History of Harlow Carr

The story of RHS Garden Harlow Carr

The RHS merged with the Northern Horticultural Society in 2001 and, with the merger, came the acquisition of its garden, Harlow Carr.

The Northern Horticultural Society was founded in 1946 with the objective of 'promoting and developing the science, art and practice of horticulture with special reference to the conditions pertaining to the North of England'.

The Society leased 10.5ha (26 acres) of mixed woodland, pasture and arable land at Harlow Hill from Harrogate Corporation and opened the Harlow Carr Botanical Gardens in 1950.The chief aim was to set up a trial ground where the suitability of plants for growing in northern climates could be assessed and the original 10.5ha has since been extended to 23.4ha (58 acres).

Ancient hunting ground and spa


The gardens stand on what was once part of the Forest of Knaresborough, an ancient Royal hunting ground. Springs of sulphur water were discovered here in 1734 but development of the site as a spa did not take place for more than 100 years. In 1840, Henry Wright, the owner of the estate, cleaned out and protected one of the wells and four years later built a hotel and a bath house.

The hotel known as the Harrogate Arms and the land surrounding it was acquired by the RHS in 2014 and plans are in progress to restore the building, create new gardens around it and reintroduce its links with the old bath house. The wellheads in front of the bath house (at one time six wells were in use) were capped off but remain beneath the present Limestone Rock Garden. At certain times the smell of sulphur in this area is quite distinct.

Since the merger with the RHS there have been many developments at the garden including the creation of the Montague-Burton Teaching Garden, Gardens Through Time and the Winter Walk. The Main Borders have undergone a stunning redesign and Annuals Meadows have been creatively themed using willow-woven sculptures. The Woodland has been regenerated and now includes a Rhododendron Glade full of spring-flowering bulbs. The Alpine House and £3.3m Bramall Learning Centre, one of the greenest buildings in the country, are the latest additions to Harlow Carr.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.