Gardens open by arrangement

Beautiful borders, unusual plants, design inspiration or maybe just the lure of cake, whatever the reason, the Gloucestershire National Gardens Scheme is thriving with hundreds of people visiting plots across the county every week. Yet there’s one group that’s often overlooked: gardens open by arrangement rather than on a set date.

It may, agrees county organiser Norman Jeffery, be a very British quirk, a fear of being a nuisance, of putting someone out, but visitors are often reluctant to approach these garden owners to organise a trip.

“It’s a shame because they are missing out on some really good gardens,” he says.

While these plots are not completely overlooked, they don’t generally fare as well as their set date counterparts.

gardens by arrangement
Ampney Brook House has seen extensive remodelling

Some gardens open by arrangement because a lack of parking means they could not cope with an influx of several hundred people – a problem that is common in some of the Cotswold’s tiny villages.

Others, explains Norman, like to have some idea of how many people are going to turn up; NGS open days can notoriously be a case of ‘feast or famine’ and numbers are hugely influenced by the weather.

“Being open by arrangement gives them some control over the numbers which makes the organisation of the day easier.”

gardens open by arrangement
Trench Hill has well-planted mixed borders and stunning views

Norman adds that it’s a system that also works in the visitors’ favour as they get a “more exclusive experience”, often with a guided tour of the garden by the owner.

“Garden owners enjoy the fact that they can give the personal touch a bit more.”

There may also be the chance for refreshments other than the traditional tea and cake with some gardens offering the opportunity for evening visits with wine.

Other Gloucestershire National Gardens Scheme members have both set dates and open by arrangement visits – a good way of still getting to see a plot if you missed the NGS day or the weather was bad.

gardens open by arrangement
The Old Rectory is the home of designer and writer Mary Keen

The numbers needed for a private visit vary from garden to garden with some setting an upper limit, others a minimum number required and many being open to any size of group.

Often these arrangements are used by gardening clubs or other societies but they are also an ideal way for a group of friends to have a day out.

“You get to see the gardens with friends and in a more exclusive setting,” says Norman.

It’s also a good way of keeping the garden visiting season going as the number of set days tails off during August and September.

Gardens with veg, flowers and views

gardens open by arrangement
Cotswold Farm is an Arts and Crafts terraced garden

In Gloucestershire there are several gardens open by arrangement only and lots more that allow private visits on top of their NGS days. Here are some that are open by arrangement from now until the autumn.

Ampney Brook House at Ampney Crucis is nearing the end of a five-year project to create a varied garden with herbaceous borders, woodland and vegetables.

Late summer colour is one of the strengths of The Meeting House at Flaxley. The two-acre plot also has a reed bed sewage system and an orchard with wild flowers.

Daglingworth House, Daglingworth, (pictured at top of page) is a garden that skilfully combines well-stocked borders, lovely views and humorous touches.

gardens open by arrangement
Brockworth Court has a pond with a thatched Fiji house and Monet-style bridge

Pasture Farm, Upper Oddington, has been developed over the past 30 years. It includes topiary, mixed borders and ducks.

Greenfields and Barn House, both at Brockweir Common, offer the possibility of arranging to see both gardens on the same day. Greenfields is a recently developed garden of different ‘rooms’ while Barn House has a large collection of grasses.

The unusual backdrop of a ruined castle makes Beverston Castle an atmospheric and romantic place to visit. It also has a large, walled kitchen garden and glasshouses.

At Hodges Barn, near Tetbury, the house includes a converted C15 dovecote while the garden is wide-ranging with mixed borders, water and woodland areas.

Designer and writer Mary Keen offers visits and a short talk to groups at her garden at The Old Rectory, Duntisbourne Rous. Dahlias are a late season feature in this garden that’s planted for year-round interest.

Another writer with an open garden is Victoria Summerley at Awkward Hill Cottage in Bibury. Described as a ‘work in progress’, her garden is being redesigned to encourage wildlife and includes both formal and informal planting.

Upton Wold, near Moreton-in-Marsh has wonderful views, wide-ranging planting and some unusual trees, including the National Collection of walnuts.

gardens open by arrangement
Hodges Barn is just as lovely later in the year as in spring here

Views are also a feature of Trench Hill at Sheepscombe whose three acres includes woodland, ponds, vegetables and mixed borders.

The Arts and Crafts garden at Cotswold Farm, Duntisbourne Abbots, has a Jewson-designed terrace, bog garden and allotments in a walled garden.

Brockworth Court blends many different styles from cottage to formal in a garden that includes a natural fish pond, kitchen garden and historic tithe barn.

Finally, there’s the chance to visit the well-known Barnsley House, former home of designer Rosemary Verey and now a hotel. Groups with a minimum of 10 people can see the famous potager, knot garden and mixed borders.

For details of dates, admission prices and numbers required at gardens open by arrangment, visit the NGS

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Saving the Bramley apple

Batsford Arboretum, long known for its tree preservation role, is helping to safeguard a piece of British culinary history – the Bramley apple.

The arboretum near Moreton-in-Marsh has just been given a Bramley tree, propagated from the original, which is dying from an incurable fungal infection.

The Bramley was sown in Southwell Nottinghamshire in 1809 and was growing in the garden of Matthew Bramley when he agreed to sell cuttings from it to nurseryman Henry Merryweather in 1856 with the apples sold under the Bramley name.

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Matthew Hall with the Bramley apple tree

Scientists from Nottingham University, who have been studying the tree for some years, have used grafts to create clones to preserve the iconic cooking apple for future generations.

Batsford has been given one of these trees thanks to Nick Dunn, a trustee of the arboretum and owner of tree firm Frank P. Matthews, based in Tenbury Wells. Mr Dunn had a piece of graft wood and when he realised the original tree was under threat, he donated one of the clones he had raised.

Matthew Hall, head gardener at Batsford, which is run by the Batsford Trust charity, was delighted with the latest addition to the collection.

“It’s really important that such an iconic tree – such as the Bramley original – is planted by arboretums and gardens like us, as well as by the general public, to ensure the tree’s future is secured for many years to come,” he said.

He will be choosing a suitable location in the 60-acre arboretum and planting the Bramley apple in the autumn.

Protecting endangered trees

It’s not the first time that Batsford, which was first established in the late 1800s by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, has been involved in tree preservation.

It is part of the International Conifer Conservation Project, run by Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, which safeguards trees that under threat in their native countries.

Several endangered species, including monkey puzzles from Chile and the golden Vietnamese cyprus, are grown at the arboretum to safeguard them.

For more information about Batsford Arboretum, visit

Want to know more about Batsford? Read my feature on the arboretum here

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Growing medicinal herbs

There must be a gardening gene, I muse as I gaze at Davina Wynne Jones’ Cotswold garden. As the daughter of Rosemary and David Verey it must have been preordained that she should make a garden. In fact, it was never her intention and she ended up creating a garden of medicinal herbs almost by accident.

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Medicinal herbs fill the borders

Davina’s original plan was to have a herb nursery but she quickly decided it would not produce much of an income. However, it had sparked an interest in medicinal herbs and before long Herbs for Healing was born.

The company, run from a field behind her parents’ former home, Barnsley House, sells ointments, face creams and oils made using herbs and flowers, many of them grown by Davina.

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St John’s Wort

And so the gardening gene kicked in as she found herself almost instinctively putting together a garden.

“Because they are indigenous plants, not hybrids or cultivars, they have wonderful soft colours and so the colours look good together,” she explains. “It began to get more like a garden but it was not my intention in the first place.”

On the surface, her garden is very different from the world famous and listed Barnsley House. It has a softer, less designed feel without the clipped topiary that has made features like the potager and herb garden so well known.

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Also, because of the plants she grows, the display tends to peak at this time of year rather than being the year-round show her mother created; Davina has added some non-medicinal planting to give colour during May when she opens for the annual Barnsley Village Festival.

Scratch the surface though and the design influence of Rosemary Verey is clear. The garden has a strong axis running through, from a rustic gate past overflowing borders to an end focal point.

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The main axis leads to the ‘magic circle’

Adding a vista at Barnsley from the temple to the frog fountain to run at right angles to an existing axis was one of her parents’ first projects, says Davina.

“I’ve not got a double vista yet but I’m working on it.”

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Californian poppies

Indeed, having what she describes as ‘good bones’ underpins her garden: the borders are laid out to the proportions of the golden sequence, which is often found in nature; there may not be clipped topiary but there are strong verticals, including a willow tree that partial hides the garden beyond, creating a sense of discovery.

“I learned about texture from my mother and I have lot of different leaves and textures,” says Davina, adding with a laugh “Not because I ever listened to her particularly.”

It seems some things are just passed on subliminally.

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Yarrow is pretty and useful

It had been a few years since I last visited and the then planned finale to the garden is now in place. This is what Davina describes as her magic circle, an area enclosed by a beautiful structure fashioned from hawthorn that was being cleared from a 6,000-year-old long barrow in the area.

“Hawthorn is traditionally protective,” explains Davina. “It has been sacred from Anglo Saxon times.”

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The garden has a relaxing atmosphere

Within the circle are plants long associated with magic, fairies and folk lore, including evening primrose, mandrake, henbane and Artemesia vulagaris, or mugwort.

Paths laid out in concentric circles lead you towards a water feature made by sculptor Tom Verity, whose father, Simon, made pieces for Barnsley House. Its reflective water gives another dimension to the space.

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Tom Verity’s water feature sits in the magic circle

In the borders are medicinal herbs that will aid every ailment, including St John’s Wort, used for treating wounds, aching joints and mild anxiety, Leonurus cardiaca, or motherwort, which has calming properties, Verbena officinalis (vervain) that Davina uses to help against glaucoma, and Galega officinalis (goat’s rue), which is good for balancing sugar levels. Chicory aids digestion, yarrow is an anti-inflammatory and Californian poppies have, says Davina, the same effect as opium without being addictive.

Some things, such as rose petals for making essential oils, are brought in as she cannot grow enough and others are gathered in the neighbouring countryside.

“I have a larder in my head of where things grow.”

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Some of the dried herbs

Just three years after starting the garden, she was accepted into the National Gardens Scheme and has opened regularly for them ever since.

“In a way I wonder if part of it was pleasing my parents, although they had both been dead for some years,” she says. “The fact that Davina could have created an NGS garden in three years would have surprised them.”

Herbs for Healing, Barnsley, Gloucestershire, is open for the National Gardens Scheme from 10.30-4.30pm on Wednesday July 27. Admission is £3, children enter free.

For details about other opening times, products and workshops, visit Herbs for Healing

Read about my visit to Barnsley House here

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Charity heads to Tatton Park

Tatton Park
John Everiss on the Chelsea garden

Cotswold-based charity Meningitis Now is taking its award-winning garden to the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, which opens today.

‘Believe and Achieve’, designed by John Everiss, won silver-gilt and the coveted People’s Choice Award at Chelsea this year.

The garden, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of Meningitis Now, has been adapted for the Tatton show and at less than 20sq metres is classed as a show feature so will not be judged.

“The intention is to give a flavour of the original garden and a backdrop to the Chelsea sculptures that had such an effect on the visitors,” explains John.

For Tatton, the garden will have a yew hedge rather than the Cotswold stone folly at the back and the Cotswold stone walls are replaced by reclaimed railway sleepers.

Either side of these ‘walls’ will be wild flower turf with splashes of orange – the charity’s colour – provided by orange poppy ‘Champagne Bubbles’. In the gravel path there will be Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ and Achillea ‘Inca Gold’

What hasn’t changed are the striking laminated wood sculptures created using 3D images of young meningitis sufferers.

“The sculptures travel across the garden, hitting or passing through walls, reaching up for help and encouraging each other to overcome the obstacles brought about by the disease,” explains John.

“Four are meningitis survivors; the fifth depicts one of the many lives lost to meningitis.

“The garden celebrates the courage, determination and positive outlook of these young people and their families who have faced up to the consequences of this devastating disease.”

One of the youngsters, Liam Doyle, aged six, was too ill to visit the Chelsea garden but will be at Tatton Park, along with Jacob Gray, 24, who had to have his legs amputated when he contracted meningitis in 2013.

The Stroud charity, which funds research into vaccines and prevention, is hoping the trip north will raise its profile still further and make people aware of the symptoms of meningitis. The garden has been sponsored by Blackpool firm Laila’s Fine Foods.

“I love the idea of bringing something back from Chelsea to the North, as I am now an honorary northerner,” says John. “If it can have some of the impact it had in May for the charity, as they say up here, I will be well chuffed!”

RHS Flower Show Tatton Park runs from July 20 to 24. For more details, see here

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Growing veg beautifully

Rarely do gardeners call in a top designer to help with growing veg. While most gardens I visit have a vegetable patch, they are usually tucked away in a corner, tidy but essentially workmanlike rather than things of beauty. Yet at Littlefield, not only are the beans, carrots and beetroot part of the ornamental garden, they’ve been given the designer treatment.

The last time I saw the garden at Hawling, near Cheltenham, what is now home to a mix of fruit and veg was a struggling wild flower meadow. In addition, what had started out as six laburnums planted as ornamentals in the meadow had been reduced to four as the trees failed to thrive.

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The new vegetable garden combines crops and blooms

“They never really put down good roots and were very susceptible to the wind,” explains Federica Wilk, who has created the garden over the past 16 years with her husband, George.

The annual wildflower meadow also proved time-consuming and expensive so the decision was taken to start again this time with growing veg; the village has an annual produce show that Federica has her eye on entering.

Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall redesigned the former farmhouse garden when the couple first moved in and it was to her that they turned for help.

The new vegetable garden – it’s not fussy enough to call it a potager but definitely more than a veg patch – has been inspired by the village’s history. Just beyond Littlefield in what is now a field there was once a medieval village that was abandoned due to plague.


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Jewel-like colours echo illuminated medieval manuscripts

Using medieval pictures and illuminated manuscripts as her starting point, Jane has created a space that hints at that medieval past with colours that echo the jewel-like tones of the manuscripts.

Blue campanulas and violas, the pink of Rosa mundi, carnations and Rosa ‘De Rescht’ are set against cool, white lilies in borders that run along two sides of the new garden.

The borders are backed by trellis, pictured below, which will be used for climbers such as honeysuckle. The trellis has been carefully set a few feet away from existing yew hedges to allow access for clipping and again echoes the medieval theme with arched entrances and small arched ‘windows’; Federica is hoping eventually to use these windows to frame an urn.

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The trellis has arched entrances and windows

The third side of the garden has trained apple trees underplanted with geraniums, polemonium, and feverfew, while the fourth has been kept more open to preserve views across countryside.

The vegetables are grown in willow-edged beds and are a mix of flowers and crops, an idea that Federica picked up on a visit to RHS Harlow Carr.

“They grow vegetables and flowers together and it decided me,” she says. “Sometimes vegetables don’t look that pretty.”

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Roses soften the Cotswold stone house

So, runner beans are rising out of a froth of cosmos, rue is growing alongside peas and alliums are mingling with parsley. Other crops include chard, broad beans, sorrel, beetroot, carrots, gooseberries, grown as standards, and cavolo nero – a nod to Federica’s Italian homeland.

Another touch of the Mediterranean is a large pot planted up with a Brown Turkey fig and trailing rosemary.

The rest of the garden is little changed from my last visit and is a delightful mix of formal design and soft planting – a far cry from the grass and a few trees that the couple took on.

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Allium cernuum is a pretty summer flower

The rose garden is dominated by a circular pool made from Italian travertine – a deliberate counterpoint to the Cotswold stone of the house. With a wide, flat top for sitting on, it is a cool space in a mass of roses, alliums and thalictrum all edged with teucrium.

Move further on again, and a wisteria-covered pergola offers a secluded place to sit, tucked away out of sight.

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Plants spill onto the path in the Yew Walk

In the summer, one of the garden’s highlights is the Yew Walk, so named because of the hedges that enclose it. Designed by Sherborne Gardens, it is a mix of pastel colours underpinned by dark purple heuchera. Lavender, violas and geraniums spill over the path, while lilies, philadelphus and roses give scent.

This planting pattern is repeated until you reach a central point that allows access into other parts of the garden. Beyond this divide, the Yew Walk planting is simplified with arches of malus, iris, violas and agapanthus.

Lavender, a neat box knot garden, and shrubs now make up the garden on the north side of the house, while the west side – once occupied by a cow shed – has been kept open with grass, a formal pool and ornamental crab apples, a simple design allowing long views out into the countryside.

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Mown paths and wild flowers on the garden’s edge

A mixed border forms a boundary between this part of the garden and a wilder area where the grass is allowed to grow long under willow, prunus and silver birch. It’s a far more successful natural area than the wildflower meadow with ox-eye daises, red clover and the recent discovery of wild orchids.

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Wild orchids are a recent discovery

In fact, although the vegetable garden is still new and has a lot of maturing to do, it fits far more comfortably with the rest of the garden than the wildflower meadow did, giving the overall garden a sense of completeness. Who said growing veg can’t be beautiful?

Littlefield Garden, Hawling, is open for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday July 17 2016 from 11-5pm. Admission is £4, children’s entry free. There will be homemade teas available.

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Gardening every inch

I rarely meet a gardener who is happy with the space they’ve got. We all long for just one more border; a couple of extra plants. Few go to the lengths of Sue Beck whose Cotswold garden is a lesson in maximising space.

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Borders are packed

It’s clear from the outset that this is the garden of a plant fanatic. The front path runs through tightly packed borders while overhead, arches are smothered in roses and clematis. The house can barely be seen behind leaves and flowers.

The front plot is almost triangular but its shape and size are disguised by the planting. Visitors are greeted by the dainty pink blooms and lovely scent of Rosa ‘Sophie’s Perpetual’. Purple clematis ‘Arabella’ and the pale pink rose ‘Applejack’ are entwined on an obelisk and staging is used for pots of hostas. It is just a taste of what is to come.

maximising space
The only grass is in narrow paths

Behind the house, the grass has gradually been reduced to a couple of narrow paths as borders have edged ever outwards. Come summer, these are filled with a mass of colour: the spikey foliage and purple blooms of acanthus, soft pink mallow, golden inula, feathery thalictrum; the list goes on and on.

In July, Sue’s collection of hemerocallis, or day lilies, takes centre stage. There are around 400 – she’s lost track of the exact number – and they range through every colour. ‘Bird Bath’ is a dusty pink, ‘Moon Witch’ pale yellow, ‘Kansas Kitten’ deep purple.

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Hemerocallis ‘Fooled Me’

More entertaining are the names: ‘Knickers in a Twist’ and ‘Life on Mars’ being just two of the memorable. Many are grown in the borders but still more in pots balance on low walls or line paths.

It’s not just hemerocallis that Sue, a member of the British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society, collects. The garden is also home to around 60 roses and the same number of clematis.

“I’ve no idea how many I’ve got now,” she admits.

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Roses span every path

Most of these are found on arches that span every path through the garden. There’s the beautiful Rosa ‘Malvern Hills’, with soft yellow double flowers, ‘Westerland’ with a more coppery tone and ‘Open Arms’, which has pale pink, single blooms.

‘Bonica’, another pale pink is teamed with purple Clematis ‘Durandi’, while the yellow R. ‘Alister Stella Gray’ is grown with inky purple C. ‘Rasputin’.

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Obelisks support more climbers in the borders

Elsewhere, C. ‘Dutch Sky’ has pale blue flowers with a slightly darker central stripe, ‘Margot Koster’ is deep pink and ‘Arabella’ has dainty blue-mauve flowers.

In addition to the arches, obelisks punctuate the borders and rarely have just the one plant scrambling over them.

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Hemerocallis ‘Moon Witch’

In recent years, Sue has discovered a new passion: grasses. Already she is gaining quite a collection and they are a graceful counterpoint to the strong hemerocallis foliage.

A particular favourite is Stipa ‘Goldilocks’, a more compact form of the giant oat with narrow leaves and golden flower heads.

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Allium angulosum

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Schottland’ are both used for their arching habit while the white-edged foliage of Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ makes a good year-round ground cover and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland’ is, declares Sue, quite “handsome”.

Lurking among grasses and the leaves of giant rheum and Arundo donax, the giant reed, is a metal giraffe, adding an exotic touch to this garden on the outskirts of Cirencester.

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An unusual resident for the Cotswolds

Meanwhile, a new summerhouse is gradually being submerged by planting; it had to be brought in via a neighbour’s garden as there was no way through the borders.

Despite barely an inch of bare soil visible, Sue is confident there is still room to add to her plants.

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There’s an almost jungly feel to the garden

“There’s always space where I can put some more in.”

With her skill at maximising space, I’m sure she will succeed.

25 Bowling Green Road, Cirencester, is open for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday July 10 from 2-5, and Monday 11 and Monday 18 July from 11-4. Admission is £3.

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Hampton Court reflections

If Chelsea is the grown-up, sophisticate when it comes to flower shows then RHS Hampton Court Palace is definitely the fun-loving younger sister.

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Dogs both real and sculpted stole the show on Paul Hervey-Brookes’ garden

The atmosphere is more relaxed: there are fewer celebs, last minute preparations and even parties of schoolchildren being shown around on press day.

The show gardens more accessible both in terms of design – these are gardens you can imagine making –  and literally, thanks to Hampton’s generous site size compared with the space restrictions at Chelsea.

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The Squire’s 80th Anniversary garden would be easy to achieve
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Simple colours and design make the Inner City Grace garden easy to copy

And when it comes to making you stop and think this year’s Hampton has the edge for me.

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Abandoned lifejackets on the Border Control garden are an unsettling reminder of the fate of many refugees

Aside from Paul Hervey-Brookes’ gold medal-winning design that drew universal admiration – and not just for the very cute dogs from The Dogs Trust that kept visiting – there were several other gardens that caught my eye.

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The Dogs Trust garden won gold
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One of the many dogs on Paul Hervey-Brookes’ garden

I loved the simplicity of idea and execution of the World Vision garden. Undulating ribbons of green represent the difficult lives of children caught up in war or disaster-hit countries while the delicate wild meadow planting underneath gave a glimpse of hope.

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The World Vision Garden was a favourite

The Cancer Research UK Life Garden takes garden design right into the 21st century with a virtual garden for visitors alongside the more traditional planting of echinacea, hemerocallis and alliums.

Don the special headset and you are transported into a bigger version of this garden, as I discovered, complete with birdsong and the sound of bees. Each of the 100,000 flowers pictured represents one of the legacies that have helped the charity.

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Visitors will be able to book a virtual tour of the Cancer Research UK garden

It was a novel twist on the usual garden experience and great fun – apart from the sensation of being high up above a sunken area, as I discovered when I ‘looked’ down. Not great when you don’t do heights.

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I loved the colours of The Drought Garden

My favourite among the smaller gardens, was the Drought Garden, which won the well-deserved Best in Show for this category.

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A beehive was just one of the wildlife friendly features

It was a clever mix of drought tolerant planting and wildlife friendly features, such as a bee hive, and well within the capabilities and budget of the average gardener; designer Steve Dimmock used reclaimed stone and old pebbles for the hard landscaping.

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Herbs around a bench on the Witan garden

Other easily copied ideas included a herb-enclosed seat in the Witan Investment Trust Global Growth Garden, which also featured colourful vegetables among the planting. Who says borders can’t be productive as well as pretty.

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Veg added colour to the borders

And the Wildfowl and Wetland Garden showed how simply using the run-off from our homes could help stop flooding and provide an attractive wildlife friendly element to our gardens.

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The WWT garden won a Best in Show award

Here are some other things I liked.

There was plenty of colour.

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Dahlias on Pheasant Acre Plants’ stand
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Orchids from Dave Parkinson Plants added some zing

Some of the gardens were also very colourful.

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The New Horizons garden was inspired by Art Nouveau designs

The Rose Festival is always a highlight.

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The scent of roses filled the marquee

‘Scent from Heaven’ was announced as the 2016 Rose of the Year.

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Peter Beales Roses’ stand had a ruin at its centre.

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There were also some lovely clematis. On their own . . .

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. . . or mixed with roses.

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This penstemon ‘Craigieburn Taffeta’ from Green Jjam Nurseries caught my eye.

hampton courtVehicles were a popular addition to displays.

hampton courtHere, a Fiat 500 was used on Italian seed firm Franchi’s display.

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There was water in a lot of gardens.

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The Viking Cruises Scandinavian Garden
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A floating display of blooms
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Reflections in the Dogs Trust garden