Strong design pays off at Brocklehurst

Brocklehurst may be one of the smaller Cotswold gardens I’ve visited but the design principles that underpin it are the same as for far larger plots.

There are changes of mood, secret corners, long vistas and – most important – plenty of places to just sit and enjoy.

The garden has many peonies

It was the deciding factor when Anne Wood first saw the property: “It was the garden that sold the house to me,” she recalls. “It definitely had the bones of a good garden.”

Many of the roses are in pastel shades

Anne spent the first year learning about her new garden: “You have to live with a garden to what gets the sun and the light, to see how things work,” she advises.

It was obvious to her that Brocklehurst had been carefully laid out, in what she describes as “patchwork style” with hedges dividing it into smaller rooms. Using this as her basis, she has gradually adapted and tweaked the layout to put her own mark on the garden.

Anne designed the gate

At the back of the cottage, she has levelled the ground and extended a Cotswold stone wall to create a large enclosed terrace; an ornate gate, made to her design, gives glimpses of a small kitchen garden beyond.

Around the generous outdoor sofa, she has put scented plants, such as lavender, and herbs including sage and rosemary, while Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ scrambles over the wall.

‘Teasing Georgia’ is the only yellow in the garden

Indeed, roses are a feature at Brocklehurst. Most are white or pale pinks, such as ‘Generous Gardener’ and ‘Spirit of Freedom’ but she has put in ‘Teasing Georgia’ against a wall near the entrance. Chosen for its name – her goddaughter is called Georgina – it is the only splash of yellow, a colour Anne dislikes, in the garden but is tolerated for its strong growth, abundant blooms and because it looks fabulous against the Cotswold stone.

The path to the front door used to be box-lined but blight led to its removal and it is now lavender-edged. Again, scent is used by a seat – this time philadelphus whose perfume is ‘trapped’ in the space by hornbean hedges.

There are long views down the garden

Flower borders edge two sides of the lawn in the middle section of the garden. The planting is mixed – roses, geraniums, astrantia and peonies – all protected from Anne’s dogs by low rusted ‘fencing’ that she had made. Split into lengths, it’s easy to move when she needs to weed and acts as a support for the herbaceous as well as a protection.

A long hornbeam hedge used to run across the garden but it’s been shortened to allow the creation of a shady bed and new arches have been cut to allow different routes around the garden.

A carefully positioned statue and bowl of planting add interest to a box cube

Tucked away behind hedges, the wildlife garden is shady surprise. There’s a small pond, masses of hellebores and nettles that are left for the butterflies.

The new terrrace gives another place to sit

In contrast, colour dominates the last of the flower gardens where four ‘mirror’ beds surround a formal, raised pool. Many of the alliums and peonies were already there but the forced removal of box hedging, again due to blight, has allowed Anne to add to the collection and bring in Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’.

Again, there are places to sit – a bench under one of the hornbeam arches and a summerhouse – while ‘badgers’ in the corner are a quirky touch.

Badgers hide in one corner

“They’re the only badgers you want in your garden,” she says with a smile.

Six years on Anne has achieved much but still has more ideas. A new terrace to give somewhere to sit and look over the flower borders has just been completed and there are plans for a small garden, probably with a Zen influence, in memory of her son, Daniel, who died earlier this year.

Brocklehurst, at Hawling near Cheltenham, is open for the National Garden Scheme on Sundays July 2 and 9 from 11am to 5pm in conjunction with Littlefield. Combined admission is £8 for adults; children’s entry is free.

Cheered by the sight of yellow

The publication of the National Garden Scheme guide heralds the start of the gardening year and in Gloucestershire there’s lots on offer.

Maybe it’s the cheerful yellow cover but there’s nothing quite like the arrival of The National Garden Scheme’s handbook to lift the spirits.

It marks the start of the garden visiting season proper and opportunities to discover garden gems while raising cash for charity.

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Sezincote is one of the original NGS gardens

And it’s an anticipation that doesn’t dull with time; I’ve been writing about and visiting Gloucestershire NGS gardens for nearly two decades but I still eagerly await the new season.

Partly, it’s the possibility of discovering something new, partly the chance to revisit old favourites, to catch up with their owners and see what changes have been made.

The National Garden Scheme raises money for a range of charities, including Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie Cancer Care, and this year celebrates its 90th anniversary – dropping the ‘s’ on Garden in its name as part of a rebranding. Four Gloucestershire gardens have been opening since 1927: Berkeley Castle, Sezincote, Stanway House and Westonbirt School.

In Gloucestershire, the combination of entrance fees, plant sales and the famous homemade teas raised nearly £120,000 last year.

“We are delighted,” says county organiser Norman Jeffery. “It was our second-best result ever and slightly more than the previous year.”

This season, there are five new main plots in the Gloucestershire collection spread right across the area from the Forest of Dean to the north Cotswolds.

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Berkeley Castle is one of the ‘1927 gardens’

First to open among the newcomers is Forsdene Walk, Coalway, on April 30 and again on July 2. Regular Gloucestershire NGS supporters will know the owner, Pamela Buckland, from her previous garden, Meadow Cottage, which she opened for many years.

This is her new plot, which she has redesigned to have different areas filled with perennials, climbers and lots of pots.

The garden will open jointly with her former garden, which is also in Coalway.

The next new garden to open is Downton House, another small plot this time in the heart of Painswick. Owned by a plant enthusiast, this walled garden features many rare and unusual specimens and opens on May 17.

Greenfields, at Little Rissington, is a two-acre country garden surrounding a classic Cotswold stone house. It’s been developed over the past 16 years with a mix of flowers, fruit, veg and free-range hens. It opens on May 28.

Oakwood Farm did open last year to stage a plant fair but this year it’s joined by three gardens in the village of Upper Minety, near Cirencester. The event, on June 25 will include a flower festival in the village church and the plant fair featuring specialist nurseries.

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The Manor House, Blockley is part of a village opening

The last of the newcomers to open is Brocklehurst in Hawling, near Cheltenham. Described as a “romantic Cotswold garden”, it has traditional herbaceous borders and a woodland wildlife garden. The open dates, on July 2 and 9, will be combined with Littlefield, another NGS garden in the village.

In addition to these, there are several new gardens in long established village openings, including Blockley, Ashley & Culkerton and the Eastcombe, Bussage and Brownshill group events.

As part of the National Garden Scheme 90th anniversary celebrations, there is a special Festival Weekend on the Bank Holiday weekend from May 27-29. In Gloucestershire, 14 gardens, including two village events, will take place, promising a bonanza for garden-lovers.

For full details of individual openings, including timings and ticket prices, visit the NGS website.

The national handbook, Gardens to Visit 2017, is priced at £11.99. The Gloucestershire county booklet is free with donations welcomed.

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Growing veg beautifully

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

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

growing vegetables
The new vegetable garden combines crops and blooms

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

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

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

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


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Jewel-like colours echo illuminated medieval manuscripts

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

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

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

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The trellis has arched entrances and windows

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

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

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

growing vegetables
Roses soften the Cotswold stone house

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

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

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

growing vegetables
Allium cernuum is a pretty summer flower

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

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

growing vegetables
Plants spill onto the path in the Yew Walk

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

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

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

growing veg
Mown paths and wild flowers on the garden’s edge

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

growing veg
Wild orchids are a recent discovery

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

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

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