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.

Colesbourne
‘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.

colesbourne
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.

colesbourne
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.

colesbourne
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.

colesbourne
‘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.”

colesbourne
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.

colesbourne
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.

snowdrop gardens
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.

snowdrop gardens
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.

snowdrop gardens
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.

snowdrop gardens
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.

snowdrop gardens
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, 2016 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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Growing a sense of peace

A recent report by the King’s Fund for the National Gardens Scheme has linked gardening to better health but it also has a role to play in end of life care as shown at the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.

Leckhampton Court

Gardening at Leckhampton Court

It’s the view that’s most surprising. An almost panoramic vista across the Gloucestershire countryside with the Cotswolds and Malverns visible in the distance, it seems at odds with the hospice’s location just on the edge of town. At odds, but also somehow fitting: if anywhere should have the benefit of a close link with nature, it’s here.

Then there’s the garden: nothing fancy but carefully tended and filled with colour, adding to the sense that this is just a well-loved family home rather than a modern, specialist centre for palliative care.

leckhampton court
The hospice is housed in a listed Elizabethan manor house

It’s an impression the team at Leckhampton Court are keen to foster: not only does it help to humanise what is often a distressing experience, the garden and indeed gardening have been shown to help in their work.

“It’s an important part of the care we provide here,” says Hayley Clemmens, the hospice’s spokeswoman, who stresses that the hospice is not just somewhere people go to die.

“Fifty-four per cent of our patients come in and go home again,” she explains.

leckhampton court
There’s a restful quality to the garden

Most are day patients – Leckhampton Court has just 16 in-patient beds – and many are being helped with long-term, life-limiting conditions such as multiple sclerosis and dementia.

As well as providing soothing, peaceful surroundings for patients, their families and the hospice staff, the gardens have been used in assessment and treatment, while difficult conversations are often eased by walking around the grounds or sitting on one of the many benches.

leckhampton court
Lavender lines one of the paths

A new feature that is proving particularly helpful is a raised vegetable bed near the day hospice room.

Tall enough to be accessible to even the frailest patient, it is filled with a delightful mix of colourful flowers and veg: celeriac, curly kale, purple sprouting broccoli, beans and sweetcorn rub shoulders with sunflowers, petunias and marigolds. Meanwhile, tomatoes are being grown in pots alongside.

leckhampton court
The new vegetable bed is brimming with produce

The mini veg plot is popular with patients, some of whom are distressed at no longer being able to care for their own gardens, and many take home bags of produce.

Tending the plants can also help with those in pain, says Senior Staff Nurse Katherine Grace.

leckhampton court
Flowers are grown among the veg

“I did a lot of planting with one MS patient who was struggling that week. It really took her out of herself.”

Her colleague, occupational therapist Anna Primrose-Wells, uses the raised veg bed when assessing patients, such as those with dementia.

leckhampton court
Colourful plants fill the borders

“One voluntarily picked up the courgette plant label and read it, which was massively informative for me to understand the level of his perception.”

The plants have all been donated while the bed itself was built by volunteers. Indeed, Leckhampton Court is reliant on volunteer gardeners as, along with the rest of the hospice’s work most of the costs have to be met through fundraising by the local community.

leckhampton court
Roses are one of the summer’s stars

A small team meets weekly to care for around five acres of garden in the total of just over 14 acres of grounds; there’s a sizeable wood as well as a lake and even the car park has planted boundaries.

There’s also an area of donated trees on the site of a former orchard, although tools rather than trees would be a more welcome gift today with wheelbarrows top of the list.

leckhampton court
Even the car park has flower borders

As well as tending borders filled with lavender, spiraea, hollyhocks, hemerocallis, leucanthemum and roses, the team also raise cuttings from existing plants to help fill spaces; penstemon are being targeted when I visit.

Pride of place is a new border by the main entrance created by Peter Dowle, a Chelsea gold medal-winning designer who donated the plan to the hospice.

“The bed was full of roses that were about 40 years old,” explains John Millington, who organises the team of volunteers. “We couldn’t replace them and had to go for something different.”

leckhampton court
Erigeron has settled well into the new border

Planting for the raised bed was funded thanks to the Farrell family, who raised the money with a charity golf event.

The new border was still being finished when I visited but already perennial wallflower, thyme and Erigeron karvinskianus were settling in around old stones from the manor house that have been carefully placed so that initials chiselled into them can be seen.

leckhampton court
Some of the stones have the original stonemasons’ initials

“It’s such an important bed as it’s the first one people see going up to the front door,” says John.

It’s also an important part of the ‘home from home’ feel that the hospice tries to create and the sense of peace that is so apparent.

“Lady Ryder believed that healing was helped by the environment,” says John. “This environment has healing properties because it’s peaceful and tranquil.”

For more information about Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court hospice see here

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Gardens on the edge # 2

Inspired by grasses

Time was the only grasses in an English garden were those overlooked while mowing and allowed to go to seed. Today most gardeners have at least one or two of the ornamental variety with the more adventurous weaving them through borders or even dedicating whole areas to grasses.

grasses
An eye-catching solution to planting under a tree

Even so, it takes a certain confidence to garden the way Kate Patel does at Barn House. Rather than using grasses as a filler, she has built her garden around them. Even more impressively, she has resisted the temptation to cram her one-acre plot with barrow-loads of different plants, adopting instead a remarkably restrained plant list.

I first visited the garden on the Gloucestershire Wales border when Kate joined the National Gardens Scheme in 2013. Three years on and the garden has matured while her collection of grasses now numbers around 120 with about half-a-dozen grown in the hundreds rather than the handful.

grasses
The new grass meadow

The new ‘grass meadow’, still in the planning stages the last time we met, is one area where these grasses are used in bulk. To cut down on what would have been a huge job, Kate decided not to dig this area when planting but rather to deal with it in what she describes as “lasagne-style”, building up layers of turf, mulch and wood chips.

grasses
Grasses and perennials spill over onto the paths

Molinia and deschampsia, all grown from seed, are dotted through with asters, veronicastrum and towering teasels, which are proving irresistible to butterflies and other insects. Prolific self-seeders, these grasses have been confined to this slightly wilder part of the garden where they can be more easily contained.

grasses
Miscanthus makes an unusual hedge

One of the features that stuck in my mind from my first visit was the unusual miscanthus hedge; it is every bit as good as I remembered.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ forms a graceful boundary at the edge of the garden, with a simple mix of Geranium macrorrhizum, rudbeckia and Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’ forming an understorey of contrasting foliage and colour.

“I did think the rudbeckia would have been choked out by now,” admits Kate.

grasses
Some grasses are kept in pots

Nearby, in an area that is fenced off to allow her dogs to run without damaging more delicate areas of the garden, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Starlight’ is used to form a low-level hedge alongside a seating area.

A more transparent barrier is separates the main patio from the garden behind. Here, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ and ‘Avalanche’, which has cream stems, form a vertical accent in a bed of swirling blues and mauves. This is made up of lavender, both ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’, Geranium ‘Blue Sunrise’, G. sanguineum ‘Vision Light Pink’, nepeta and Clematis ‘Petit Faucon’.

grasses
Sedum spurium ‘Voodoo’

On the other side of the path, more calamagrostis, this time ‘Karl Foerster’ is teamed with nepeta, rudbeckia and persicaria, while blood-red Sedum spurium ‘Voodoo’ hangs over the edge of the retaining wall.

Sometimes it’s a single grass that stands out: golden hakonechloa, combined with Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’ and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ brings a shaft of sunlight to a difficult space under a Prunus serrula. Definitely an idea to note.

grasses
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ is ideal for a pot

A few of the grasses are grown in containers where they can be enjoyed and even fussed over a little more. These include the wonderfully tactile Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’, a dwarf variety, and an unusual evergreen grass from New Zealand, Chionchloa conspicua, which frames a set of steps.

grasses
Pots are used for seasonal displays

In fact, container planting is another of Kate’s strengths and she has quite a number on the sunken terrace that help to soften the appearance of the hard landscaping. Pulling together the diverse mix, which includes cosmos, sedum, cordyline and, of course, grasses, is a ribbon of Geranium ‘Sanne’ that forms a neat edge and helps to hide the pots of more upright growers behind (pictured above).

Kate developed her love of grasses when she and her husband, Hitesh, lived in South East Asia and another legacy from that time are the bamboos.

grasses
There’s an exotic feel to the sunken terrace

These are often viewed with suspicion by many gardeners as some varieties are known to be uncontrollable in their spread and vigour.

grasses
Bamboo and scarlet crocosmia make a great combination

Barn House has a neat way of dealing with them: raised beds lined with DPM have proved more than a match for Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’, while underplanting it with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is inspired with the scarlet a beautiful contrast to the golden bamboo stems.

Yet another idea to add to my list of things to copy.

grasses
Chionochloa rubra softens an old mill stone

Barn House, Brockweir Common, is open by arrangement for the National Gardens Scheme until the end of September. Contact 01291 680041 or email barnhousegarden@gmail.com

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Gardens on the edge #1

A dazzling debut

gloucestershire gardens

Living in a county with so many good gardens, I rarely have to travel far to find somewhere interesting. What will tempt me further afield is a new garden, or one that promises something other than the usual Cotswold herbaceous border.

Recently, I travelled to the outer reaches of the county’s National Gardens Scheme to visit two Gloucestershire gardens that tick both boxes: one is making its debut in the NGS; the other is an old favourite with a plant list that starts with the owner’s love of grasses.

gloucestershire gardens
Long views are one of the garden’s strengths

Admittedly as I headed towards the border with Wales, I did wonder if the trip would be worth the journey, while trying to navigate the extremely narrow lanes with their sparse signposting reminded me of getting lost on childhood house-hunting trips in Norfolk with my father convinced the locals had ‘switched’ the road signs.

It is a long drive from my side of the Cotswolds but the chance to see two varied and interesting gardens makes it more than worthwhile.

My first stop was at Greenfields, which has been created from an almost blank canvas over the past five years by Jackie Healy. As such, it is still a young garden but a strong underlying structure and some impressive growth mean it more than earns its NGS slot.

gloucestershire gardens
Plants soften steps in the garden

The one-and-a-half acres has some noteworthy features: beautiful mature trees, stunning views towards Wales and not one but two streams, one a winterbourne that dries during summer, the other a constant flow through the garden.

The soil is more of a mixed blessing: acid enough to be able to grow rhododendrons and azaleas (unusual among Gloucestershire gardens) and reasonably fertile but difficult to work thanks to the combination of stone and solid clay.

“If you want to put something in, you have to get a pickaxe out first,” observes Jackie.

gloucestershire gardens
A swing seat is planned overlooking ‘The Jungle’

That job usually falls to her husband, Fintan, while the plants are her domain; in the past she has worked at a nursery and has a particular interest in propagation.

She describes the garden as influenced by Great Dixter and what she calls a “wonderful mix of formality and total chaos”. As such, there is little colour theming – beyond borders alongside the house where lavender mingles with agapanthus, delicate pink thalictrum and purple clematis. Elsewhere, there is a riotous mix of colours.

The garden is divided into distinct – and even labelled – areas that offer Jackie the chance to indulge her eclectic plant tastes.

gloucestershire gardens
Labels help you navigate around the garden

Behind the house, a semi-woodland area has lent itself naturally to a collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, dazzling in spring, and a cool retreat in the summer, particularly on the warm day that I visited.

The mound that is part of Offa’s Dike runs through it and prevents some parts being cultivated but Jackie is still managing to create a garden in the space. Part of the stream-side has been planted with plans for a possible stumpery further along.

gloucestershire gardens
There’s artwork in many of the borders

“When you’ve got natural water it’s a fine line between controlling it [the planting] and just accepting that nature will do what nature will do. It’s always a balancing act.”

So far, it’s a battle she’s winning but constant vigilance is needed to keep on top of weeds and plants that become thuggish in the damp growing conditions.

Further down, terraces are full of summer colour, first in golds, oranges and yellows, moving on to pinks, purples and blue.

A striking crocosmia – ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’ – catches my eye, as does ‘Kwanso’, a lovely double hemerocallis in burnt orange tones.

gloucestershire gardens
This double hemerocallis caught my eye

On the next level there’s a perfume whose source I struggle at first to locate. Jackie laughs and points out a rather unprepossessing shrub, rather straggly in habit and with small white flowers. It’s actually Philadelphus maculatus ‘Mexican Jewel’ and it’s definitely punching above its weight.

“There is nothing much to say for it from a shrub point of view,” agrees Jackie, “but at night this whole area is just filled with its scent.”

It’s not the only plant of note and elsewhere in the garden there’s a Japanese pepper tree, Zanthoxylum piperitum, Impatiens tinctoria, with its orchid-like blooms, the fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus and a schefflera that is surviving thanks to the microclimate.

gloucestershire gardens
Crocosmia ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’

The ‘Formal Garden’ is full of what she describes as “everything and anything that I love”, particularly dahlias, grown in pots that are sunk into the borders. It makes them easier to lift and helps to protect them from slugs.

Below, a raised terrace is divided into sheltered quarters that provide different growing conditions: two shaded, two more sunny. Again it’s a relaxed mix, including hemerocallis, Crambe cordifolia and penstemon.

A new grass area has a more regimented style: Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and golden lonicera around a seat that allows views across the garden through a pleached hornbeam hedge.

gloucestershire gardens
Grasses surround a new seating area

Elsewhere, stipa is part of a newly planted grass walk and Molinia caerulea arundinacea ‘Transparent’ is being used to edge ‘The Jungle’. Here, damp-lovers, including gunnera and hydrangeas, revel in moisture from the stream that pops up after a long section underground. Old bricks have been used to give the impression of water running through ruins and there are plans to build a swing seat nearby.

Surprisingly, given that she has long gardened, this is the first season that Jackie has grown vegetables. The veg are obviously unaware of her inexperience and the neatly fenced Kitchen Garden is brimming with cavolo nero, French and broad beans and carrots, all set against masses of nasturtiums, grown as a sacrificial crop to keep blackfly off the beans but thriving and adding a wonderful touch of colour.

gloucestershire gardens
Nasturtiums are grown among the vegetables

With many features, including yew hedges, still to mature, it will be interesting to see how this newcomer to the Gloucestershire gardens scene develops.

Part two: Barn House next week.

Greenfields, Brockweir Common, near Chepstow, is open by appointment for the National Gardens Scheme until September 10. Phone 07747 186302 or email greenfieldsgarden@icloud.com A combined visit to nearby Barn House may be possible.

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Gardening ideas to pinch

Forget the tea and cake or sitting somewhere beautiful enjoying the results of someone else’s hard work, the reason I love garden visiting is finding gardening ideas to pinch.

It may be an inspired plant combination, a nifty way of dealing with a difficult area, or just the way the garden is laid out, while talking to the garden owner can often yield valuable advice on how to cultivate certain plants or deal with pests.

Look carefully and most plots have at least one idea to copy but some are rich in gardening ideas.

Barn House, near Cheltenham, is one of those gardens that always inspires. Created and maintained by Shirley and Gordon Sills, it is a full of cheap and easy ways to add colour and interest.

Here are some of my favourite gardening ideas from their plot.

Water for a small space

gardening ideas

One of the first things to greet you on arrival at Barn House is a simple but stylish water feature, the sort that usually comes with a large price tag.

In fact, it was made by Shirley using nothing more complicated than an old trough that had been lying around in the garden for some years and some central heating copper pipe. Valves are used as nozzles and the water is circulated using a small electrical pump.

“Take the pipework in during the winter so that it doesn’t get frozen up,” advises Shirley.

gardening ideas

Dying the water black not only adds interesting reflections, it also combats the problem of algae and the need to keep cleaning it.

Finally, it is bedded into lush planting, including ferns and hostas that provide a good contrast to the hard outline of the tank.

It’s the sort of idea that could be adapted to any space and is particularly suited to courtyard gardens or anywhere where room is tight and a pond would be unsuitable.

Adding a water spout

gardening ideas

Further into the two-and-a-half-acre walled garden is a second water feature made by Shirley from bits and pieces.

Another old galvanised tank, this time deeper, has been placed against a wall and fitted with a pump.

A ‘Green Man’ head – bought from the RHS Malvern Spring Festival – has been turned into a water spout with a little careful drilling and a piece of pipe.

A small sheet of iron protects the wall while a second piece of metal guides the water down into the tank.

A clump of equisetum completes the picture and the whole thing is surrounded by masses of plants.

“The idea is to have lots of plants in front of it so that you have to look to discover where the sound of water is coming from.”

Potty about colour

gardening ideas

Gardening ideas are not confined to hard landscaping in this garden. There are also some good tips to pick up when it comes to pots.

A large galvanised pail – it’s a recurring theme in this garden – is filled to almost overflowing in a mix of colours that you would not normally put together: red, purple, orange. It works thanks to the amount of green included, which helps the colours to blend rather than jar.

Cramming the plants in – there are several begonias, single and double flowered, a central cordyline for height, nemesia, verbena, calibrachoa and masses of nasturtiums – gives the whole display a feeling of sumptuousness. When it comes to container planting, the less is more rule really doesn’t apply.

This pot is hitched up to an automatic watering system, which helps to explain the exuberant growth; surprisingly even the nasturtiums, which normally need harsher treatment, seem to love it.

If you don’t have an automatic system, regular watering and even more importantly, deadheading, will keep this display going well into the autumn.

Using pots with style

 

gardening ideas

Sometimes it’s the pot rather than what it contains that will add to your garden.

A far more ornate pot than a mere galvanised pail has been used as a focal point at the start of a path.

This is used as a feature in its own right, left empty and surrounded by plants that pick up the soft colours on the pot. When I visited, the soft lemon of a potentilla was echoing the hues of the pot’s decoration.

To help protect it, the bottom has been drilled with holes so that water doesn’t collect and pose a problem during cold weather.

An all-year display

gardening ideas

Pots don’t have to be large to make a real impact in your garden and with careful choice you can plant up something that gives year-round value for money.

Shirley has used a simple pot with just two plants in it as a focal point on one of her tables.

The sedum and sempervivums are evergreen and need very little attention, beyond picking over any dead leaves.

Her tip for success with them is to choose a shallow container, fill it with gritty compost and just leave the plants to get on with it.

“You don’t have to worry about watering it,” she says. “It just sits there.”

Disguising a fence

 

gardening ideas

Faced with a piece of fence that needed disguising, most of us would think of planting a climber.

The next in my gardening ideas gives you an alternative solution. All you need are some old pieces of wood and a little artistic imagination.

It was inspired by a Mondrian painting that Shirley saw on a visit to Venice.

“I was going to put trellis up but I thought I would do something a bit different,” she says. “I spent the whole day out here putting pieces of wood up. I made it up as I went along.”

The resulting abstract arrangement of shapes and sizes gives an interesting 3D effect and is popular with visitors.

“A lot of people comment on it and it was great fun to do.”

Hide an awkward shape

gardening ideas

A long rectangle is a familiar shape in many gardens but there are ways of hiding it.

Faced with such a space in part of their garden, Shirley and Gordon have looked to the diagonal, twisting flower borders and a raised pool around so that they are at an angle.

“It used to have two herbaceous borders and you could see straight to the end,” says Shirley. “This gives me more border and it’s got a flow to it, which I love.”

A pergola slanted across the space helps to emphasise the width while keeping it deliberately unplanted stops it cutting off the lower part of the garden by allowing views through.

Perfect companions

gardening ideas

Gardening ideas wouldn’t be complete without at least one planting combination to copy and while Barn House has several there is one that really caught my eye.

Clematis are so often confined to trellis, pergolas or occasionally obelisks in the middle of borders and only herbaceous varieties are allowed free rein among other plants.

Yet, even the usual climbers can be used unrestricted providing you choose their companions carefully.

Shirley has planted a Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ and allowed it to scramble through Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’. It provides the necessary support and the deep purple clematis gives a dark counterpoint that sets off the white blooms of the anemone. So much nicer than seeing it trussed up on an obelisk.

Barn House, Sandywell Park, Cheltenham, is open for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday August 7 from 11am to 5pm. Admission is £4.50. For more information, visit the NGS

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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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