I’ve ventured further afield this week to explore Mill House in Warwick.
It’s easy to stick to the tried and tested when it comes to garden visiting: National Trust properties, well-established private gardens that open regularly; members of the National Garden Scheme. But sometimes it’s worth taking a chance.
On a work trip to Warwick, I passed a sign advertising an open garden. It wasn’t one I was there to visit, or somewhere I’d heard about however, having a bit of time to spare, I decided to take a look.
What I discovered was a varied garden with plant-packed borders that showcased some clever colour combinations.
The garden was laid out more than 40 years ago by Arthur Measures and it’s now run by his daughter and her husband, Julia and David Russell.
While they have inevitably altered some of the planting, the layout is essentially the same: a mix of winding paths and mixed borders designed to divide the garden into smaller areas.
And it’s the setting as much as the garden that makes The Mill Garden stand out. The third of an acre plot runs down to the River Avon and shares a boundary with Warwick Castle. As a backdrop, the ancient stone walls are unequalled while the river was a cooling presence on what turned out to be a warm afternoon.
The planting schemes are designed by Julia and she obviously has an eye for colour with borders that team hot yellows, oranges and reds contrasting with others in shades of pink and mauve.
David, a retired nurseryman, told me that the couple also include lots of bedding in their borders and I spotted scented leaf pelargoniums, begonias and masses of verbena among the phlox, hydrangeas and achillea.
It was, he explained, because the garden is open so often: “No matter how good your herbaceous is, if you’re open to the public you’re guaranteed colour everywhere with bedding plants.”
They run the garden with help from volunteers and raise thousands every year towards both its upkeep and charities; in 2016, they raised £13,000.
While The Mill Garden is a member of the NGS and, it appears, well known to locals, not least as a prize-winner in Warwick in Bloom, none of that was apparent from the sign. I was glad I took a chance.
Here are some of the things that caught my eye.
• The Mill Garden, Mill Street, Warwick, is open daily from April 1 to October 31 from 9am to 6pm. Admission is £2.50. For details, see the Visit Warwick website
New Year’s resolutions aren’t confined to those wanting to shed pounds or quit smoking. Gardeners also see the start of the year as the chance to tackle the inevitable ‘to do’ list and gardening resolutions are common.
I’ve yet to come across any gardener who’s happy with what they’ve achieved. There’s always something they want to improve, something new to try or a part of their plot that just isn’t working.
Among the most self-critical are those that open to the public. Nothing concentrates the mind quite like knowing your efforts are going to be scrutinised by visitors.
I’ve been talking to some of the Cotswolds’ National Gardens Scheme members about what they have planned for 2017.
Dealing with a pretty thug
At Littlefield, at Hawling, Thalictrum delavayi is exercising Federica Wilk’s mind. Planted as a companion to pale pink roses in the Rose Garden, it is doing a little too well and self-seeding profusely.
“For the last couple of years, just before the garden open days, I have gone into the borders and thinned the thalictrum drastically in places, to try to strike the right balance between the roses and this very exuberant tall plant,” says Federica. “This is tricky, but extremely satisfying once the job is done.”
This year, one of her gardening resolutions is to start the job early and not leave it until just before the garden opens in July.
Spare plants are potted up and sold on NGS days where they quickly sell out.
“Visitors seem to like thalictrum a lot, probably because of its dainty, light purple bell-like flowers, which go so well with the roses.”
Another of her gardening resolutions for 2017 is replacing the lavenders in the Yew Walk, which have outgrown their allotted space.
‘Hidcote’ and ‘Imperial Gem’ will be replanted in spring.
“They vary in colour only slightly but the overall effect is superb, if the plants are placed diagonally opposite each other along the edge of the sinuous path.”
At the same time, Federica will thin out the Geranium ‘Jolly Bee’ so that it is in scale with the young lavenders.
She is also planning to get the basics right with a concerted effort on producing good compost – a long-held ambition.
“It’s looking promising and from next year perhaps I will never have to buy potting compost from a nursery again.”
Making an early start
At Barn House, Sandywell Park, near Cheltenham, an early start is top of the gardening resolutions list.
Leaving the tidy up and division of perennial borders until spring is, says Shirley Sills, proving a race to beat the clock of opening day, as the two-and-a-half acre plot is looked after by just her and her husband, Gordon.
“It’s a rush to clean and clear, split and replant borders in time for our first opening at the end of May and a lot of stress and cutting of corners to achieve it. In fact, this has led to a couple of borders not having had plants split for some five to six years!”
She is trying a different approach this year, and has strimmed all the perennials and left the dead top growth as a protective layer and habitat for insects over winter. This will then be raked off in spring, something she is hoping will take days rather than the usual weeks.
“This largely due to fact that new growth has started before I’m ready to tackle it, which involves more care in clearing borders. It’s an experiment but one I hope will work.”
Removing some trees that are growing into the boundary of this walled garden is going to lead to a rethink of one area.
“This will let a lot of light into a previously dark corner but one that until now I’ve been able to ignore as part of a woodland area so needing little maintenance.”
The resulting space is going to be an east-facing border of around 20m wide and 2m deep that will still have a few trees in it, including espaliered apples, a perry pear and Acer platanoides ‘Crimson King’. Clearing the rampant ground elder will be the first task.
“I have promised Gordon that I will not add to our workload with whatever I plan,” says Shirley. “Neither of us are getting any younger and there’s already too much work for us in this garden.”
Taking back control
New possibilities thanks to the removal of trees is also shaping the gardening resolutions of Celia Hargrave at Trench Hill, Sheepscombe.
A large area has been cleared of old or dangerous trees and replanted with new plus a mix of cornus and euonymus for stem and leaf colour. One of the felled trees has been turned into a dragon-shaped seat.
“The area is now covered in weeds because we have let in more light and moved soil, explains Celia.
She is determined to “get this area back under control” and plans to plant it with ferns, hellebores, cyclamen and spring flowering bulbs.
“I must also make a decision on how much of this area will be completely tended and how much will be allowed to become more like the majority of the established woodland. The decision is difficult as more creativity leads to more maintenance!”
The second of her gardening resolutions is making more of her vegetable garden. Feeling it has been somewhat neglected this year, she is hoping to be more organised both in terms of what she grows and how she uses it.
Top of the list is not over-planting things such as runner beans, staggering the sowing of salad crops and keeping a closer eye on courgettes so that they do not become marrows.
“I love the idea of a beautifully ordered vegetable area but never feel that I achieve this so it seems that early preparation followed by regular maintenance and use is key.”
Creating a new look
The New Year will see some major changes at Brockworth Court, near Gloucester. Tim Wiltshire is planning to revamp both the pond and garden by the historic Tithe Barn.
A new jetty, new path to the water’s edge and some, as yet, unspecified new planting are all top of his gardening resolutions.
“Probably the jetty will be painted the same green as the Monet bridge but I have not yet decided.”
He is also changing the look of the rose area by creating a pebble path around the central border. It’s going to be edged in cobbles that were in the old stable building.
“There’s a bit of recycling going on.”
Adding box hedging on the outer borders will complete the revamp.
Filling in the gaps
Kate Patel at Barn House, near Chepstow, which is known for its grass collection, has a long list of gardening resolutions headed by tweaking what she describes as a “weak corner” in front of her kitchen window.
Originally purple echinacea were used as a contrast to a band of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and drifts of Sedum spectabile but over the years the coneflowers have dwindled leaving noticeable gaps in the display.
Kate has already added clumps of Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ to give some more interest but says the two grasses are crying out for a contrasting hue.
“The answer would be to sharpen the spade and divide the congested clumps of Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Pink Glow’ and then remember to Chelsea chop them (done a little later in early June here) to keep them at the right height to contrast with the taller grasses behind them.”
Veronicastrum has already been used as a contrast further down the bed.
“It makes a stunning combination of seed heads against winter-blond grass that lasts right through the dreary winter months.”
Kate is also planning to boost the spring display by adding more bulbs, such as tulips. These need regular replanting as few like the combination of her heavy clay soil and wet winters but she believes it’s worth the effort for the effect of colour among the newly emerging foliage of deciduous grasses.
Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ is another combination that she likes with the purple pom-pom heads of the allium looking good coming through the nepeta, which in turn hides the uninspiring foliage of the allium.
Other gardening resolutions include renewing some ageing compost bins and growing more veg in 2017. Over the past few years, the vegetable beds have been used mainly for raising grasses and perennials either to restock the garden or to sell on NGS open days.
“Now I think it’s time to earmark a few of them for the things I’ve missed most like artichokes, multicoloured beetroots, borlottti beans and colourful squashes that are almost impossible to buy around here but that both taste good and look so attractive in a bowl on the kitchen table.”
Most importantly, she is planning to take the time to appreciate her garden in 2017.
“I want to set my never-ending To-Do list aside and make more time to just sit and enjoy the garden over a cup of tea while watching the dogs play in their paddock.”
As gardening resolutions go, that’s one we should all try to follow.
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’.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Teasels thread through the borders alongside roses, persicaria, bidens, crocosmia and mallow.
“I love flowers,” says Malcolm. “Foliage is great but I like 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.
“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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
These are often viewed with suspicion by many gardeners as some varieties are known to be uncontrollable in their spread and vigour.
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.
• Barn House, Brockweir Common, is open by arrangement for the National Gardens Scheme until the end of September. Contact 01291 680041 or email email@example.com
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org A combined visit to nearby Barn House may be possible.
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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
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.
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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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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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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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There must be a gardening gene, I muse as I gaze at Davina Wynne Jones’ Cotswold garden. As the daughter of Rosemary and David Verey it must have been preordained that she should make a garden. In fact, it was never her intention and she ended up creating a garden of medicinal herbs almost by accident.
Davina’s original plan was to have a herb nursery but she quickly decided it would not produce much of an income. However, it had sparked an interest in medicinal herbs and before long Herbs for Healing was born.
The company, run from a field behind her parents’ former home, Barnsley House, sells ointments, face creams and oils made using herbs and flowers, many of them grown by Davina.
And so the gardening gene kicked in as she found herself almost instinctively putting together a garden.
“Because they are indigenous plants, not hybrids or cultivars, they have wonderful soft colours and so the colours look good together,” she explains. “It began to get more like a garden but it was not my intention in the first place.”
On the surface, her garden is very different from the world famous and listed Barnsley House. It has a softer, less designed feel without the clipped topiary that has made features like the potager and herb garden so well known.
Also, because of the plants she grows, the display tends to peak at this time of year rather than being the year-round show her mother created; Davina has added some non-medicinal planting to give colour during May when she opens for the annual Barnsley Village Festival.
Scratch the surface though and the design influence of Rosemary Verey is clear. The garden has a strong axis running through, from a rustic gate past overflowing borders to an end focal point.
Adding a vista at Barnsley from the temple to the frog fountain to run at right angles to an existing axis was one of her parents’ first projects, says Davina.
“I’ve not got a double vista yet but I’m working on it.”
Indeed, having what she describes as ‘good bones’ underpins her garden: the borders are laid out to the proportions of the golden sequence, which is often found in nature; there may not be clipped topiary but there are strong verticals, including a willow tree that partial hides the garden beyond, creating a sense of discovery.
“I learned about texture from my mother and I have lot of different leaves and textures,” says Davina, adding with a laugh “Not because I ever listened to her particularly.”
It seems some things are just passed on subliminally.
It had been a few years since I last visited and the then planned finale to the garden is now in place. This is what Davina describes as her magic circle, an area enclosed by a beautiful structure fashioned from hawthorn that was being cleared from a 6,000-year-old long barrow in the area.
“Hawthorn is traditionally protective,” explains Davina. “It has been sacred from Anglo Saxon times.”
Within the circle are plants long associated with magic, fairies and folk lore, including evening primrose, mandrake, henbane and Artemesia vulagaris, or mugwort.
Paths laid out in concentric circles lead you towards a water feature made by sculptor Tom Verity, whose father, Simon, made pieces for Barnsley House. Its reflective water gives another dimension to the space.
In the borders are medicinal herbs that will aid every ailment, including St John’s Wort, used for treating wounds, aching joints and mild anxiety, Leonurus cardiaca, or motherwort, which has calming properties, Verbena officinalis (vervain) that Davina uses to help against glaucoma, and Galega officinalis (goat’s rue), which is good for balancing sugar levels. Chicory aids digestion, yarrow is an anti-inflammatory and Californian poppies have, says Davina, the same effect as opium without being addictive.
Some things, such as rose petals for making essential oils, are brought in as she cannot grow enough and others are gathered in the neighbouring countryside.
“I have a larder in my head of where things grow.”
Just three years after starting the garden, she was accepted into the National Gardens Scheme and has opened regularly for them ever since.
“In a way I wonder if part of it was pleasing my parents, although they had both been dead for some years,” she says. “The fact that Davina could have created an NGS garden in three years would have surprised them.”
• Herbs for Healing, Barnsley, Gloucestershire, is open for the National Gardens Scheme from 10.30-4.30pm on Wednesday July 27. Admission is £3, children enter free.
• For details about other opening times, products and workshops, visit Herbs for Healing
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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I rarely meet a gardener who is happy with the space they’ve got. We all long for just one more border; a couple of extra plants. Few go to the lengths of Sue Beck whose Cotswold garden is a lesson in maximising space.
It’s clear from the outset that this is the garden of a plant fanatic. The front path runs through tightly packed borders while overhead, arches are smothered in roses and clematis. The house can barely be seen behind leaves and flowers.
The front plot is almost triangular but its shape and size are disguised by the planting. Visitors are greeted by the dainty pink blooms and lovely scent of Rosa ‘Sophie’s Perpetual’. Purple clematis ‘Arabella’ and the pale pink rose ‘Applejack’ are entwined on an obelisk and staging is used for pots of hostas. It is just a taste of what is to come.
Behind the house, the grass has gradually been reduced to a couple of narrow paths as borders have edged ever outwards. Come summer, these are filled with a mass of colour: the spikey foliage and purple blooms of acanthus, soft pink mallow, golden inula, feathery thalictrum; the list goes on and on.
In July, Sue’s collection of hemerocallis, or day lilies, takes centre stage. There are around 400 – she’s lost track of the exact number – and they range through every colour. ‘Bird Bath’ is a dusty pink, ‘Moon Witch’ pale yellow, ‘Kansas Kitten’ deep purple.
More entertaining are the names: ‘Knickers in a Twist’ and ‘Life on Mars’ being just two of the memorable. Many are grown in the borders but still more in pots balance on low walls or line paths.
It’s not just hemerocallis that Sue, a member of the British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society, collects. The garden is also home to around 60 roses and the same number of clematis.
“I’ve no idea how many I’ve got now,” she admits.
Most of these are found on arches that span every path through the garden. There’s the beautiful Rosa ‘Malvern Hills’, with soft yellow double flowers, ‘Westerland’ with a more coppery tone and ‘Open Arms’, which has pale pink, single blooms.
‘Bonica’, another pale pink is teamed with purple Clematis ‘Durandi’, while the yellow R. ‘Alister Stella Gray’ is grown with inky purple C. ‘Rasputin’.
Elsewhere, C. ‘Dutch Sky’ has pale blue flowers with a slightly darker central stripe, ‘Margot Koster’ is deep pink and ‘Arabella’ has dainty blue-mauve flowers.
In addition to the arches, obelisks punctuate the borders and rarely have just the one plant scrambling over them.
In recent years, Sue has discovered a new passion: grasses. Already she is gaining quite a collection and they are a graceful counterpoint to the strong hemerocallis foliage.
A particular favourite is Stipa ‘Goldilocks’, a more compact form of the giant oat with narrow leaves and golden flower heads.
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Schottland’ are both used for their arching habit while the white-edged foliage of Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ makes a good year-round ground cover and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland’ is, declares Sue, quite “handsome”.
Lurking among grasses and the leaves of giant rheum and Arundo donax, the giant reed, is a metal giraffe, adding an exotic touch to this garden on the outskirts of Cirencester.
Meanwhile, a new summerhouse is gradually being submerged by planting; it had to be brought in via a neighbour’s garden as there was no way through the borders.
Despite barely an inch of bare soil visible, Sue is confident there is still room to add to her plants.
“There’s always space where I can put some more in.”
With her skill at maximising space, I’m sure she will succeed.
• 25 Bowling Green Road, Cirencester, is open for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday July 10 from 2-5, and Monday 11 and Monday 18 July from 11-4. Admission is £3.
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