borrowdale. The waters of Derwent water were as clear as glass this morning, until that is they were disturbed by a white swan skating across the surface to get airborne. In the hotel garden, red berries at the entrance provide a warm sight for new arrivals, whilst in the grounds themselves conkers, acorns and hazel nuts are starting to fall. Perhaps this abundance explains why there is only a solitary wood pigeon enjoying the peanuts provided in the bird feeders. The first leaves are turning autumnal: golden yellow on the horse chestnut and various copper shades on the beech tree. These offer beautiful colour contrasts to the nearby vivid purple astilbes, the fiery orange crocosmia and the white hydrangeas, which are much rarer in this garden compared to the more popular blue ones. The Lake District is a special place always but more so on a day like this.


18 November 2019

It is a glorious day. There wasn’t cloud in the sky as the sun rose through a horizon, revealing the full spectrum of red, orange and yellow hues. The tops of Skiddaw and the fells above Keswick have a smattering of light snow which seems to highlight even more both the deep blue of the sky and the brown bracken filled lower slopes. The early morning mist hovering above Derwentwater has cleared and the surface of the lake has a glass like stillness. This doesn’t seem though to confuse the ducks landing in formation at the river’s edge.


25 October 2019

Borrowdale is known for many things including ancient deposits of some of the purest graphite on earth. There is an interesting article on the mining history of this material in Cumbria Life this month. Keswick Museum is holding free ‘Drawn to the Ground’ workshops next month as part of the ‘Being Human Festival’. At the hotel, we acknowledged this local link through naming our bar ‘The Graphite Bar’ and having Derwent pencils available for those budding artists amongst our guests, to use to express their creativity. Maybe someone will draw a stag or deer which have become more common in the fells around the hotel, and even occasionally in the hotel grounds, at this rutting time of year.


October 15 2019

The autumnul colours are in full flow now. In the hotel grounds the golden leafs fall from the trees and are collected to make leaf mould which will be used as mulch for various parts of the garden next spring. It is a time also to gather in the geraniums and hanging baskets, cut the ferns and evergreen shrubs and trim the leylandii hedges bordering the crevice garden. Across the Borrowdale valley the bracken on the fells below Maiden Moor has turned a rusty iron colour. It is very mild today with barely a breath of wind. The surface waters of Derwentwater, not surprisingly, have a rare stillness. Pleasant bird song punctuates this peaceful scene with curious robins taking an active interest in the activity around the grounds.


21 September 2019

The mornings have been quite crisp these past few days, but the afternoons in Borrowdale have been warm and sunny under clear blue skies. People are out everywhere enjoying themselves, walking in the fells above Derwentwater or even trying out the new ladder that the National Trust has recently installed at the nearby Bowder Stone. In the hotel garden, the lime coloured leaves of the full grown Tulip Tree provide a contrast to the darker greens of the surrounding trees. A nut hatch sweeps back and forth from these trees to visit the bird feeders, where it competes with the blue tits, great tits and the occasional red squirrel.


23 August 2019

August is usually a month of variable weather in this part of the Lake District. This year is no exception. It is bright and sunny in Borrowdale today but yesterday it was wet and cold. Lake Derwentwater’s levels are high following the recent heavy rain and this restricted walking access across to Brandlehow. However, as the water levels recede, the footpath is revealed once again and walks from our side of the valley to the boardwalk on the other side offer stunning views, particularly north towards Skiddaw, which sits majestically above Keswick. Once across the other side of the lake there are plenty of walking options for a good day out: up high to Catbells and Maiden Moor; turn right to go around the lake or turn left to Grange and back to the hotel. Whichever route is taken, there are the first early signs that the greenery of summer is making way for a more autumnal palette.