It’s always good on a garden visit to see something a bit different but few Cotswold gardens deliver quite the surprise of Barton House. Forget the flowing herbaceous borders typical of the area this plot has dazzling rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas with just a touch of the Orient.
In other parts of the country a spring show of these acid lovers would be nothing unusual but in the Cotswolds they are a rarity.
It is, explains owner Hamish Cathie, all down to chance. Like Westonbirt Arboretum on the other side of the county, Barton House sits on a seam of green sand, giving just the right conditions for growing lime-haters. Even neighbouring properties in the village just outside Moreton-in-Marsh have different soil and some of Hamish’s collection were gifts from others who have tried, and failed, to copy his planting.
“We’re just lucky,” he observes.
This difference in style is trumpeted from the moment you approach the six-acre garden. The circular drive wraps around a display of azaleas, which explode in shocking colour during May. There are some rhododendrons here but most have been moved as this part is too sunny for them.
Elsewhere, there is the pink-flowered R. oreodoxa, a gift from a former head gardener at Batsford Arboretum where it was ailing, and R. praecox, a favourite of Hamish’s mother, who started the garden in 1949.
“There was a big hedge of it in Edinburgh Botanic Garden and she always used to go to see it.”
R. ‘Taurus’ is, as Hamish says “as red as you can get” and R. barbatum is another with scarlet blooms.
The recent felling of a dying Japanese larch in the main lawn has enabled him to start a new rhododendron display, this time in shades of red and yellow.
“I want to get away from the pinks and whites,” he explains. “I want to have a very colourful thing here.”
When I visited, many were already in place with more, including a 9ft-wide ‘Hotei’, about to be planted.
Meanwhile, the ‘secret garden’, hidden behind tall hedges, has a growing collection of camellias, along with magnolia and Arbutus menziesii, whose striking bark splits open to show emerald green beneath; Hamish holds National Collections of both arbutus and catalpa.
Tucked away under the shade of acers is the ‘Japanese Garden’, complete with Moutan tree peonies, a pagoda, bamboo and a wisteria-covered bridge over a small rill. Replacing the bridge with another specially commissioned piece has been one of this spring’s projects.
More peonies are found in the Kitchen Garden where head gardener Kevin Line has established a cutting border of those and iris. There’s also an area of alpines, a small vineyard of red and white grapes, planted to mark the millennium, and an exotic garden with palms and olives. The glasshouse is used to propagate from the National Collections and to raise annuals for the summer display; this year a vibrant theme of blue, yellow and orange has been chosen.
Nearby, arches in the rose garden span pebble mosaics by local artist Sue Rew. They were inspired by 4th century mosaics in Motya, Sicily, where Hamish’s aunt helped excavate a Phoenician warship.
What was once a ha-ha is today a tranquil canal with a water spout at one end and a bridge made from recycled metal by the estate’s blacksmith. Hamish’s father had already repaired the ha-ha and when it started to collapse again, Hamish decided to line it with thick clay and flood it.
“I didn’t want to do what my father did and go to immense expense and build it up again only to find the same thing happening again in 10 years’ time.”
This is very much a plantsman’s garden with the components chosen primarily for their own worth rather than with an overall display in mind. As such, much of the collection is displayed not in neatly ordered borders but informally in grass or in the shade of the garden’s many trees. It makes it an easy garden to wander through and a refreshing change from the tightly clipped style so often associated with gardens of this size.
• Barton House, Barton-on-the-Heath, is open from 2-6pm on May 29 for the National Gardens Scheme. Admission is £5.
Chelsea is all about rocks and colour this year. Stone features on many of the gardens and there are vibrant, paintbox shades in every part of the Great Pavilion.
Cleve West’s celebration of the rugged landscape of Exmoor manages to combine huge pieces of Forest of Dean stone with soft, easy-on-the-eye planting without making either look out of place.
Rosy Hardy has circular gabions filled with stone that mimic a dry chalk steam bed; Hugo Bugg creates bold geometric shapes in shades of black and grey; and in the Fresh gardens, Propagating Dan has balanced a five-tonne boulder on the roof of a pavilion in ‘The Garden of Potential’.
A talking point among visitors though is Diarmuid Gavin’s nod to British eccentricity. The strains of ‘In an English Country’ garden float over the show as window boxes go up and down, topiary twirls and plants process around the garden’s house. It ticks few boxes in terms of inspiration for home gardeners but as a spectacle it is unbeatable and won silver-gilt.
In the Great Pavilion, Marks and Spencer introduces a carnival atmosphere with vibrant blocks of colour in a display that is high on impact.
Heucheraholics are bringing a sense of fun to the humble garden shed, repainted in primary shades and festooned with heucheras, there are hyacinths and tulips in lipstick shades, and the New Covent Garden Flower Market has a nod to the Queen’s birthday with a display that combines cool green and white on one side with 3D colour on the other.
And this year, the usual splashes of scarlet from the Chelsea pensioners are dwarfed by the great swathe red poppies in front of the Royal Hospital.
It’s been a different Chelsea: the sun shone – a welcome relief after last year’s deluge; press day was quieter due to fewer passes being issued; the Main Avenue gardens showed a welcome individuality. What hasn’t changed is the buzz around the showground and the crowds pouring in as soon as the gates opened this morning.
Key results and the Cotswolds
Best show garden: The Telegraph Garden by Andy Sturgeon
Cheltenham’s Chris Beardshaw added to his gold medal tally with his garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital, sponsored by M&G. Peter Dowle saw the garden he built for L’Occitane win gold, while Lichen Antiques supplied the Forest of Dean stone for Cleve West’s gold medal-winning garden and Westmorland stone for the Royal Bank of Canada Garden, which got silver-gilt. Avening sculptor Giles Rayner supplied a water feature for The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, which won silver-gilt.
South Gloucestershire herb queen Jekka McVicar got silver-gilt with her first show garden and the Meningitis Now Futures Garden for the Stroud charity won silver-gilt in the Artisan Garden awards.
For a round-up of the Cotswolds’ input into the Chelsea Flower Show see here
In the Great Pavilion, Gloucester florist Katherine Kear led her team of florists from the Three Counties and South Wales to gold medal victory. Their display for the National Federation of Flower Arrangement Societies showed the influence of the Victorians on gardening. More details here
Here are some of my snapshots of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.
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The Cotswolds go to town
The Cotswolds are well represented this year at a Chelsea Flower Show that promises more than a touch of theatre with an 80ft train, an acoustic garden and spinning topiary.
Visitors will be greeted by floral arches over the Bull Ring and London Gate entrances, created to celebrate The Queen’s 90th birthday. The tunnel by Rock Bank Restaurant will be hung with more than 5,000 roses, and part of the Royal Hospital grounds will be carpeted in nearly 300,000 hand-crocheted poppies, a tribute to those who have served in war.
Those with a pass for the Hospitality Village will see ‘Le Jardin Blanc’, created by Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes and former Hillier boss Andy McIndoe, using veg grown at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
Cleeve West returns with a garden inspired by Exmoor, the plight of modern day slaves is highlighted in an Fresh garden by Juliet Sargeant, and Diarmuid Gavin is again set to be a talking point with a garden for Harrods celebrating British eccentricity that will have bobbing box balls, patio furniture emerging from a trapdoor and twirling bay trees.
Elsewhere, hosta and fern specialists Bowdens are planning a display around a 1920s Belmond British Pullman carriage, disability charity Papworth Trust has worked with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie to produce a garden of sound and award-winning Great Pavilion exhibitors Jekka McVicar and Rosy Hardy are both making their show garden debuts.
Jekka’s A Modern Apothecary explores the links between herbs and well-being with a palette of plants that will include fennel and chicory, which aid digestion, wild celery for treating gout and several red-leaved herbs, important in preventing heart disease. A herb lay – a mix of grass and plants such as sorrel and chicory – will be used instead of a traditional lawn.
She’s growing 90 per cent of the 15,000 plants needed at her South Gloucestershire herb nursery.
“I really want to show how fantastic herbs are as garden plants. They are the one group of plants that look good, smell good and do you good.”
After the show, the garden will be rebuilt at St John’s Hospice, London, which is sponsoring it.
Rosy’s garden highlights the fragility of chalk streams, under threat from climate change and pollution, and, if the pressure of her first garden wasn’t enough, she is also putting together the display for Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, the nursery she runs with her husband, Rob.
Catching up with her at the recent launch of Allomorphic in Stroud, I questioned the wisdom of building two exhibits simultaneously at Chelsea and just weeks after exhibiting at Malvern.
“I try not to think about it all,” she admitted, adding that while husband Rob would put in the hard landscaping for the nursery stand, only she did the planting.
“Nobody else can put it together. It has to be me.”
Partly, this is because she has no detailed planting plan and there’s no ‘dry run’.
“I just go and paint with my plants.”
Here are some of the Gloucestershire designers, growers and artists taking part in this year’s show.
A life-changing disease
Designer John Everiss’ garden celebrates the 30th anniversary of Stroud-based charity Meningitis Now.
The Artisan Garden depicts the life-changing effect of the disease with 3D wooden sculptures, modelled on real children, seen travelling across the garden from health, through a wall of disease to life after meningitis. One of the figures is seen reaching for help through the wall, another fails to reappear.
John explained: “It’s important that those who have lost children or young adults are represented in this garden as well.”
Country-style planting in pastel shades will be shot through with orange, the charity’s colour, while its Gloucestershire roots are suggested by the use of Cotswold stone for walls and a folly.
A garden for GOSH
There’s also a children’s health theme to Cheltenham designer Chris Beardshaw’s show garden, which is for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, sponsored by Morgan Stanley.
Designed to be relocated to a rooftop at the hospital, it relies on texture to create a soothing, green space for patients and their families.
There’s a central water feature and an interlocking Japanese-style pavilion with woodland planting, including acers, cornus and epimedium.
“The flowers are deliberately small and hidden within the garden and not blousy and ostentatious,” said Chris.
More colourful will be fabric on the seats, which is based on leaves drawn by some of the hospital’s young patients.
Bringing France to Chelsea
A small piece of Provence will be created at the Chelsea Flower Show with the help of contractor Peter Dowle, who runs a nursery near Ruardean in the Forest of Dean.
He is working with designer James Basson to mark the 40th anniversary of beauty firm L’Occitane, founded in Haute Provence by Olivier Baussan. Last year, the same team won gold at Chelsea for their depiction of a perfumer’s garden.
Plants native to the region, including sage, small-leaved holly and thyme, will be used to recreate a scene looking across a lavender field to the rolling hills and woodland of the area.
Earlier this month, Peter won gold at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival with a Japanese-style garden.
Forest plays its part
Stone from the Forest of Dean will underpin Cleeve West’s nostalgic look back at the landscape of Exmoor where he spent his teenage years.
Nearly 90 tonnes of undressed stone, including one piece of nearly nine tonnes, will be used along with polished pieces.
The stone has been sourced by Cotswold firm Lichen Antiques, who supplied gates and paving for Cleeve’s 2014 gold medal-winning garden.
“We’ve spent days and days in the quarry choosing the right pieces of stone,” explained the firm’s owner, Darren Jones.
The firm is also supplying Westmorland stone for Hugo Bugg’s Royal Bank of Canada Garden which celebrates the importance of water.
Influenced by a trip to Jordan, it will show how arid landscapes can still have beautiful flora.
Westmorland is no longer quarried and Darren was lucky enough to have the 15 tonnes needed in stock.
“It’s beautiful,” said Darren, “and works absolutely perfectly in this garden.”
Both designers had a ‘dry run’ at positioning the stone at a yard in Gloucester before it was transported to the Chelsea showground.
Inspired by pineapples
The number sequence that underpins nature has inspired a Cotswold water sculptor’s Chelsea Flower Show commission.
Giles Rayner used the Fibonacci sequence as the starting point for a copper water vortex sculpture that will feature on The Winton Capital Beauty of Mathematics Garden.
“It was inspired by pineapples,” explains Giles, from Avening. “It’s got quite a complex shape.”
More of Giles’ work will be on show at his own stand, set into a garden designed by a student from Inchbald School of Design. It will feature a freeform hedge of Ilex crenata as a backdrop to the copper sculptures.
Florists head for Chelsea
Gloucestershire flower arrangers are also taking part in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
Katherine Kear is leading a team building the NAFAS display in the Grand Pavilion, full story here
Meanwhile, in the floral art contest, Jayne Morriss is hoping to delight judges with a surprise.
The theme is ‘Garden Delight’ and Jayne, from Brimscombe Hill, has subtitled her arrangement ‘Twas Around the Corner I Beheld’.
“I think every garden should have a surprise as you turn the corner and this will be a beautiful planted urn”
For her ninth time at Chelsea, Jayne is planning an arrangement in pale pink, lavender and purple using delphiniums, peonies, roses and stocks.
Peacocks, pots and watering cans
Several Cotswold firms will be among the trade exhibitors at the Chelsea Flower Show among them garden antiques firm Architectural Heritage from Taddington.
Their stand will feature period sundials and lead urns alongside their reproduction copper planters.
Cheltenham sculptor Christopher Lisney will be unveiling his twist on a traditional garden roller at the Chelsea Flower Show with a 7ft-high piece complete with a butterfly landing on the handle.
He has also reworked his popular watering can sculpture, adding a bird perching on the handle. The original watering can was shown at his first Chelsea visit in 2003 and is the only piece to have been on the stand every year since.
Meanwhile, wire sculptor Rupert Till will be unveiling a new 8ft-high peacock on a hoop at the show. It’s part of a new range that has seen cockerels and parrots balancing on rings.
It is, he says, a way of putting a dramatic piece of art into even the smallest town garden.
In a nod to The Queen’s birthday, he will also have a fell pony’s head, while his popular boxing hares will be the centrepiece.
• For information about the show, visit the RHS
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Gardeners can stock up on bedding, early flowering herbaceous, alpines and vegetables at a fundraising plant sale in Cheltenham this Saturday.
The Friends of Pittville are organising the event to raise money for the new children’s play area in Pittville Park and for their work to improve the Pittville area of Cheltenham.
Plants will be supplied by Dundry Nurseries, Hoo House Nursery and members of Cheltenham Horticultural Society and FoP.
The plant sale on Saturday May 21 runs from 10am to 1pm at Central Cross Drive, Pittville, next to the park’s cafe.
• For more information about the Friends of Pittville see here
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Blight, battles and bold beginnings
The laburnum arch at Barnsley House with its golden racemes of flowers hanging down to meet purple alliums below is a picture familiar to garden-lovers the world over. So it came as a surprise to see the garden without the original.
True the last time I met up with head gardener Richard Gatenby we talked about the need for replacement but that didn’t prepare me for the difference it has made.
What had been, even this early in the season, a fairly shady spot is now wide open, changing the dynamics of the planting and giving hitherto unseen views across the garden, created by the late Rosemary Verey.
Revelling in this extra light, things under the arch and in nearby borders are lush and full; leucojum no longer strains for the light and Geranium tuberosum now needs no staking. When I visited red Tulipa ‘Apeldoorn’ was in full blaze but the alliums were showing, promising a good display, and there were tiny flower buds on the new laburnum.
The five-strong Barnsley House team decided against replacing the laburnums, planted in the 1960s, with specially trained trees. Instead they bought what Richard describes as “normal nursery trees” and hand-tied them into a new metal arch, made by blacksmith Michael Clifford from nearby Birdlip, in much the same way that Mrs Verey did.
It’s a method that will give a less polished finish but one that Richard, who has been at Barnsley for nearly 17 years, believes was “part of the charm of the laburnum arch”.
“You get this lovely gardenesque character to it as opposed to something precise.”
Now in its second season, it will probably take another four before the arch begins to approach the display of the original but the signs are good.
Barnsley House, former home of Mrs Verey, a designer who contributed to Highgrove among others, is now a boutique hotel and normally open only to guests. There are some charity days though and this weekend sees the garden, along with several others, open for the village’s 28th annual festival with the gardens competition being judged by Sir Roddy Llewellyn.
As well as changes to the laburnum arch, regular visitors will be able to detect other alterations in the garden, albeit not on such a dramatic scale.
Removing the laburnums gave the team the chance to lift and divide the understorey of planting, while tackling some of the perennial weeds. It’s a battle that is being slowly waged across the garden with a determined campaign against wild chicory and, in particular, ground elder.
Richard admits this had been approached in a rather ad hoc fashion: a bit of digging up; some general spraying of weedkiller; the occasional more targeted application. Now they have decided to work systematically through each bed during the autumn and winter, lifting all but established shrubs and thoroughly clearing the ground and leaving time before replanting with perennials.
Mindful of the need to maintain a good display for Barnsley House guests, Richard will plug any temporary gaps with annual colour including cosmos and dahlias.
Plants they want to keep, such as peonies, are being propagated so that they can replant with young, vigorous replacements and don’t have the hassle of trying to store the originals.
“We won’t have the bother of worrying about transplanting them.”
It’s a big job but one that Richard feels is necessary.
“The worst thing you can do is nothing,” he comments.
He is also taking the opportunity to research Mrs Verey’s original planting and reintroduce things that may have been lost, including more clematis, particularly viticella types.
The other major concern is one common to gardens I see across the region: box blight. The famous knot garden is showing signs of disease and there is blight in many of the garden’s iconic clipped box.
Already the herb garden and some hedges in the potager have been dug up and the team are trialling Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ as a replacement for the low box hedges. Meanwhile, the large box balls are being sprayed regularly with Topbuxus Health-Mix. It will be interesting to see if they can be salvaged.
Elsewhere, the vegetable garden, created in the adjacent ridge and furrow field, is getting a new planting of bulbs and meadow flowers to make the immediate impact more appealing.
“It’s not quite an orthodox meadow but something that will have colour through a lot of the season.”
Rethinking and renewing are important in any garden and something that Richard feels is a major part of his role: “We’ve trying to keep the garden young, vigorous and youthful.”
• Barnsley Village Festival runs from 9.30-5 on Saturday May 14 with a ‘garden passport’ providing access to the gardens. There will be guided tours at Barnsley House and Herbs for Healing.
The festival also includes The Salvation Army Band, maypole dancing, an organ recital, morris dancing, jazz, a juggling show, a BBQ and refreshments.
For more details, visit Barnsley Festival
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With the weather finally getting warmer, now’s the time to plug gaps in borders and start thinking about summer containers and plant sales are a great place to start.
If you haven’t raised annuals and vegetables yourself, fundraising sales offer the chance to buy plants grown locally at reasonable prices.
In the Cotswolds, gardeners have two sales to visit on Saturday May 14 that will help fill those gaps while supporting local groups.
Cancer charity Cobalt is holding its annual Big Plant Sale and coffee morning with bedding plants, shrubs, fruit bushes and hanging baskets.
There will also be willow craft and metal art stalls at the sale, which runs from 10am-1pm at Linton House, Thirlestone Road, Cheltenham.
Charlton Kings in Bloom sale
Also on Saturday, from 9am to 1pm, Charlton Kings in Bloom, which works to ‘green up’ the village on the edge of Cheltenham, has its annual plant fair.
There will be annuals, perennials and vegetable plants as well as mushroom compost for sale at The King’s Hall in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham.