Greenfields – a secret garden

One of the delights of the National Garden Scheme is that it gives you the chance to look around otherwise private plots. Occasionally, it is a ‘peep over a garden wall’ into a space that is otherwise completely hidden. Greenfields, Little Rissington, is such a garden.

I must have driven past on the road out of Bourton-on-the-Water countless times but thanks to hedges and gates there’s no indication of the garden behind.

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The garden has been created over the past 16 years

Not that 16 years ago when Diana and Mark MacKenzie-Charrington bought the old Cotswold house there was much of a garden. Grass, some trees and a lot of black sheds pretty much sums up what the couple took on.

Looking at the garden now, it seems hard to believe. Despite visiting on a less than perfect day – frequent showers, grey skies and a blustery wind that was scattering blossom like confetti and battering the remaining tulips – there was plenty of colour and interest.

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Wind and rain were scattering blossom

It’s obvious that this garden has been designed: carefully focussed vistas, colour co-ordinated borders and glimpses of garden through neat blocks of hedging.

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Carefully placed gaps in hedges allow views through

So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Diana had ‘phoned a friend’ for help. Katie Lukas is well known among Cotswold gardeners, the former owner of Stone House at Wyck Rissington (now called Laurence House) and a garden designer.

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The path weaves through mounds of plants

She in turn suggested calling in Sherborne Gardens and John Hill’s influence is obvious in the long snaking path through mounds of lavender, hebe and geraniums, topped by mop-headed Portuguese laurel. It’s similar to the Yew Walk at Littlefield and just as effective.

Against the wall alongside are roses, ceanothus and a golden hop, a reference to the family’s brewing history.

At Greenfields, the path forms the perfect view from Mark’s office to a white seat backed by yew.

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Alliums and ceanothus are the stars at this time of year

In fact, views from the house were high on the list of requirements when John drew up plans for the garden.

“What I always wanted and always liked is that you can see the garden from every single room in the house,” says Diana. “We’re so lucky because not many people have that.”

Near the house, a sunken area is used for al fresco meals while what was originally intended to be a herb garden because of its proximity to the kitchen is now used for annuals: tulips and anemones followed by cosmos and gaura, which is lifted every year and overwintered in the greenhouse.

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Hebe is used instead of box to give structure

“It’s at the bottom of a hill on heavy clay and it rains a lot in England so everything died,” says Diana with a wry smile.

Beyond, the edges of what would have been a large rectangular lawn have been rounded off by borders filled with roses in pink and cream, and perennials, including phlox, aconitum, hostas and, at this time of year, masses of white and purple alliums. The planting is punctuated with mounds of hebe, an interesting variation on the traditional box balls.

“It’s quite a flowery, pretty garden,” comments Diana.

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Crab apples add height to the front garden

It’s a theme that continues into the garden in front of the house, which Diana has created with Katie’s help. Crab apples pruned to a neat goblet add height to borders of peonies, exochorda, and frothy Alchemilla mollis.

Against the house itself is a beautiful Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ and – when your own wisteria has been hit by frost – an envy-inducing display of pale lavender blooms.

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Wisteria cloaks one wall

Throughout Greenfields, Cotswold stone walls and hedges – beech, hawthorn and laurel – have been used to divide and create smaller, more intimate areas or to hide the ‘working parts’, including chickens, compost and a neat vegetable garden.

A recent addition has been the creation of a wildlife pond – the spoil has been used to make a ‘viewing mound’.

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Cow parsley is allowed its head on the edges of the garden

Diana says she didn’t want a garden that was too structured and, towards the edges, the style softens with cow parsley and mown paths through long grass, giving a gradual movement into surrounding fields.

There is, however, just enough structure to give it shape and interest – even on a gloomy day.

Greenfields Little Rissington is open for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday May 28, 2017, from 2-6pm. Admission is £5, children’s entry is free. The event is part of the NGS Anniversary Weekend marking 90 years of the scheme and more than 370 gardens will be open across England and Wales. For more details, see the NGS website.

Discovering new gardens

I’ve been venturing further afield with a Garden Media Guild trip to see two of Herefordshire’s notable gardens.

Not even icy air and occasional hail storms can dull the delight at discovering new gardens. Not that the two I visited last week were entirely unknown to me. I interviewed Sir Roy Strong and reviewed his book about The Laskett some years ago, while the country plot of Tamsin Westhorpe, former editor of The English Garden magazine, is well-known in gardening media circles. But I had never seen them and was intrigued.

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The Dingle is Tamsin’s favourite area

We started with the four-acre Stockton Bury, and what Tamsin describes as “quite a new garden”.

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White wood anemones made a lovely display

These include a working kitchen garden with beautifully shaped apple trees, shrub and perennial borders and a water garden, all set against some stunning old buildings: the dovecot with an entrance so low even I had to duck and barns that are now used for displays of old tools and as a restaurant.

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I’d not seen a white form of the skunk cabbage before
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Moss on walls and staddle stones gave the garden an established feel

Although horticultural standards are high with weed-free beds and neat lawn edges – helped by wooden edging boards – this is part of a working farm and the garden has to work with, among other things, moving stock.

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Tender plants were sheltering in the greenhouse

“It’s the scariest event when we have these sheep coming through,” Tamsin tells us.

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Tropaeolum tricolour

Among the highlights for me were the Dingle, a spring-fed water garden that Tamsin says is her favourite place to work, and the newly constructed auricula theatre alongside the farmhouse.

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The auriculas are a recent addition
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I also liked the informality of the garden with plants spilling out of walls

The Laskett is another relatively young garden, created by Sir Roy Strong and his late wife Julia Trevelyan Oman.

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There’s topiary throughout The Laskett

Sir Roy describes it as autobiographical, not least because the garden was funded by the couple’s work in the arts; Julia was a designer, Sir Roy director of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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Colonnade Court replaced the kitchen garden in 2013.

The garden is like a four-acre series of stage sets, many named for events – ‘The Silver Jubilee Garden’ – or for the source of funding, such as the ‘Pierpont Morgan Rose Garden’, paid for with the fee for a series of lectures Sir Roy gave in New York. I particularly liked Elizabeth Tudor Avenue with its juxtaposition of pleached limes, swagged beech and clipped yew.

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Contrasting hedges in Elizabeth Tudor Avenue
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The pleached lime was much admired

There are numerous ‘props’: statues, urns, and rescued pieces of ancient stonework, including pieces from the old Palace of Westminster.

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Crowned rose from the old Palace of Westminster which burned down in 1834.

And, like any good stage set, there are multiple ways to enter and exit each space, with long vistas or tempting glimpses enticing you to explore.

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The Silver Jubilee Garden

The Laskett, once a purely private space, has opened regularly since 2010.

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The apple blossom was lovely

“It’s given me a new focus in my life,” says Sir Roy, who has bequeathed the garden to horticulture charity Perennial. “It’s such a delight to share it.”

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The Diamond Jubilee Urn at The Laskett

The Laskett is open to pre-booked groups from mid-April to the end of September. Details on the website

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Beehives at Stockton Bury garden

Stockton Bury is open to groups by appointment from April to the end of September. See website for details.

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Blockley gardens: a lesson in colour at Church Gates

Blockley gardens are one of the most popular village openings in the National Garden Scheme’s Cotswold calendar. I’ve been admiring the tulips at Church Gates.

Visiting gardens can be a dangerous pastime. I rarely leave without at least one more ‘must-have’ plant on an ever-growing list. And Brenda Salmon’s cottage garden is particularly perilous.

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The ‘polite garden’ is a mix of pink, purple and white

Although it’s one of the smaller plots in the Blockley gardens group, it is stuffed with envy-inducing plants, including one of my favourites: tulips.

Name a colour and she has an example, from yellow, white and orange through to deep crimson, pink and lilac. There are slender tulip-shaped blooms, blousy doubles, tall, stately varieties and others that squat low to the ground.

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Lavender Tulipa ‘Candy Prince’ is one of Brenda’s favourites

What makes it stand-out thought is her skill in putting a border together, proving that you don’t need acres of space to make a real impact.

The garden, in the shadow of the village church, divides into what she laughingly refers to as “my polite and my impolite gardens”.

Visitors, who encounter the polite version first, are lulled into a sense of traditional English charm. Shades of purple, pink and lavender dominate a long border that runs most of the length of the cottage garden.

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Wallflowers in shades of mauve partner the tulips

Backed by one of the beautiful old Cotswold walls for which the village is known, it is a harmonious mix with just enough white – mainly from Tulipa ‘Purissima’ – to stop it becoming bland.

Just some of the tulips that have crept onto my list for next year are the double purple ‘Showcase’, lavender ‘Candy Prince’ and the dark ‘Negrita’. I also fell in love with ‘Flaming Flag’, a pale lavender white with darker purple feathering and ‘Vanilla Cream’, which has a hint of green to its creamy petals.

Woven through the display is a striking purple-flowered honesty with dark stems, which has self-seeded along the border.

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In a small space even the compost bin must look good

“As I was planting, I just pulled out what I didn’t want,” says Brenda, “so it appears random, which is quite nice.”

Big clumps of wallflowers in chintzy shades echo the colours of the tulips, there’s more purple from a recently added cut-leafed elder, and the promise of later colour with geraniums, phlox, aconitums, astrantias and masses of alliums.

Like many of the Blockley gardens, the layout of Brenda’s plot isn’t a regular shape and a second part of the garden is hidden from immediate view behind a wall.

This element of surprise has been used to the full with little to prepare you for the blast of colour that awaits. Tulips in fiery shades of orange, yellow and scarlet, narcissi in gold and lemon, yellow and orange wallflowers, and scarlet ranunculus dominate the ‘impolite garden’.

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The ‘impolite garden’ has fiery colours

It should be a jarring clash of colours but it works thanks to the copious amounts of green from still-to-flower herbaceous and the acid green of Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’, which threads its way through the beds.

“What I want is for people to come around the corner and say ‘Oh! That’s different,” she says.

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Lots of green helps to bind the bright colours

While it’s easy to be dazzled by the immediate display, what both gardens have in common is the need for closer inspection. Tucked in at the feet of the tulips are smaller delights: named varieties of primula and dainty muscari among them.

Step-over apples form a pretty, low ‘hedge’ alongside the greenhouse, there’s a collection of planted ‘pails’ on the tiny patio and a small rockery filling an otherwise awkward space by steps.

Despite its size, the garden has numerous clematis and more than 50 roses, most draped over the boundary walls.

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Step-over apples make a low hedge

Each plant is carefully labelled and the main borders are divided into lettered blocks, a trick learned in her previous Cornish garden, which included a 90ft by 10ft border.

“It helped to know where to go to look for things,” explains Brenda, who moved to Blockley with her husband, Graham, six years ago.

Now, on a smaller scale, the grid system means she can organise her planting more easily: “I spend hours doing plans beforehand but things don’t always go exactly where I planned.”

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Pails are planted with a mix of spring bedding

She usually leaves the tulips in the ground and just adds to the display but fed up with too many ‘blind’ bulbs this year she is intending to lift them all and start again.

Despite the well-stocked beds, she, like me, has a growing ‘must-buy’ plant list and when we met had just been scouring the local market for new things.

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Brenda is planning to replace the tulips for next season

“Because I do plant so close things get overtaken sometimes and I have to move it or lose it,” she says. “It depends what’s the most important.”

Church Gates is one of seven Blockley gardens open for the NGS from 2-6pm on Sunday April 23, 2017. Combined admission is £6. For more details, visit the NGS website

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A garden crafted by nature

Sometimes nature proves to be the better gardener. So often in my own plot self-sown plants have colonised corners I’d overlooked or created partnerships far better than anything I’d considered. The knack is knowing when to let nature have her head and when to take control.

Home Farm is one of those Gloucestershire gardens where the attraction is not a carefully planned herbaceous border, neatly clipped topiary or clever design. Rather it is the chance to savour a slice of unspoilt English countryside with spring flowers and envy-inducing views.

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Naturalised daffodils are a spring highlight

The garden is one that Torill Freeman has known since childhood – she moved to Home Farm from the nearby Manor House 26 years ago – and she remembers playing in the woods as a child.

It’s these woods, a mixture of larch, sweet chestnut, lime and cherry, that form the backdrop to a spring display that starts with snowdrops and finishes with bluebells.

And most of it has been crafted by nature, with ‘gardening’ kept to the lightest of touches.

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The view stretches to the Cotswold Hills

“The only management I do in the garden is to have the undergrowth cleared once a year between October and Christmas,” says Torill. “Then the spring flowers will all come up.”

The garden has a walk through woods and fields of about half-a mile, which takes around 20 minutes – if you are not distracted by the flowers.

You start at what Torill refers to as ‘Larch Corner’ and, at this time of year, a show of yellow. There’s a large clump of open-faced narcissi – name unknown – and the start of the dainty, Dymock daffodil. This is called after the nearby village of Dymock and grows wild throughout the area.

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The Dymock daffodil grows wild in the area

Torill has added some acid-lovers, including a single, pink camellia that is covered in blooms.

“I was determined to have a single pink, not a double and not a dark pink.”

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The camellia is covered in blooms

Cross a field and the next big display is in ‘Snowdrop Wood’, although it is now sporting shades of pale yellow and mauve rather than white. The snowdrops – the common Galanthus nivalus, both single and double, and another unknown variety – are still in evidence but the display is now being handed on to more Dymock daffodils.

These rise out of a carpet of purple-blue vinca blooms, which, like the daffodils, is a result of nature’s hand rather than Torill’s. It is a beautiful combination.

“Most of my garden is God-given,” observes Torill.

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The purple-blue and yellow make a lovely combination

The next stage is her own work. ‘Spring Spinney’ is a slightly elevated section of path that has been planted up with more open-faced narcissi. When I visited, there were only one or two in bloom but the bulging buds signalled the full display is not far away.

Because the flowers turn to face the sun, visitors walking the suggested route look up into them as they climb the path.

“I had no idea of that when I first planted them,” admits Torill. “It’s just a very happy accident.”

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Vinca covers the ground

The walk ends with‘Bluebell Wood’ where April will see masses of English bluebells and wood anemones. This early in the season, interest comes from a few snowdrops – around 1,000 have been moved up there.

Home Farm also has an area of orchids with the common spotted, early purple and, some years, bee orchids. Again, I was too early to see those.

There’s also a fun element: Torill has planted an ‘Alphabet Wood’ with trees ranging from A to Z, using either their common or Latin names. Among its members are Acer davidii and Zelkova serrata.

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‘Snowdrop Wood’ is turning yellow

Near the house, there’s a small vegetable garden, a wide range of shrubs and an enclosed space full of pink and white winter heathers. Even here, care has been taken not to block the view, which stretches out to the Cotswold escarpment.

It’s a view that Torill never tires of watching and one of the reasons why she opens Home Farm for the National Garden Scheme.

“It changes every hour. It’s quite fantastic. I do so enjoy it but I think it’s very important to share it.”

Home Farm, Huntley, Gloucestershire, is open for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday March 12, and also on April 9 and 30, from 11-4pm. Admission is £3, children enter free. Visits are also welcome by arrangement. For more information, visit the NGS website.

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Cheered by the sight of yellow

The publication of the National Garden Scheme guide heralds the start of the gardening year and in Gloucestershire there’s lots on offer.

Maybe it’s the cheerful yellow cover but there’s nothing quite like the arrival of The National Garden Scheme’s handbook to lift the spirits.

It marks the start of the garden visiting season proper and opportunities to discover garden gems while raising cash for charity.

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Sezincote is one of the original NGS gardens

And it’s an anticipation that doesn’t dull with time; I’ve been writing about and visiting Gloucestershire NGS gardens for nearly two decades but I still eagerly await the new season.

Partly, it’s the possibility of discovering something new, partly the chance to revisit old favourites, to catch up with their owners and see what changes have been made.

The National Garden Scheme raises money for a range of charities, including Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie Cancer Care, and this year celebrates its 90th anniversary – dropping the ‘s’ on Garden in its name as part of a rebranding. Four Gloucestershire gardens have been opening since 1927: Berkeley Castle, Sezincote, Stanway House and Westonbirt School.

In Gloucestershire, the combination of entrance fees, plant sales and the famous homemade teas raised nearly £120,000 last year.

“We are delighted,” says county organiser Norman Jeffery. “It was our second-best result ever and slightly more than the previous year.”

This season, there are five new main plots in the Gloucestershire collection spread right across the area from the Forest of Dean to the north Cotswolds.

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Berkeley Castle is one of the ‘1927 gardens’

First to open among the newcomers is Forsdene Walk, Coalway, on April 30 and again on July 2. Regular Gloucestershire NGS supporters will know the owner, Pamela Buckland, from her previous garden, Meadow Cottage, which she opened for many years.

This is her new plot, which she has redesigned to have different areas filled with perennials, climbers and lots of pots.

The garden will open jointly with her former garden, which is also in Coalway.

The next new garden to open is Downton House, another small plot this time in the heart of Painswick. Owned by a plant enthusiast, this walled garden features many rare and unusual specimens and opens on May 17.

Greenfields, at Little Rissington, is a two-acre country garden surrounding a classic Cotswold stone house. It’s been developed over the past 16 years with a mix of flowers, fruit, veg and free-range hens. It opens on May 28.

Oakwood Farm did open last year to stage a plant fair but this year it’s joined by three gardens in the village of Upper Minety, near Cirencester. The event, on June 25 will include a flower festival in the village church and the plant fair featuring specialist nurseries.

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The Manor House, Blockley is part of a village opening

The last of the newcomers to open is Brocklehurst in Hawling, near Cheltenham. Described as a “romantic Cotswold garden”, it has traditional herbaceous borders and a woodland wildlife garden. The open dates, on July 2 and 9, will be combined with Littlefield, another NGS garden in the village.

In addition to these, there are several new gardens in long established village openings, including Blockley, Ashley & Culkerton and the Eastcombe, Bussage and Brownshill group events.

As part of the National Garden Scheme 90th anniversary celebrations, there is a special Festival Weekend on the Bank Holiday weekend from May 27-29. In Gloucestershire, 14 gardens, including two village events, will take place, promising a bonanza for garden-lovers.

For full details of individual openings, including timings and ticket prices, visit the NGS website.

The national handbook, Gardens to Visit 2017, is priced at £11.99. The Gloucestershire county booklet is free with donations welcomed.

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Discovering snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

Take on an established garden in the summer and you would expect to see most of what it has to offer. There may be the odd winter-flowering shrub, or some spring bulbs to discover but the rest of the year is unlikely to hold many big surprises. Colesbourne Park is different as new head gardener Arthur Cole is finding out.

When he arrived last year, the Cotswold garden’s snowdrops were hiding underground. Now, with the snowdrop season well underway, he’s beginning to see what makes this garden special.

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‘Fiona’s Gold’ is one of the yellow snowdrops at Colesbourne

“Seeing things coming up now is so exciting,” he says.

Already there are big drifts of ‘S Arnott’, ‘Ophelia’ and ‘John Gray’ spread out under the trees and this year, there’s the added bonus of ‘Colossus’, which is flowering weeks later than normal.

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‘John Gray’ is out in the garden

“I was told ‘Colossus’ came up at Christmas and was finished by the end of January. This year they were only just poking their noses up around Christmas. Now they are looking amazing.”

Meanwhile, more unusual varieties, such as the yellow ‘Carolyn Elwes’, are flowering in raised beds near the house and in the Spring Garden, where snowdrops are grown with a mix of shrubs and perennials in a woodland setting.

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The Spring Garden has a mix of early blooms

Arthur, who trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, arrived as the long job of lifting and dividing the snowdrops was underway at Colesbourne.

The garden, which has more than 300 different varieties, is known for its mass displays through woodland and alongside the unusual blue lake; the colour is thought to be due to suspended clay particles in the water.

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The blue lake is a notable feature

Every year, Colesbourne’s owners Sir Henry Elwes, his wife, Carolyn, and the garden team, lift, divide and extend the display.

“All that was here was the grass, markers and gaps marked on pieces of paper,” recalls Arthur.

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Viburnum flowers add a dash of pink to the display

What guides the work is the knowledge built up over decades of not only Sir Henry and Lady Elwes, who started expanding the collection in the 60s, but also gardener Will Fletcher who has worked at Colesbourne for many years.

“Having that experience is invaluable.”

Arthur says lifting the clumps was like “digging for gold” – an apt description as some of the snowdrops are sold to help fund the garden.

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‘Ding Dong’

One third of each clump is replaced with the rest either potted up for sale, or replanted to extend the display.

And making the show even bigger is one of his main objectives.

“What I’m aiming to do is expand the snowdrops right along the lake,” says Arthur. “I want different varieties that are diverse enough to show the differences clearly.”

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Cyclamen are an important part of the show

Already, there’s been some replanting on the raised path while on the lake’s banks, where the ground is too heavy for snowdrops, more trees have been put in, including Pinus orientalis and a Californian nutmeg, grown from seed.

Other changes since I last visited include moving a boundary fence to bring ‘George’s Garden’ further into the main garden. Now, you can walk around both sides of the border of shrubs and trees while the arboretum is being extended with more trees and snowdrops up to the new boundary.

The trees, many of them planted by Sir Henry’s great-grandfather the Victorian plant hunter Henry John Elwes, make a stunning setting for the snowdrops, which are mixed with cyclamen and aconites.

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Snowdrops are spread throughout the arboretum

And it’s what Arthur refers to as the “macro and micro” interest of Colesbourne that makes it different.

“You’ve got champion trees, the ‘blue lagoon’, and then the snowdrops all in a concentrated package.”

Colesbourne Park, between Cheltenham and Cirencester, is open every Saturday and Sunday until March 5 2017. Gates open at 1pm and last entry is at 4.30pm. Entry is £8 for adults, children under 16 enter free.

A snowdrop study day will be held on February 15 with snowdrop experts John Grimshaw and Judge Ernest Cavallo. Numbers are limited and tickets must be pre-booked. See the website for more details.

For more Cotswold snowdrop gardens open in 2017 see here

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Cotswold Snowdrop Gardens 2017

Snowdrop gardens are universally popular when it comes to garden visiting. From the passionate collectors – galanthophiles – to people who don’t garden themselves, everyone welcomes the chance to shake off the winter blues and get outside.

In the Cotswolds, there are several notable snowdrop gardens and many more with smaller displays.

Some of these are opening as part of the National Gardens Scheme Snowdrop Festival. More than 80 of the scheme’s members across the country will open during February to show off their snowdrop collections or spring displays of snowdrops, hellebores and other early flowers.

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Snowdrops are a welcome sign of spring approaching

Launched last year as an addition to the regular charity openings, the festival proved very popular.

“During our first Snowdrop Festival in 2016 many of our garden owners were overwhelmed by the number of visitors that attended their openings,” says NGS chief executive George Plumptre.

So, whether you’re an enthusiast wanting to see unusual varieties or someone who loves the spectacle of a mass planting, there are many snowdrop gardens you can visit. Here’s what happening in the Cotswolds this year.

With all the gardens, it is advisable to check they are still open in the event of severe weather.

Colesbourne Park

One of the best-known specialist displays is at Colesbourne Park, which has around 300 different varieties, one of the largest collections in the country.

snowdrop gardens
Colesbourne Park has a large collection of snowdrops

Once the home of Victorian plant hunter Henry John Elwes, who introduced Galanthus elwesii, it has unusual varieties around the house and mass plantings through woodland and beside the unusual blue lake.

The garden, between Cheltenham and Cirencester, is open every Saturday and Sunday from Saturday February 4 until Sunday March 5. Gates open at 1pm with the last entry at 4.30pm. Admission is £8, children under 16 enter free.

Rodmarton Manor

Rodmarton Manor is another of the snowdrop gardens that appeals to collectors, with around 150 different varieties, including many that are rare.

Although the display begins in October, it is at its peak during January and February.

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Rodmarton Manor has many named varieties

The garden, between Cirencester and Tetbury, also has many crocus, hellebores, cyclamen and aconites.

It is open on February 5, 12, 16, and 19 from 1.30pm with group bookings possible on other days.

Cotswold Farm Gardens

The snowdrop collection at this Arts and Crafts garden at Duntisbourne Abbots was started in the 1930s and has been developed since then by generations of the Birchall family.

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Snowdrops are found all over Cotswold Farm

Today, it numbers 62 different varieties, including ‘Cotswold Farm’. There are labelled clumps in the main flower borders and areas of naturalised snowdrops through woodland.

There is a ‘Winter Step Garden’ with a focus on scent and texture and the garden also has many hellebores, aconites, cyclamen and crocus.

It is open on Saturday and Sunday February 11 and 12 from 11-3pm in aid of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. Entry is £5.

Cotswold Farm Gardens are also open on Mondays February 13, 20 and 27, from 11-3pm with entrance £5.

Cerney House Gardens

Cerney House is another private garden with a mix of named varieties of snowdrops and a naturalised display of the common snowdrop.

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Cerney House has an informal snowdrop display around the main garden

Special snowdrops are found around the house with more informal plantings in woodland around the central walled garden.

Aconites, cyclamen and borders full of hellebores add to the show in this garden at North Cerney between Cheltenham and Cirencester.

Cerney House Gardens are open daily from 10-5pm until the end of November. Admission is £5 for adults and £1 for children.

Painswick Rococo Garden

When it comes to a mass display, Painswick Rococo is one of the best snowdrop gardens.

Thousands of mainly Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, put on a spectacular display through woodland with more naturalised in grass and teamed with other spring flowers in the borders.

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Winter sun on the Eagle House at Painswick Rococo Garden

There are some named varieties but it is sheer scale that makes this garden stand out.

Winter is also a great time to see the appreciate the structure of this idiosyncratic valley garden with its striking folly buildings.

Painswick Rococo Garden is open daily until October 31 from 10.30-5pm with a snowdrop talk every day at noon during February. Admission is £7.20 adults, children five to 16 £3.30 and the website includes updates on the snowdrops.

Batsford Arboretum

Batsford may be best known for its trees with beautiful spring blossom and stunning autumn colour but it also has many drifts of snowdrops.

snowdrop gardens
Hellebores are another late winter highlight at Batsford Arboretum

Set alongside the privately owned Batsford Park, once the home of the Mitford sisters, the arboretum has a garden-like atmosphere with trees grouped for effect rather than by genus.

Snowdrops, hellebores, cyclamen and aconites make it a great place to visit in the winter with long views over the Cotswold countryside.

Batsford, near Moreton-in-Marsh, is open daily from 9-5pm and 10-5pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Admission is £7.95 adults, children aged four to 15 £3.50 (prices include voluntary 10% donation to the arboretum’s conservation work).

Newark Park

Newark Park is one of the snowdrop gardens where the appeal is the size of the display rather than the rarity of the flowers.

snowdrop gardens
Snowdrops are naturalised around the old hunting lodge at Newark Park

The snowdrops are naturalised around the old hunting lodge and through woodland on the estate. There are also long-reaching views thanks to the sloping site.

The National Trust property at Ozleworth is opening for a special snowdrop weekend on February 4 and 5 from 11am-4pm. Admission is £9 adults and £4.50 for children.

The NGS Snowdrop Festival

Four Gloucestershire gardens are opening for the National Gardens Scheme’s Snowdrop Festival.

Home Farm, Huntley, has lovely views and spring flowers along a one-mile walk through woodland and fields. It is open for the Snowdrop Festival on Sunday February 12 from 11-3pm. Admission is £3, free for children.

Lindors Country House, near Lydney, covers nine acres with woodland, streams and formal gardens. It is open for the festival on Saturday and Sunday February 25 and 26. Admission is £3.50, children enter free.

snowdrop gardens
The NGS is holding its second Snowdrop Festival

The Old Rectory at Avening has naturalised snowdrops, woodland and an Italianate terrace. It’s snowdrop opening is on Sunday February 19 from 11.30-4pm. Admission is £3.50, children’s entry free.

Trench Hill at Sheepscombe is well known for its spring display of snowdrops, aconites, hellebores and crocus. It has a woodland walk and good views over the Cotswold countryside. It’s open for the festival on Sundays February 12 and 19 from 11-5pm. Admission is 4, children enter free.

For more details on the Snowdrop Festival and for the gardens’ other opening dates, visit the NGS website.

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Sarah takes over at historic Cotswold garden

When we meet, Sarah Malleson is just one week into her new role as Head Gardener at Hidcote Manor Garden and still shaking her head in disbelief.

A career change 13 years ago saw her join the world-famous Arts and Crafts garden on a National Trust apprenticeship scheme in 2005. Now she is heading up the 11-strong gardening team.

hidcote
Hidcote’s new head gardener Sarah Malleson

“I still cannot quite believe it,” says Sarah, who is the first woman to run the Hidcote garden. “Thirteen years ago I never thought I would reach this.”

She has taken over in the lead role following the departure at the beginning of last year of Glyn Jones to become head of gardens at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon.

hidcote
Hidcote attracts thousands of visitors a year

Glyn had worked for the Trust for 29 years and had been in charge at Hidcote for 16 years, overseeing the huge 10-year restoration project that has seen elements of Lawrence Johnston’s original garden reinstated, including the plant shelter and alpine terrace.

hidcote
Winter shows off the structure that underpins Hidcote

Sarah didn’t apply when the job was first advertised, as she had just started work as Hidcote’s Visitor Experience Manager, drawing on her previous experience in customer services and marketing. But when the Trust did not appoint and the role was re-advertised last autumn, she put her name forward.

“Doing the Visitor Experience Manager job was a good thing and I enjoyed it but it made me realise my heart is really in the garden,” she says, adding that it’s also given her a better understanding of how Hidcote and the Trust are run.

hidcote
The clipped framework of branches is clear against a winter sky

Meanwhile, Michelle Bailey has been appointed as the new Visitor Experience Manager, and Richard Armstrong took over as Catering Manager last year.

So soon into her new job Sarah has few detailed plans but priorities include maintaining standards of horticulture, getting to know her team and recruiting for another gardener to bring their numbers up to full strength.

She’s also unlikely to make any huge changes after an unsettled few years: Hidcote had a caretaker Head Gardener in 2014 while Glyn was on secondment to Dyffryn Gardens in Wales, followed by Glyn’s departure and part-time guidance from Stourhead’s Alan Powers over last summer and autumn while the Trust sought to fill the job.

hidcote
There’s plenty of colour in the garden

“This year is about settling things back down, learning about my role and making longer term plans.”

Adding more jewels and banishing blight

It will include drawing up a five-year plan, important in any garden but particularly so in one with the historic background of Hidcote and Sarah will be working closely with the conservation management plan.

“It will help us see whether things are as they should be.”

hidcote
Reinstating the Plant Shelter was part of the restoration project

Sarah, who oversaw the restoration of the Kitchen Garden a few years ago, is planning to look at each of Hidcote’s ‘garden rooms’ to ensure the planting is as good as it can be.

“I want to look at the historic plants and see what we’ve got, what’s missing, what things need propagating, what needs to be brought back into the garden.”

Some of that work has already been started by Assistant Head Gardener Sarah Davis, who has been rejuvenating the “horticultural jewels that sparkle in the borders”.

hidcote
Jasmine scents the air in the Plant Shelter

The team are also partway through restoring The Fuchsia Garden, a move that was forced on them by box blight. Like several Cotswold gardens – not least Highgrove and Barnsley House – Hidcote has had to remove some of its old box hedges.

It’s been used as an opportunity to redo the rest of the area with the beds cleared and brick paths relaid, using traditional lime mortar. Research is now being carried out on what planting Johnston used in this part of the garden.

hidcote
Work is ongoing in The Fuchsia Garden

“We’re not going to rush the planting but will look back at the history.”

There’s also been no decision yet on what to use to replace the box. Ilex crenata was tried in this part of the garden but failed to thrive and the team are waiting to see how Euonymus japonicus microphyllus fares in The Maple Garden.

“We need to wait and see how that does before planting The Fuchsia Garden because we will need a lot of plants for there.”

hidcote
Hidcote’s history guides today’s gardening team

Already the ‘to do’ list is starting to grow but Sarah says that’s the beauty of working at Hidcote.

“What’s nice is there’s plenty to get your teeth into here. It’s not as though it’s all done and you’re just trying to keep it the same. It’s ever changing and keeps the creative ideas flowing, which is exciting.”

Hidcote reopens on Saturday February 11, 2017 for one week during half-term. It is then open at weekends with normal opening from March. For more details, visit the website

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Tips for small gardens

small gardens

Small gardens may be easier to maintain than rolling acres but they are far more challenging to design. Hidden away in the heart of Cheltenham is a walled garden packed with interest and some great ideas for dealing with a small space.

Faced with a town centre garden that is little more than a courtyard, few of us would start by planting trees.

Yet, that’s just what Ro Swait did when she took on her Cheltenham garden.

Rather than planting in scale with a plot that is just 40ft at its widest point, she went big with Cornus ‘Norman Hadden’ and a katsura tree.

small gardens
The garden has lots of pots to give height

“You need to think big,” she explains. “and not be afraid to. The most important thing is structure, which you can then build on.”

It was all very different when Ro moved in 11 years ago. Then, the L-shaped, south west-facing plot was wall-to-wall paving, burning hot in summer and devoid of anything green.

“I nearly wept,” admits Ro, who works as a gardener with her daughter, Tam.

small gardens
Salvias add late season colour

One of her most successful alterations was extending out from the house using metal girders and glass to create a covered area.

“It keeps everything sheltered and means I can have really tender plants and keep them outdoors. It makes them tougher too.”

They include aeoniums, aloe and echeveria that are displayed on shelving against the house wall and in pots clustered on tables. Other containers have sempervivums, grasses and small shrubs.

Kalanchoe, more commonly seen as a houseplant, is thriving in its outdoor setting.

“I have some indoors as well but the one outside is doing much better.”

small gardens
The trees are pruned to keep them small

Further into the garden, the cornus and katsura now give all-important shade. They are cut back each winter to stop them getting too big and are gradually being trained to arch over the garden. Likewise, a Judas tree and Morello cherry are also kept small.

And they are not the only large scale plants as Ro has also planted holly, pittosporum, yew, eucalyptus and even a Magnolia grandiflora.

These provide winter interest and form a backdrop to seasonal colour that ranges from Martagon lilies, sedum and actaea to jasmine, campsis and echinacea.

Much of the planting is in raised beds and ground-level borders, created by lifting most of the original paving. The rest is in pots that frequently contain more than one plant.

small gardens
The elegant blooms of Actea simplex stand out against painted walls

“Things have to double up,” Ro says with a smile.

She also makes the most of the borders, keeping the ‘skirts’ of shrubs high to create space to plant underneath, while the walls, which have been painted to give them more interest, are used for climbers.

The high walls and closely planted borders mean that Ro is rarely troubled by weeds but the restricted space does mean she thinks carefully before buying something new.

“You have to really want the plant,” she says.

7 ideas for small gardens

small gardens

Make storage space double up as a plant display area. These shelves hold bamboo poles and labels as well as plants.

small gardens

Even small gardens can have fruit and veg. Here a tomato is grown in a pot.

small gardens

Plant in layers and lift the skirts of shrubs to give space for bulbs and low-growing things.

small gardens

Play with levels either with raised beds or by putting pots on tables or plinths.

small gardens

Add a seat – small gardens are better suited to sitting in than walking around.

small gardens

• Use containers to change the display, either with seasonal bedding or bulbs, or by simply moving them around to create a new look.

small gardens

• Think big: fewer but bigger plants will be more effective than lots of small things.

Read my review of New Small Garden by Noel Kingsbury here

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Cheltenham open gardens

Cheltenham hasn’t taken part in the National Gardens Scheme for many years and now like a fleet of London buses, not one but nine gardens have come along.

Ranging from a tiny courtyard to a medium-sized family plot, they will be opening their gates to the public this week.

When I first started writing about the area, there were gardens in the town that opened for the NGS but when those stopped the county organisation struggled to find replacements.

There have been the occasional events for smaller causes, such as town charities or groups, but nothing for the ‘Yellow Book’.

cheltenham open gardens
Sunflowers are one of the late performers on show

It’s something that’s always puzzled me given the charity’s strength in the rest of the county, Cheltenham’s reputation for its flowers, and the number of keen gardeners it has; the thriving horticultural society celebrates its 75th anniversary next year.

Now, as the 2016 season comes to a close, Cheltenham is back on the NGS garden-visiting map.

I’ve been along to one of those taking part to see what’s on offer.

A surprising discovery

cheltenham open gardens
Malcolm aims for a natural feel to his garden

One of the delights of a group opening in the National Gardens Scheme is that you never quite know what you will get.

Unlike individual gardens, which are vetted to ensure they will provide at least 45 minutes of interest including tea and cake, the plots in a group opening are often much smaller and very varied.

What makes a town group opening even better is that from the street there is often no clue to what those hidden back gardens contain.

cheltenham open gardens
Rosa ‘Malvern Hills’ is something I see quite often in gardens

It’s certainly the case with Malcolm Allison’s Cheltenham house. Planted containers at the front suggest it’s the home of a gardener but there’s little to arouse much curiosity.

I expected something typical of a suburban garden: a patch of lawn, neat borders, familiar plants with possibly one or two slightly unusual things. The reality is very different.

cheltenham open gardens
Salvias are one of the garden’s strengths

For a start, the garden is not neat – but that’s deliberate. Malcolm gardens for wildlife and prefers what he describes as “the natural look”.

“I like it to look natural and the opposite to gardened,” he explains, “but it’s very contrived and I do spend a lot of time on it.”

cheltenham open gardens
Nerines fill the greenhouse

As a result, plants are allowed to self-seed, piles of old wood are placed in corners for insects, seed heads are left for birds and nothing is made too tidy.

Then there’s the lawn, or lack of it. When nurseryman Malcolm and his husband, David, moved in four years ago there was a large expanse of grass but that is now flower borders and even the narrow grass path has been replaced by gravel.

cheltenham open gardens
Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’

“I arrived with a lawnmower and gave that away after a year,” he says. “The grass just turned into a muddy, slippery slope so I gave it up.”

But it’s the plants themselves that proved the biggest surprise. Yes, there are the sort of things I see in many gardens – hellebores and ferns in the shady areas, pink Japanese anemones on slender stems – but there were many more that were unfamiliar.

There are unusual begonias, including B. fusca from southern Mexico, which has large, almost felty leaves, and B. masoniana, with its distinctive ‘iron cross’ marking. Daphne calcicola ‘Gang Ho Ba’, an evergreen alpine with bright yellow blooms that Malcolm is carefully nurturing and his prized possession Dendroseris pruinata, a Chilean shrubby daisy that is under threat in the wild. He’s grown it from seed and is still waiting for it to flower.

cheltenham open gardens
Dendroseris pruinata is endangered in the wild

Malcolm grows lots in pots, partly to soften the patio and hard standing alongside a shed that he inherited – a second was taken down – and partly because he finds things survive better in containers in the shade than in his clay soil. A 20ft leylandii hedge that was behind the sheds has now been felled but the area is still shaded, not least because of mature apple and plum trees.

Near the house, stone troughs are used to house alpines that would not cope with either the soil or the crowded borders.

A collection of containers at the end of the garden illustrates his love of the unusual and of colour.

“In a shady situation, colour lifts it a little bit and stops it being quite so dark,” he explains, pointing to the orange flowers of Begonia sutherlandii, the coral-red of Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’, Lysimachia congestiflora ‘Persian Chocolate’, with its yellow flowers and purple, trailing foliage, and the striking Oxalis spiralis subsp. vulcanicola ‘Sunset Velvet’, which has golden blooms above red, orange and yellow leaves.

cheltenham open gardens
Oxalis, begonia, salvia and lysimachia brighten a dark corner

Many of the plants are not hardy and overwinter in his greenhouses alongside a collection of nerines. Others, such as Persicaria microcephala ‘Purple Fantasy’ and Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’ stay outside.

There are wildlife friendly and ‘green’ features woven through the garden. I nearly missed the small plant-filled pond – the garden is teeming with tiny frogs – there are several water butts, a wormery, and beehives.

cheltenham open gardens
Teasels are found all over the garden

Teasels thread through the borders alongside roses, persicaria, bidens, crocosmia and mallow.

“I love flowers,” says Malcolm. “Foliage is great but I like colour.”

cheltenham open gardens
Dahlia coccinea adds vibrant colour

Orange Dahlia coccinea, and numerous salvias in pots near the house fulfil this role, including inky purple ‘Nachtvlinder’, pale pink ‘Peter Vigeon’, red ‘Royal Bumble’ and blue ‘African Skies’.

The dainty flowers are often lost in large borders but in this small garden – it’s 67ft by 27ft – they more than hold their own.

cheltenham open gardens
Salvia x jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’

“My vista is only 15ft and in a little garden, a lot of salvia flowers are perfect.”

Malcolm sells plants at Farmers’ Markets across Gloucestershire. See his website for details.

79 Byron Road, St Mark’s Cheltenham, GL51 7EU, is open on Sunday September 18 from 11-5pm for the National Gardens Scheme. Combined admission is £4, children’s entry is free and there will be teas and plants for sale. Tickets and maps can be bought at any of the gardens. The others are:

34 Cudnall Street, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, GL53 8HG

Hosanna House, 43 Cudnall Street, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, GL53 8HL

Milton Cottage, Overbury Street, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, GL53 8HJ

19 Wellington Lane, Cheltenham, GL50 4JF

Edible Garden, Francis Close Hall, Swindon Road, Cheltenham GL50 4AZ

51 Milton Road, St Mark’s Cheltenham, GL51 7EU

22 Harrington Drive, Hatherley, Cheltenham, GL51 6ER

169 Hatherley Road, Cheltenham, GL51 6EP.

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