Top honours at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival have gone to Peter Dowle’s tranquil Japanese-style retreat.
‘At One with . . . A Meditation Garden’ has won gold and the coveted Best in Show award.
Peter, who runs Howle Hill Nursery in was delighted with the win – his second best in show at RHS Malvern.
“It’s absolutely fabulous news and great for all the team – it was a huge team effort as always.”
And despite it being his 12th RHS gold, the thrill has not diminished: “Every gold is special,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to a fabulous festival.”
There was gold also for Painswick designer Sue Jollans on her second time at Malvern and after a gap of 10 years.
The Refuge highlights the plight of refugees and the journey they take in search of sanctuary.
A Mediterranean retreat by Villaggio Verde picked up a silver-gilt. There was silver for Buckfast Abbey’s Millennium Garden by Maia Hall and the Treehouse Garden by Mark Eveleigh.
A Garden Framed by Tim Lawrence, inspired by the idea of gardens as art, won bronze.
In the Spa Garden category, gold and Best in Show went to Russian duo Denis Kalshnikov and Ekaterina Bolotova. They were invited to exhibit at Malvern as part of a collaboration with the Moscow Flower Show.
Annette Baines-Stiller got silver for her garden inspired by the poetry of Ted Hughes.
There was bronze for The Ocean Garden by Damien Michel and Keith Browning’s eye-catching Bubble Drops.
• The RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11-14. For details, visit the website.
RHS shows come fast and furious at this time of year and while RHS Malvern may have only just closed, work on building gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is nearing the final judging deadline.
And there’s plenty of input from the Cotswolds this year with exhibits from the region across the show.
Cheltenham-based designer Chris Beardshaw will be planting to the sound of music on his third show garden for Morgan Stanley.
Members of the National Youth Orchestra have produced a piece of music based on their interpretation of his garden and this will influence where individual plants are based.
“That piece of music will help to direct how we formulate the drifts of plants in the planting of the garden itself,” explains Chris.
The garden has three distinct areas and, unusually for Chelsea, can be viewed on three sides. At one end is a naturalistic woodland, while the opposite side has a formal sun terrace garden. Linking the two is a green oak asymmetrical building.
Like his previous two gold medal-winning gardens for Morgan Stanley, the design has been inspired by one of the three strands of the firm’s outreach programme.
The 2015 design looked at well-being and was part of a much larger community garden in Poplar. Last year’s garden, which was relocated to Great Ormond Street Hospital, focused on health and this year’s entry explores education, with a basis in fractal geometry.
“There is an assumption that nature is chaotic and a garden is ordered and in fact that could not be further from the truth. Everything in nature has a pattern and order it’s just that it does not necessarily conform to an artificial geometry that we impose,” says Chris.
And in a move back to his horticultural roots, he’s growing more than 2,000 herbaceous plants himself in borrowed glasshouses at The Nursery at Miserden rather than leaving it to a commercial grower.
“Looking after the plants is obviously very time consuming when we are so busy with everything else. And is quite challenging as we have to work with the changing weather conditions – holding back some species, while coaxing on others. But for me the planting is the aspect of any show garden creation I love the most and this year will be even more special and rewarding.”
Concrete isn’t usually thought of as beautiful but Darren Rumley turns it into art.
The sculptor from Stroud is making his RHS Chelsea debut on award-winning designer Sarah Eberley’s artisan garden.
Spotted by Sarah at the RHS Tatton show, he has been commissioned to produce a seat for her garden for Viking Cruises celebrating Gaudi and Barcelona’s modern arts movement.
“I am a massive fan of concrete as a material and his work stood out for me,” explains Sarah.
The glass fibre reinforced concrete will be shaped using a silicon mould to produce a sculpted seat.
“It’s something very different and not what I’ve done before,” says Darren, of One Artisan
With fewer show gardens than in previous years – eight down from 17 in 2016 – the RHS has brought in five gardens to fill the space, a move last seen in 2009 with the ‘Credit Crunch Gardens’.
Celebrating Radio 2’s 50th anniversary, the ‘BBC Radio 2 Feel Good Gardens’, which won’t be judged, will be half the size of a show garden and aim to demonstrate the role gardens have in promoting a feeling of well-being.
Each has been named after a presenter and has a different theme. The Jo Whiley Scent Garden is designed by Tamara Bridge and Kate Savill, who have asked fragrance designer Jo Malone for help.
The Anneka Rice Colour Cutting Garden is being designed by Sarah Raven and will concentrate on plants that can be cut and will flower again.
Matt Keightley is designing The Jeremy Vine Texture Garden with bold geometric forms against soft planting.
James Alexander-Sinclair is aiming to reproduce the feeling of music vibrating through your body in The Zoe Ball Listening Garden. While visitors won’t be able to hear the music of the last 50 years of Radio 2, it will produce patterns in the water feature and will be felt through the floor.
And Chris Evans will be broadcasting from his garden on Press Day. The Chris Evans Taste Garden has been designed by Jon Wheatley as an allotment-style plot with a range of fruit flowers and vegetables. Bake Off Queen Mary Berry has been consulted on the tastiest plants.
The Great Pavilion will see its first fully revolving exhibit with a display by Linda Marsh from Cheltenham, which celebrates 60 years of the Hardy Plant Society.
In another first, each plant will have a QR code to enable visitors to access cultivation notes via their smart phones.
“We want to show that we’re innovative and moving with the times,” she explains.
Linda, part of the Worcester HPS, which was chosen to put together the exhibit, is using 60 different plants in a fiery palate of purple, red and orange, with highlights of white.
Members have been growing the plants since October both in their own gardens and in glasshouses lent to them by Cotswold Garden Flowers nursery.
Fibrex Nurseries are no strangers to Chelsea but this year will be extra special.
The nursery, based at Pebworth near Evesham, is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its National Collection of Pelargoniums and fittingly the display will resemble a celebration cake.
Rather than its usual ‘against the wall’ pitch, the family-run nursery will have a free-standing display featuring pelargoniums in a tiered arrangement.
Among the four new varieties being launched, is ‘Rushmoor Amazon’, with large yellow blooms.
Another nursery marking an anniversary at the show is Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, which will be putting on its 25th display.
Also celebrating is The British Florist Association, which will highlight its 100th anniversary with a 2.5m-high display using more than 6,000 cut flowers in pink, orange and green.
Visitors will be able to look through circles of flowers onto the RHS Chelsea Florist of the Year competition entries.
And Hillier is hoping to add to its 71 consecutive golds with a bold display, designed by Sarah Eberle, featuring a 4m-high metallic spring.
Weighing in at more than a tonne, the coils will span the length of the display and will carry water into a pond at one end.
There will also be a ‘Memory Tree’ where visitors can hang a signed copper tag with a book below for them to add their favourite garden memory.
Alan Titchmarsh will be the first to add his memory to the Davidia involucrata, or Pocket Handkerchief Tree, and tags added by other designers and personalities will be auctioned after the show in aid of the Wessex Cancer Trust.
And there’s also . . .
Cotswold flower arranger Jayne Morriss, from Brimscombe Hill, near Stroud, is making her 10th appearance at the show with an entry in the Enchanted Garden class of the flower arranging competition. She’s interpreted it as ‘Puck’s Hollow’ and is planning to create a green and white display with a small pool, delphiniums and roses.
Mickleton-based Phil Britt, a member of Chipping Campden and District Flower Arranging Society, is also putting his floral art skills to the test in the same contest.
Cotswold wire sculptor Rupert Till from will be displaying his garden artwork and Cheltenham sculptor Chris Lisney will be unveiling three new pieces at RHS Chelsea. One is a sphere with a branch and a perched bird, while the other two show girls, one dancing with a perched bird and the other balanced on a book.
There will be garden antiques from Architectural Heritage, based at Taddington, and artist Jaci Hogan, based at South Cerney, will be showing her flower paintings on everything from cards to tablemats.
• The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 23-27. For more details, visit the website.
I’ve been venturing further afield with a Garden Media Guild trip to see two of Herefordshire’s notable gardens.
Not even icy air and occasional hail storms can dull the delight at discovering new gardens. Not that the two I visited last week were entirely unknown to me. I interviewed Sir Roy Strong and reviewed his book about The Laskett some years ago, while the country plot of Tamsin Westhorpe, former editor of The English Garden magazine, is well-known in gardening media circles. But I had never seen them and was intrigued.
We started with the four-acre Stockton Bury, and what Tamsin describes as “quite a new garden”.
These include a working kitchen garden with beautifully shaped apple trees, shrub and perennial borders and a water garden, all set against some stunning old buildings: the dovecot with an entrance so low even I had to duck and barns that are now used for displays of old tools and as a restaurant.
Although horticultural standards are high with weed-free beds and neat lawn edges – helped by wooden edging boards – this is part of a working farm and the garden has to work with, among other things, moving stock.
“It’s the scariest event when we have these sheep coming through,” Tamsin tells us.
Among the highlights for me were the Dingle, a spring-fed water garden that Tamsin says is her favourite place to work, and the newly constructed auricula theatre alongside the farmhouse.
The Laskett is another relatively young garden, created by Sir Roy Strong and his late wife Julia Trevelyan Oman.
Sir Roy describes it as autobiographical, not least because the garden was funded by the couple’s work in the arts; Julia was a designer, Sir Roy director of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The garden is like a four-acre series of stage sets, many named for events – ‘The Silver Jubilee Garden’ – or for the source of funding, such as the ‘Pierpont Morgan Rose Garden’, paid for with the fee for a series of lectures Sir Roy gave in New York. I particularly liked Elizabeth Tudor Avenue with its juxtaposition of pleached limes, swagged beech and clipped yew.
There are numerous ‘props’: statues, urns, and rescued pieces of ancient stonework, including pieces from the old Palace of Westminster.
And, like any good stage set, there are multiple ways to enter and exit each space, with long vistas or tempting glimpses enticing you to explore.
The Laskett, once a purely private space, has opened regularly since 2010.
“It’s given me a new focus in my life,” says Sir Roy, who has bequeathed the garden to horticulture charity Perennial. “It’s such a delight to share it.”
• The Laskett is open to pre-booked groups from mid-April to the end of September. Details on the website
• Stockton Bury is open to groups by appointment from April to the end of September. See website for details.
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Some years ago, I encountered a garden that has left a lasting impression. With its perfectly choreographed borders, striking design and air of romance, it was a slice of Chelsea Main Avenue style transported to the Cotswolds. The garden was at Temple Guiting Manor and it features in designer Jinny Blom’s new book, The Thoughtful Gardener.
Using examples drawn from gardens she has created across the world and her own modest-sized London plot, she explores her approach to the process of making gardens. The result is a beautifully illustrated and thoroughly enjoyable glimpse into the thinking of one of our top designers.
The creator of four Chelsea Flower Show gardens with a gold medal in 2007, Jinny came into the business obliquely. She describes her life as one that “unfolded as I walked” and it has taken a varied route encompassing drama college and work as a psychologist, a “career I loved”.
Then, on a holiday in Northern Spain, she discovered an unspoilt area in the Picos Mountains, full of wild flowers.
“Always obsessed with plants I was now on fire with them,” she tells us. She left her safe job and “armed with energy, enthusiasm and blind faith,” began her design career, choosing not to study the subject but to learn by doing.
Her initial emotional response to the Spanish countryside still underpins her work. Despite utilising the nuts and bolts of garden design from surveys to determine levels, exhaustive lists of what to include and even marking out a site with sticks, it is more a visceral feeling for the space that seems to drive her.
“More often than not when I arrive somewhere new I get to grips with what needs altering within hours. It’s a sort of fact-based intuition.”
Nevertheless, she will have carried out detailed research first into not only the geography and geology of the site but also its history and even what is growing in neighbouring plots.
Sometimes, as in Temple Guiting Manor, this research will form the blueprint of her plan; the garden at the manor house is laid out on the ancient framework of old farm buildings and animal enclosures.
Yet, her approach is not sentimental: ‘First we must destroy!’ is often her opening line, although she adds that her numerous ‘death warrants’ can be alarming to garden owners.
And it’s not just plants, trees and shrubs that are cleared, any building or structure not worthy of inclusion is swept aside. Conversely, she is quite prepared to build to perfect her design; a ‘little piggery’ was the solution to the meeting point between two sets of box-headed limes in one project. And she lavishes as much care on these constructions as she does on plant choice.
Some elements are regular features: she likes to include water; plants a hedge on every project “as a matter of course”; and ensures there is always something edible, telling us “There is no solace like a freshly pulled radish!”
While she admits to being nervous initially, Blom is now confident in her own judgement, although she believes fear is an essential ingredient in the design process: “only when this heightened state starts to calm down do you understand that a good design is within grasp”.
Written in an engaging, conversational style, The Thoughtful Gardener is also peppered with good advice from the choice of plants – “Plants that are popular are popular for a reason, so don’t be too clever – just plant them and enjoy.” – to the need to prepare the ground well – “Good soil is a reward beyond words.”
Above all, she is concerned with what we leave behind: “Making gardens well means leaving a legacy far in excess of our own short lifespan”.
At one point, she advises: “If you want to be seduced by the subject [gardening], then just look at the pictures and stop reading!” To do so would be to miss a treat.
• The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom is published by Jacqui Small, RRP price £35. Buy now. (If you buy through this link, I may get a small fee and it doesn’t affect the price you pay.)
If gardening books should inspire or inform, then Gardens of Marrakesh succeeds on both fronts.
Part history lesson, part traveller’s guide, it opens the door on a place rooted in its gardens.
Marrakesh was, author Angelica Gray tells us, planned as a garden city “with orchards, market gardens and pleasure gardens as part of its urban model”.
Today, the majority of historic sites are beloved as much for their gardens as their ancient buildings, several hotels have notable grounds and throughout the city high walls shield lush courtyard spaces from public view.
Gray takes us on a journey through the three main areas of the city: The Medina, its historic centre; The New Town created by ex-pats in the early 20th century; The Palmery, a thick band of palm trees described by Gray as “one of the wonders of Marrakesh”.
The gardens themselves mainly fall into one of two types: riad and arsat. The former is an enclosed, inward-looking, urban garden, the later a productive, irrigated space that often doubled as a space for relaxation.
It is a journey into the unfamiliar for a Northern European gardener. Not only are the plants exotic – think cacti and citrus – the style is formal with blocks of planting offset against brightly coloured tiles, fountains and columns far removed from English herbaceous borders and rolling lawns.
While many of the gardens explored are centuries old, some are more modern and not all have been created by locals; Brazil, Sweden, Swiss and France are among the countries represented by designers of notable gardens.
Among the most memorable is The Jardin Majorelle, made by painter Jacques Majorelle. It first opened to the public in 1947 and is known for the startling cobalt blue that is used throughout the garden. It was rescued from decline following Majorelle’s death by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé.
Gardens of Marrakesh is a paperback edition of the original hardback, published in 2013 and, if there is a fault, it’s that the text has not been revised or updated. So, we are told The Bahia Palace is undergoing restoration and due to reopen in 2013 while a restoration project is planned at The Agdal, Marrakesh’s most important garden and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The current state of either project is not clear.
That said, Gray’s deft weaving of historical fact and personal anecdote into the text make it an easy read while heat shimmers from the pages thanks to Alessio Mei’s atmospheric photographs.
Gardens of Marrakesh by Angelica Gray, photographs by Alessio Mei, is published by Frances Lincoln, priced at £14.99 RRP. Buy now. (If you buy via the link, I receive a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)
Climbing onto the rose bed, secateurs in hand, I suddenly feel a little nervous. It’s said you can’t be too harsh when pruning roses but that’s of little comfort when they are not yours. I am about to tackle some of the bushes in Sudeley Castle’s centrepiece Queens’ Garden and I don’t want to get it wrong.
Luckily, talking me through it is Jess Hughes, one of the four-strong gardening team, who demonstrates how they prune to get the best display and then watches as I start on the first one.
The secret, she says, is to remove the three Ds – dead, diseased and damaged stems – any stems that are crossing another and then cut back to an outward-facing bud to give an open, goblet-shaped bush. Anything thinner than a pencil is cut right back, the rest is lightly trimmed; the gardeners, led by head gardener Stephen Torode, are experimenting with whether to prune the roses lightly or hard.
I am helping with the long winter task of tidying and shaping the nearly 500 roses in the garden, named for the four Queens who have walked there: Katherine Parr, Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I.
It’s not ideal gardening weather with occasional light drizzle and low cloud that almost touches the 150-year-old yews enclosing the rose garden but, if anything, it adds to the almost ethereal feel of the place. With the castle as a backdrop and its historical links – Sudeley was once the home of Katherine Parr, one of Henry VIII’s more fortunate wives – this is a place of romance and I am lucky enough to experience it when it is closed to the public.
I’ve been seconded to the gardening team at Sudeley, at Winchcombe near Cheltenham, as part of an experience run by Worcestershire-based Humdinger Days. The chance to garden at the award-winning site – either for a half or full day – is just one of the experiences, which range from learning to joust to spending the day as a leatherworker.
“We helping people achieve things they’ve always wanted to do,” explains Liz Davis, who founded the company with her son, Jordan.
The firm offers a ‘bucket list option’ so that friends and family can club together to fund something and will tailor-make experiences to fit individual’s dreams. They also provide a personal concierge for each client to make sure everything runs smoothly.
The Sudeley experience is, says Liz, ideal for anyone with an interest in gardening.
“You are working with the professionals and learning as well as having a memorable experience.”
With 10 different gardens at the castle, the tasks could include anything from edging lawns, raking leaves, dead-heading or weeding; each experience would include a mixture of things and there’s the chance to quiz the gardeners and pick up tips; I’m intrigued to see piles of melianthus leaves dotted along the East Border. It turns out they are forming a protective blanket for the plants, which the team have left in the ground rather than lifting and storing over winter.
As well as pruning roses, I’m helping Jess and her colleague Will Thake with bulb-planting; the other member of the Sudeley team is Pete May.
While the castle has always had tulips and other spring bulbs, this season it’s being done on a massive scale with 40,000 bulbs ranging from narcissi and crocus to alliums and colchicums.
“This year we’re adding early spring and end of season interest,” says Jess.
We are planting Narcissi ‘Double Campenella’ in grass alongside the banqueting hall ruins where it’s hoped they will naturalise. The heavy clay soil makes bulb planters difficult to use so the gardeners make the planting holes with metal poles. The narcissi are left uncovered until all are planted so that there’s an even spread and no danger of plunging the pole through an already planted bulb.
It’s slow, methodical work but each bulb – many already showing signs of shoots – holds out the promise of spring. I for one will be visiting to see how my work turns out.
I’ve never attempted woodwork since a compulsory carousel of practical subjects in my first year at secondary school. It wasn’t a high point in my school life though I fared marginally better armed with a chisel than with a sewing machine in needlework. Build a Better Vegetable Garden by Joyce Russell may change all that.
Covering everything from building an easy fruit cage to constructing a decorative obelisk, it shows how to save money and improve your veg plot by a little bit of garden DIY.
The book, subtitled ‘30 DIY projects to improve your harvest’, achieves the near impossible by appealing to both the no-idea first-timer and the seasoned DIY expert; the latter are advised that they may want to skip straight to the projects.
Starting with the basics – what tools to buy, timbers to use and even the difference between galvanised nails and panel pins – Russell outlines in clear but unpatronising language how to get started.
There are tips on marking up timber, cutting and drilling, along with the sort of advice that comes only with experience: keep tools in familiar places so you don’t waste time searching for them; don’t cut anything until you’ve checked your measurements; be aware that cutting metal pipes makes them hot so allow them to cool before touching.
She suggests starting with something easy, such as the broad bean support, fashioned out of poles and string. From that you could progress through the leaf mould container and simple cloches to a mini greenhouse or garden caddy.
Each project is scaled for difficulty and the hours needed to complete. I particularly liked the ‘slug-proof salad trays’, complete with either copper pipe legs or feet sat in jars of water or old welly boots.
Woven through these practical projects are cultivation ideas from how to plant raspberry canes to crops for cold frames and what to put in a hazel planter.
Given my previous experience of woodworking, this book did not immediately appeal but it won me over. As Russell says in her introduction: “wherever we are on the gardening journey, there are always more things to learn and more ideas to follow”. This is one path I’m tempted to take.
• Build a Better Vegetable Garden by Joyce Russell, photography by Ben Russell is published by Frances Lincoln (£16.99 RRP). Buy now. (If you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)
While many gardeners are happy enough to shift perennials and even shrubs around their borders somehow the idea of moving trees seems alien.
There’s something permanent about them that seems to defy the idea of uprooting – even when they are too close to something else or in completely the wrong place.
Yet, even the biggest of trees can be shifted, as I discovered when I met up with Glendale Civic Trees at the Malvern Autumn Show.
The firm, which is based in Hertfordshire, is expert in moving trees – be they mature specimens needed to give that instant age to a design, or existing trees that for one reason or another are in the wrong place.
“A lot of our tree-moving takes place within gardens,” explained Sales Manager Deric Newman. “Often they are in the way of a development.”
Others may be moved within a woodland as part of the thinning process where rather than simply felling the extra trees, they are replanted to extend the tree cover. And even trees covered by a Tree Preservation Order can be moved, if the local authority agrees.
The biggest tree the firm has been called on to move was a 30m-high oak in Newcastle. Its height was reduced by about half before it was relocated, something that is commonly done with very large specimens.
“You can reduce most trees by about 30 per cent without really affecting the overall quality of the tree.”
And some move long distances: London to Norfolk and even Surrey to Scotland.
Not all the trees are in existing gardens, some are nursery-grown large specimens that are needed in a new design, to create a shelter belt or avenue.
One project that the firm, part of national green service provider, Glendale, recently completed on a private estate in South Gloucestershire saw a mixture of semi-mature beech, lime, cedar of Lebanon, and walnut used to produce an instant effect.
“We were creating a parkland on what had been an arable farm and just brought in hundreds of trees.”
The firm operates specialist equipment to wrap the root balls and lift the trees and can cope with specimens that are up to 90cm in girth.
And it’s not something gardeners should be afraid of trying.
“At the end of the day, trees are just shrubs up in the air.”
Tips for moving trees
So how do you go about moving trees in your own garden, I wondered? Here is Deric’s advice.
• Move trees when they are dormant – between November and March.
• You can probably move trees of up to 14cm in girth (measured 1m above ground level). Any bigger, call in the experts.
• Dig the new hole before you try moving the tree so that it can go back into the ground immediately.
• Excavate a trench 30cm deep around the tree and aim to dig out a root ball of around 50cm in diameter.
• Try to keep as much soil on the root ball as possible.
• Make sure the new hole is the right depth, if anything, plant the tree 25mm higher than you want as it will settle.
• Keep the tree well fed and watered for the first few years.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com A combined visit to nearby Barn House may be possible.
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