The Duchess of Northumberland has sought to avoid a row with one of the country’s most popular visitor attractions following her claims that it “copied” from her garden project.
The Duchess has said she believes the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew to be a “fantastic facility” after a national newspaper reproduced her comments in The Journal that it had copied ideas from her Alnwick Garden attraction and was looking to mimic its Treehouse.
She has also said her comments had been about how “standardisation and replicating things results in visitors and children never having new experiences,” which she labelled “really sad.”
Bosses at Kew had similarly sought to keep the peace in their statement denying the copying claims, with their comments about treehouses labelling the garden’s a “fine example of how to do it exceptionally well.”
The duchess - who on Wednesday opened a new housing unit in Newcastle - was quoted in The Journal talking about a conversation with the chairman of Kew’s board of trustees Marcus Agius while he was visiting her Alnwick Castle home as part of a shooting party.
She said: “He said, ‘Jane, I want to know about your Treehouse.’ It was in a breakfast meeting with the whole shooting party, and alarm bells rang.
“I immediately said no. I’d given a talk at Kew Gardens and he had his board of directors sitting there taking notes – they copied the walkways ideas from us and now he wanted to copy the treehouse idea.”
After her comments reported, the duchess issued a statement to clarify her claims, in which she heaped praise on the London site.
She said: “I’m a great supporter of Kew Gardens and think it’s a fantastic facility for those visiting or living in London. The point I was trying to make is that standardisation and replicating things results in visitors and children never having new experiences which is really sad. I have always believed that you should only build what has been built before if you can better the design but ideally you’d come up with something new and original.”
Bosses at Kew were similarly full of praise for the Alnwick site in a statement they issued to deny having copied from the duchess’ project.
The site’s managers said the idea for their Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway project had originated in 2001, the same year the Alnwick attraction had opened.
They said they “drew our inspiration from the wonderful, large scale walkways that are found in Australia, South Africa and Indonesia and, closer to home, the Forestry Commission’s Tree Top Way in Salcey Forest.”
Bosses also stressed they had yet to decide whether they would be developing a treehouse.
Gay Coley, director of public programmes, said: “Treehouses have become increasingly popular over the last 15 years and Alnwick’s treehouse is a fine example of how to do it exceptionally well.”
The duchess meanwhile opened a new extra care housing scheme in Walker.
St Anthony of Padua Community Association, a charity based in Walker, have recently renovated St Francis of Assisi Church on Stotts Rd into 16 one bedroom flats for older tenants with physical, mental and cognitive impairments.
Assisi House will provide safe housing and high quality care to the most vulnerable and isolated within the local community with 24 hour support on site, provided by St Anthony’s Care Services.
The charity’s first venture into housing has been made possible with the financial and practical support of Newcastle City Council, The William Leech Charity and The Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.
The duchess said: “I am amazed at what I’ve seen today during my visit to Assisi House Extra Care. This scheme is an excellent example of how we, in the North East, look after older people with the respect they deserve. The 16 flats are a great use of a redundant church building and have been designed in a way that enables residents to maintain their independence and dignity.”