Westonbirt creates an Enchanted Christmas

Walking through a wood at night isn’t an obvious crowd-pleaser but the Enchanted Christmas light show at Westonbirt is different. In fact, it’s become so popular this year sees advanced booking only and timed tickets.

The annual display is now in its 20th year and for many families seeing hundreds of lights transforming the National Arboretum is a traditional start to their Christmas.

Last year, more than 35,000 people visited the 12-day event, which runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from the end of November until just before Christmas.

It’s the increasingly popularity that has led to the change in ticketing, explains arboretum spokeswoman Emily Pryor.

enchanted christmas
Coloured lights highlight the trees

“We’re striving always to improve the quality of visitors’ experience. We want it to be the best we can give.”

As a result, there will no longer be the option to pay at the gate and all tickets to the route will be issued in one-hour time slots, although people can enter the arboretum any time after 5pm to visit the restaurant and shop.

And Emily stresses that once on the illuminated trail there is no pressure to get around in a given time.

“Visitors can take as long as they need,” she says.

As well as new arrangements for tickets, the display in the Enchanted Christmas has also seen some changes with a complete overhaul of the equipment used to ensure an even brighter and more dazzling show.

enchanted forest
The lights create a magical world

This includes a more powerful machine to pump bubbles out into one part of the trail where they will be picked out by UV lights.

“It looks quite amazing in the dark,” says Emily.

Meanwhile, an ‘elf village’ for Santa’s helpers will have tiny houses lit up among the trees, while Father Christmas – dressed in the original, traditional green – will be taking Christmas requests and Mrs Christmas will be telling stories.

Although the one-mile trail follows a different route through the Old Arboretum each year, the concept remains the same. Lights in every shade from red, blue and white to green, purple and orange transform Westonbirt’s trees, picking out twisted limbs, fissures in bark or the graceful shape of weeping specimens.

Enchanted christmas
The Enchanted Christmas is a popular annual event

Some trees are lit with a steady spotlight, others are part of an ever-changing display as lights go on and off with timers.

Among the most popular elements are those that involve audience participation. The ‘singing tree’ has lights that are sound sensitive and visitors are encouraged to sing or shout to illuminate it. Elsewhere, a sequence of lights is triggered by visitors beating on drums.

And there is the chance to light up the Enchanted Christmas with pedal power by riding on a bicycle.

“It’s a huge hit with kids.”

There’s even a touch of disco with a huge mirror ball that reflects back onto the trees.

The Enchanted Christmas opens on Friday November 25 and runs on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Sunday December 18th.

The trail is pushchair and wheelchair friendly. Stout shoes, warm clothing and a torch are recommended.

For more details and booking information, visit Westonbirt

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Celebrate autumn

Two of the Cotswolds’ popular gardens offer the chance to celebrate autumn this weekend with their last big events of the 2016 season.

Colesbourne Park and Painswick Rococo Garden are both better known for their snowdrop displays but each has plenty to offer at this time of year as well.

At Colesbourne there’s a rare chance to see the arboretum and enjoy the autumn colour spectacle on Friday and Saturday, while from Friday to Sunday, the Rococo Garden will be showing off its home-grown produce and explaining how to get the most out of the harvest.

celebrate autumn
Squash are among the homegrown crops at Rococo

Among the trees

Colesbourne’s arboretum was started by Victorian plant-hunter Henry John Elwes and has been added to by his great-grandson Sir Henry Elwes.

It now numbers around 300 trees, with six registered as the largest of their variety in the UK and some 120 years old.

“This is very much a plantsman’s collection of trees from around the world,” said Sir Henry. “The arboretum was started by and is still managed by the Elwes family.”

celebrate autumn
Colesbourne’s unusual blue lake

The rest of the 10-acre garden will also be open with woodland walks and views across the lake, which is believed to get its unusual blue colour from lime.

Learn about apples

At the Rococo Garden, apples and pumpkins are just some of the produce on show as the historic garden encourages visitors to celebrate autumn.

On National Apple Day this Friday, there is a children’s Apple Activity Day with the chance to learn how to cook with apples, bug-hunting and apple games.

The apple theme continues on Saturday and Sunday with talks by Martin Hayes on orchards and how to prune trees. The Gloucestershire Orchard Trust is supplying information about traditional local varieties and there will be demonstrations of rural skills, apple-pressing and wreath-making.

celebrate autumn
Learn more about apples at Painswick Rococo Garden

And if you’ve got a mystery apple tree in your garden, you can take in the fruit for identification by Martin on Sunday.

“It’s an opportunity to find out what to do with autumn produce and the last chance to see the garden before we close for the year,” says garden director Dominic Hamilton.

Painswick Rococo Garden’s Apple Activity Day for children is on Friday October 21 from 10.15-3pm and costs £7.50. Book online at The Rococo Garden or call 01452 813204.

The Autumn Festival is on Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and 23, from 10.30am to 3pm. The 2016 season ends on October 31. For more details, visit The Rococo Garden

Colesbourne Park is open on Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, from 12.45pm with optional guided tours led by Sir Henry and head gardener Arthur Cole. Admission is £5, to include a cup of tea. For more information, see Colesbourne Park

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Chelsea change welcomed

Hospice to get inside view of flower show 

When I catch up with Royal Horticultural Society judge Richard Sneesby, he’s feeling a little jaded after two long days at the Chelsea Flower Show but upbeat about what he saw there. The show seems, he declares, to have turned a corner.

“It was nice to see something different. There was a move away from the usual blue and white planting.

Richard Sneesby
Richard Sneesby

“For a long time we’ve had a kind of herbaceous mix of very feminine planting, of quite muted colours and lots of things at the same height.”

Richard is on the Chelsea selection panel and was part of the team, made up of designers, journalists, constructors and nursery experts, who judged this year’s Artisan and Fresh gardens. He will be talking about the process and how Chelsea influences design at a fundraising talk this month for Cheltenham’s Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.

chelsea flower show
Leckhampton Court Hospice

He’s well qualified to spot changes in thinking having taught on design courses in Sheffield, Cheltenham and Falmouth over the past 25 years; he numbers Chris Beardshaw, Hugo Bugg and Sam Ovens, who all exhibited at this year’s Chelsea, among his former students. He is also senior judge for the Society of Garden Designers’ annual awards.

There was, he says, no dramatic shift this year but subtle changes: a rediscovery of shrubs and evergreens and some unusual plants.

“What was so wonderful about Andy Sturgeon’s garden was that I had no idea what probably 60 per cent of the plants were.”

chelsea flower show
Andy Sturgeon’s garden was awarded Best in Show

Yet, novelty alone won’t make a design work.

“It does not need to be whacky. It has got to be magical, it’s got to transport you for a moment to something different,” explains Richard, who now lectures at the Eden Project, alongside his Cornwall-based landscape architecture business.

However, doing something different is far from straightforward.

“It is getting harder and harder to do something new. It’s extremely easy to copy, it’s reasonably easy to adapt, but it’s incredibly difficult to find something genuinely new.”

chelsea flower show
Richard judged the Artisan Gardens

And only those designers who are confident are likely to take the risk of doing something that’s not tried and tested at the world famous show.

“If you get it wrong you have absolutely put your head above the parapet and there are not many people in the world who have got the guts to do that. People who have should be celebrated even if they get it wrong.”

When it comes to the RHS, gardens are marked out of four in nine separate categories, including construction and fulfilling the brief, with a threshold that has to be passed for each medal. Among the pitfalls are what Richard describes as ‘miniaturising’ things, such as making paths that are too small or seating areas that will take only one person, stuffing plants in too close together, or having poor specimens. Generally it is mistakes that make the difference to the medal awarded.

“Anyone who is offered a place at Chelsea has an equal chance of getting a gold medal.”

Richard will be talking at Cotswold Farm one of the area’s Arts and Crafts gardens. It was, he says, a period that saw collaboration between gardeners and architects and the sort of broadening of ideas that could be seen at the Chelsea Flower Show, with many gardens featuring bespoke works of art.

chelsea flower show
Cotswold Farm Gardens are the setting for the fundraising evening

“We’re starting to see gardens that are a collaboration of more than just the designer and a contractor. There are serious crafts people and very skilled artists, all sorts of people involved in these gardens.

“The more interesting ones are the ones that have come from the minds of more than one person.”

Richard Sneesby will be talking about the Chelsea Flower Show at Cotswold Farm Gardens, Duntisbourne Abbots, on Friday June 24 in aid of Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice. The event begins at 6pm with a drinks and canape reception and tickets, costing £15, are on sale from Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice on 01242 246285, email Leckhampton.fundraising@sueryder.org or visit the Sue Ryder website

• My reflections on this year’s Chelsea Flower Show are here

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Nursery holds garden contest

Young gardeners are being encouraged to have a go at creating their own garden in a competition run by a Gloucestershire plant nursery.

Tortworth Plants, at Tortworth near Wotton-under-Edge, is hosting the miniature garden competition as part of Tortworth Estates open day on Sunday June 5.

Gardens have to be created in a standard sized seed tray and there are three categories: six years and under, 7-11 and 12 and over. Entries need to be handed in to the nursery at Old Lodge Farm between 9.30am and 10.30am on the day.

The event is part of the national Open Farm Sunday and will include tours of the estate’s dairy farm, tractor rides, a farmers’ market and plants for sale.

Tortworth Nursery specialises in herbaceous perennials and unusual alpines and also has a range of herbs and classic favourite garden plants.

For a full feature on the nursery see here

For more information on the Open Farm Sunday event visit Tortworth Nursery

Plant sales plug gaps

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.

plant sales
Vegetable plants will be on sale

In the Cotswolds, gardeners have two sales to visit on Saturday May 14 that will help fill those gaps while supporting local groups.

Cobalt sale

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.

Gardening for butterflies talk

gardening for butterflies

Gardeners can learn how to encourage butterflies into their gardens at a talk in Cheltenham.

Sue Smith, from the Gloucestershire branch of Butterfly Conservation, and Sue Dodd will explain which plants to grow to provide the right nectar for butterflies and moths.

The Gardening for Butterflies and Moths talk, hosted by Charlton Kings in Bloom, is on Thursday April 28 at 7pm in The Stanton Room, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham. Admission is £6, to include refreshments. Tickets are available from The Forge newsagent in Charlton Kings and from 01242 521917.

Charlton Kings in Bloom will host its annual plant fair on May 14 outside the King’s Hall in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham.

Perennials, vegetables, herbs and bags of mushroom compost will be available at the event, which runs from 9am to 1pm.

Rare plant fair at Quenington

An open garden event with plants to buy is most gardeners’ idea of a good day out. Add the chance of cake and the knowledge that you are helping a good cause and it becomes even more attractive. Perfection is the possibility of picking up some unusual horticultural treasure so combining a Rare Plant Fair with an open garden has masses of appeal.

The Old Rectory in Quenington is the ideal place for a gathering of horticultural enthusiasts. Not only does it have the space – important when you’re hosting around 20 nurseries – it is also a garden with a long history, not least in charity openings; it notches up 70 years with the National Gardens Scheme this year and opens regularly for other charities, this week for Cobalt.

rare plant fair
The couple commissioned this gate

Bought from the church in the late 1920s, it has been passed down through generations of gardeners and is currently run by Lucy and David Abel Smith, who took over in the early 1980s. They inherited a site with good bones: old yew hedges and some magnificent trees, including copper beech and sycamore. While they have added some features, the layout has remained largely unchanged with the more formal areas nearer the house, gradually moving out into more naturalistic planting.

Not that the formal areas are all clipped topiary and regimented planting. This is a country garden and the atmosphere is relaxed: the main lawn does have a wisteria, rose and clematis-covered pergola but it is bordered on one side by neatly mown lawn and on the other by longer grass, studded with tulips and snake’s head fritillaries.

The rustic pergola is in keeping with the country style

What makes it memorable though is its setting alongside a mill race, a feature that has been exploited to the full with bridges allowing access to an ‘island’ of garden set between the mill race and the River Coln, and sweeps of narcissi and Anemone blanda that enhance views across to the house in one direction and countryside in the other.

Within this framework, Lucy has concentrated on revitalising the planting, helped at first by Esmé Bradburne, one of the founder members of the Soil Association, who in turn trained the current gardener Robert Wyatt; the garden is still run organically.

rare plant fair
The waterside setting is memorable

“I have new ideas constantly,” she says, “just little bits, nothing dramatic.

“I think you have to keep thinking otherwise one’s garden does get very stale.”

Recently, these new ideas have included adding to the spring show by planting lots more bulbs, such as tulips.

“I just felt it need a bit of refreshing. We should have a show of tulips until the end of May.”

Tulips add spring colour

Some of these have gone into the long herbaceous border, others are beginning to colour up at the foot of the yew hedge, mingling with daffodils and muscari.

More drastic was the overhaul of the sunken garden, originally designed by Lucy’s mother-in-law. Here, she has taken out all the planting – “It had got too shrubby” – and replaced it with different varieties of thyme and Allium shubertii.

Nearby, a lily pond, designed to give the still conditions beloved of waterlilies, is a reminder of Lucy’s Scottish childhood home.

Daffodils are naturalised in the grass

Elsewhere, a shady area has been revamped with a winding path and the addition of shrubs, including cornus and cotinus, underplanted by drifts of hardy geraniums.

“I just wanted to make more of this wild bit.”

Every two years Fresh Air, an exhibition of sculpture, is held at The Old Rectory and some of the pieces have found a permanent home there, giving a modern twist to what is otherwise a traditional garden.

Artwork is found throughout the garden

Lanterns made from cupcake cases hang from the branches of a weeping silver lime in front of the house; the stations of the cross are marked out in lettering on stone that forms a trail through the garden, a quote from Goethe is a memorial to Esmé. Even one of the bridges doubles as art: made by Richard La Trobe-Bateman, it splits in the middle.

“It makes it very dramatic,” observes Lucy.

The Rare Plant fair at Quenington will feature 20 independent nurseries specialising in unusual plants. Those attending include Edulis, with a range that includes edibles, Shady Plants, The Cottage Herbery,  Whitehall Farmhouse Plants, with mainly herbaceous perennials, and Tortworth Plants, which is featured here

The Old Rectory, Quenington is open on Sunday April 10, 2016 from 11-4pm. Admission is £5 per adult, which includes entry to the garden. Admission is free for children under 16. Some of the proceeds will be donated to Cobalt.

Swans have made the garden their home

Spring goes on show

Cheltenham Horticultural Society members will be filling the town’s Pittville Pump Room with the scents and colours of spring this week.

Daffodils, hyacinths, alpines, tulips and primroses will be displayed at the annual spring show on Sunday April 3.

Classes cover container-grown plants, vegetables and cut flowers and there are also contest for photography, cookery and floral art.

Alongside the show, there will be plant sales, crafts and refreshments. The show runs from noon to 3.30pm and admission is £2, with entry free for children under 16.

The society was formed in 1942 as part of the Dig for Victory campaign and has been holding shows in the town for more than 75 years. Meetings are held on the second Thursday of the month at Century Hall, Shurdington.

 Details: http://www.cheltenhamhorticultural.co.uk/default.asp

Alpines on show

Alpine enthusiasts will be putting on a colourful display when they stage their annual show in the Cotswolds.

Members of the Cotswold and Malvern branch of the Alpine Garden Society will be exhibiting everything from primulas and saxifrages to dainty species narcissi and fritillaries.

The dainty blooms of Iris sinpers

Among the most colourful will be dionysia from Iran and Afghanistan.

“They make almost a perfect hemisphere of concentrated jewel-like colour,” says show secretary Eric Jarrett. “The are difficult to grow but so beautiful everybody wants to try.”

Dionysia tapetodes ‘Kate’ is challenging to grow

As well as the competition classes, there will be plants for sale, photography and botanical art. Growers will be available to give tips on growing alpines.

The show is on Easter Monday, March 28 at Maisemore Village Hall, Maisemore, near Gloucester. Plant sales start at 10am and the show is open to the public from noon to 4pm. Admission is £3 and refreshments will be available.

 For more details visit: http://www.alpinegardensociety.net/groups/Cotswold-and-Malvern

Trillium nivale from North America

Pictures © Eric Jarrett

Top nurseries visit Cotswolds

Top nurseries and specialist growers will be visiting the Cotswolds for a series of plant sales offering everything from bulbs and herbs to climbers and shrubs.

The first, from 10-1pm on March 11, will feature hellebores from Kapunda Plants, unusual perennials from award-winning Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, rare bulbs from Avon Bulbs and edible perennials from Edulis.

On April 29, from 10-1pm, shrubs and woodland plants will be the stars with Green’s Leaves Plants, DK Plants and Springhill Plants among the visiting nurseries.

The sale on June 3 from 10-2pm will include The Botanic Nursery, holders of the National Collection of Digitalis, Gloucestershire-based Tortworth Plants and Lyneal Mill Nursery with native wild flowers and alpine aquilegias.

Finally, the September 9 sale, from 10-3pm, has late flowering perennials from Phoenix Perennial Plants, hardy herbaceous from Whitehall Farmhouse Plants and Marcus Dancer Plants with climbers. There will also be specialist suppliers with goods ranging from smoked foods and garden antiques to silk cushions and children’s toys.

The sales are held at The Coach House, Ampney Crucis, near Cirencester, pictured above, and admission is £5, with a donation from the sale going to The James Hopkins Trust. It includes entrance to the garden. Refreshments will be available.

Details: http://thegenerousgardener.co.uk/