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
A little bit of show garden magic will be coming to the Cotswolds this weekend as leading designer Paul Hervey-Brookes sells plants from his gold medal-winning design at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (pictured top).
Hostas, beautiful blue chicory, Verbena bonariensis, asters, myrtle and some large shrubs that last week were being admired by the Hampton show crowds are among the plants on sale. The Garden of Discovery, for Viking Cruises, won Paul his ninth gold medal, six of them consecutively.
The plant sale is raising money for the Dogs Trust in memory of Paul’s husband, Yann Eshkol, who died a year ago.
“Yann was always very keen on animals and them being cared for and our dogs are all rescue animals,” says Paul, who is based in Stroud.
The Dogs Trust was chosen because Yann died just weeks after last year’s Hampton show where Paul won gold with a dog friendly garden for the animal charity.
Slad Valley House in Stroud is hosting the plant sale as part of two National Garden Scheme open days on Saturday and Sunday July 16 and 17.
The one-acre informal garden is set around an 18th house and is gradually being restored by the owners, Debbie and Michael Grey.
“The garden is interesting because it’s turning what was a mill owner’s house back into a home after being used for a variety of different things over the past 40 years,” says Paul. “It is bringing a garden back to life.”
What was a lawn at the front of the house is now a flower garden, there are mature trees and shrubs.
“It also has some challenging terraces to garden on.”
Some of the Hampton Court plants have been added to the garden this week and it also features elements of Paul’s earlier work, namely two sculptures by Andrew Flint that were used on his 2013 Chelsea show garden for Brand Alley.
While some plants were sold in the traditional end of show sell-off at Hampton, many have been brought back to the Cotswolds.
“It seems right to bring them back to where we made our home and where people have been so supportive over the past year,” says Paul, who runs garden and home shop Allomorphic in Stroud. “The whole thing feels right, not as though we’re doing it for the sake of it. It has got a good purpose.”
• Slad Valley House, Stroud, GL5 1RJ, is open for the National Garden Scheme from 2-4.30pm on Saturday and Sunday July 16 and 17, 2017. Admission is £3.50. There will be homemade teas for sale.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Blockley gardens are one of the most popular village openings in the National Garden Scheme’s Cotswold calendar. I’ve been admiring the tulips at Church Gates.
Visiting gardens can be a dangerous pastime. I rarely leave without at least one more ‘must-have’ plant on an ever-growing list. And Brenda Salmon’s cottage garden is particularly perilous.
Although it’s one of the smaller plots in the Blockley gardens group, it is stuffed with envy-inducing plants, including one of my favourites: tulips.
Name a colour and she has an example, from yellow, white and orange through to deep crimson, pink and lilac. There are slender tulip-shaped blooms, blousy doubles, tall, stately varieties and others that squat low to the ground.
What makes it stand-out thought is her skill in putting a border together, proving that you don’t need acres of space to make a real impact.
The garden, in the shadow of the village church, divides into what she laughingly refers to as “my polite and my impolite gardens”.
Visitors, who encounter the polite version first, are lulled into a sense of traditional English charm. Shades of purple, pink and lavender dominate a long border that runs most of the length of the cottage garden.
Backed by one of the beautiful old Cotswold walls for which the village is known, it is a harmonious mix with just enough white – mainly from Tulipa ‘Purissima’ – to stop it becoming bland.
Just some of the tulips that have crept onto my list for next year are the double purple ‘Showcase’, lavender ‘Candy Prince’ and the dark ‘Negrita’. I also fell in love with ‘Flaming Flag’, a pale lavender white with darker purple feathering and ‘Vanilla Cream’, which has a hint of green to its creamy petals.
Woven through the display is a striking purple-flowered honesty with dark stems, which has self-seeded along the border.
“As I was planting, I just pulled out what I didn’t want,” says Brenda, “so it appears random, which is quite nice.”
Big clumps of wallflowers in chintzy shades echo the colours of the tulips, there’s more purple from a recently added cut-leafed elder, and the promise of later colour with geraniums, phlox, aconitums, astrantias and masses of alliums.
Like many of the Blockley gardens, the layout of Brenda’s plot isn’t a regular shape and a second part of the garden is hidden from immediate view behind a wall.
This element of surprise has been used to the full with little to prepare you for the blast of colour that awaits. Tulips in fiery shades of orange, yellow and scarlet, narcissi in gold and lemon, yellow and orange wallflowers, and scarlet ranunculus dominate the ‘impolite garden’.
It should be a jarring clash of colours but it works thanks to the copious amounts of green from still-to-flower herbaceous and the acid green of Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’, which threads its way through the beds.
“What I want is for people to come around the corner and say ‘Oh! That’s different,” she says.
While it’s easy to be dazzled by the immediate display, what both gardens have in common is the need for closer inspection. Tucked in at the feet of the tulips are smaller delights: named varieties of primula and dainty muscari among them.
Step-over apples form a pretty, low ‘hedge’ alongside the greenhouse, there’s a collection of planted ‘pails’ on the tiny patio and a small rockery filling an otherwise awkward space by steps.
Despite its size, the garden has numerous clematis and more than 50 roses, most draped over the boundary walls.
Each plant is carefully labelled and the main borders are divided into lettered blocks, a trick learned in her previous Cornish garden, which included a 90ft by 10ft border.
“It helped to know where to go to look for things,” explains Brenda, who moved to Blockley with her husband, Graham, six years ago.
Now, on a smaller scale, the grid system means she can organise her planting more easily: “I spend hours doing plans beforehand but things don’t always go exactly where I planned.”
She usually leaves the tulips in the ground and just adds to the display but fed up with too many ‘blind’ bulbs this year she is intending to lift them all and start again.
Despite the well-stocked beds, she, like me, has a growing ‘must-buy’ plant list and when we met had just been scouring the local market for new things.
“Because I do plant so close things get overtaken sometimes and I have to move it or lose it,” she says. “It depends what’s the most important.”
• Church Gates is one of seven Blockley gardens open for the NGS from 2-6pm on Sunday April 23, 2017. Combined admission is £6. For more details, visit the NGS website
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Sometimesnature proves to be the better gardener. So often in my own plot self-sown plants have colonised corners I’d overlooked or created partnerships far better than anything I’d considered. The knack is knowing when to let nature have her head and when to take control.
Home Farm is one of those Gloucestershire gardens where the attraction is not a carefully planned herbaceous border, neatly clipped topiary or clever design. Rather it is the chance to savour a slice of unspoilt English countryside with spring flowers and envy-inducing views.
The garden is one that Torill Freeman has known since childhood – she moved to Home Farm from the nearby Manor House 26 years ago – and she remembers playing in the woods as a child.
It’s these woods, a mixture of larch, sweet chestnut, lime and cherry, that form the backdrop to a spring display that starts with snowdrops and finishes with bluebells.
And most of it has been crafted by nature, with ‘gardening’ kept to the lightest of touches.
“The only management I do in the garden is to have the undergrowth cleared once a year between October and Christmas,” says Torill. “Then the spring flowers will all come up.”
The garden has a walk through woods and fields of about half-a mile, which takes around 20 minutes – if you are not distracted by the flowers.
You start at what Torill refers to as ‘Larch Corner’ and, at this time of year, a show of yellow. There’s a large clump of open-faced narcissi – name unknown – and the start of the dainty, Dymock daffodil. This is called after the nearby village of Dymock and grows wild throughout the area.
Torill has added some acid-lovers, including a single, pink camellia that is covered in blooms.
“I was determined to have a single pink, not a double and not a dark pink.”
Cross a field and the next big display is in ‘Snowdrop Wood’, although it is now sporting shades of pale yellow and mauve rather than white. The snowdrops – the common Galanthus nivalus, both single and double, and another unknown variety – are still in evidence but the display is now being handed on to more Dymock daffodils.
These rise out of a carpet of purple-blue vinca blooms, which, like the daffodils, is a result of nature’s hand rather than Torill’s. It is a beautiful combination.
“Most of my garden is God-given,” observes Torill.
The next stage is her own work. ‘Spring Spinney’ is a slightly elevated section of path that has been planted up with more open-faced narcissi. When I visited, there were only one or two in bloom but the bulging buds signalled the full display is not far away.
Because the flowers turn to face the sun, visitors walking the suggested route look up into them as they climb the path.
“I had no idea of that when I first planted them,” admits Torill. “It’s just a very happy accident.”
The walk ends with‘Bluebell Wood’ where April will see masses of English bluebells and wood anemones. This early in the season, interest comes from a few snowdrops – around 1,000 have been moved up there.
Home Farm also has an area of orchids with the common spotted, early purple and, some years, bee orchids. Again, I was too early to see those.
There’s also a fun element: Torill has planted an ‘Alphabet Wood’ with trees ranging from A to Z, using either their common or Latin names. Among its members are Acer davidii and Zelkova serrata.
Near the house, there’s a small vegetable garden, a wide range of shrubs and an enclosed space full of pink and white winter heathers. Even here, care has been taken not to block the view, which stretches out to the Cotswold escarpment.
It’s a view that Torill never tires of watching and one of the reasons why she opens Home Farm for the National Garden Scheme.
“It changes every hour. It’s quite fantastic. I do so enjoy it but I think it’s very important to share it.”
• Home Farm, Huntley, Gloucestershire, is open for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday March 12, and also on April 9 and 30, from 11-4pm. Admission is £3, children enter free. Visits are also welcome by arrangement. For more information, visit the NGS website.
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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.
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.
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.
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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Snowdrop gardens are universally popular when it comes to garden visiting. From the passionate collectors – galanthophiles – to people who don’t garden themselves, everyone welcomes the chance to shake off the winter blues and get outside.
In the Cotswolds, there are several notable snowdrop gardens and many more with smaller displays.
Some of these are opening as part of the National Gardens Scheme Snowdrop Festival. More than 80 of the scheme’s members across the country will open during February to show off their snowdrop collections or spring displays of snowdrops, hellebores and other early flowers.
Launched last year as an addition to the regular charity openings, the festival proved very popular.
“During our first Snowdrop Festival in 2016 many of our garden owners were overwhelmed by the number of visitors that attended their openings,” says NGS chief executive George Plumptre.
So, whether you’re an enthusiast wanting to see unusual varieties or someone who loves the spectacle of a mass planting, there are many snowdrop gardens you can visit. Here’s what happening in the Cotswolds this year.
With all the gardens, it is advisable to check they are still open in the event of severe weather.
One of the best-known specialist displays is at Colesbourne Park, which has around 300 different varieties, one of the largest collections in the country.
Once the home of Victorian plant hunter Henry John Elwes, who introduced Galanthus elwesii, it has unusual varieties around the house and mass plantings through woodland and beside the unusual blue lake.
The garden, between Cheltenham and Cirencester, is open every Saturday and Sunday from Saturday February 4 until Sunday March 5. Gates open at 1pm with the last entry at 4.30pm. Admission is £8, children under 16 enter free.
Rodmarton Manor is another of the snowdrop gardens that appeals to collectors, with around 150 different varieties, including many that are rare.
Although the display begins in October, it is at its peak during January and February.
The garden, between Cirencester and Tetbury, also has many crocus, hellebores, cyclamen and aconites.
It is open on February 5, 12, 16, and 19 from 1.30pm with group bookings possible on other days.
Cotswold Farm Gardens
The snowdrop collection at this Arts and Crafts garden at Duntisbourne Abbots was started in the 1930s and has been developed since then by generations of the Birchall family.
Today, it numbers 62 different varieties, including ‘Cotswold Farm’. There are labelled clumps in the main flower borders and areas of naturalised snowdrops through woodland.
There is a ‘Winter Step Garden’ with a focus on scent and texture and the garden also has many hellebores, aconites, cyclamen and crocus.
It is open on Saturday and Sunday February 11 and 12 from 11-3pm in aid of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. Entry is £5.
Cerney House is another private garden with a mix of named varieties of snowdrops and a naturalised display of the common snowdrop.
Special snowdrops are found around the house with more informal plantings in woodland around the central walled garden.
Aconites, cyclamen and borders full of hellebores add to the show in this garden at North Cerney between Cheltenham and Cirencester.
Cerney House Gardens are open daily from 10-5pm until the end of November. Admission is £5 for adults and £1 for children.
Painswick Rococo Garden
When it comes to a mass display, Painswick Rococo is one of the best snowdrop gardens.
Thousands of mainly Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, put on a spectacular display through woodland with more naturalised in grass and teamed with other spring flowers in the borders.
There are some named varieties but it is sheer scale that makes this garden stand out.
Winter is also a great time to see the appreciate the structure of this idiosyncratic valley garden with its striking folly buildings.
Painswick Rococo Garden is open daily until October 31 from 10.30-5pm with a snowdrop talk every day at noon during February. Admission is £7.20 adults, children five to 16 £3.30 and the website includes updates on the snowdrops.
Batsford may be best known for its trees with beautiful spring blossom and stunning autumn colour but it also has many drifts of snowdrops.
Set alongside the privately owned Batsford Park, once the home of the Mitford sisters, the arboretum has a garden-like atmosphere with trees grouped for effect rather than by genus.
Snowdrops, hellebores, cyclamen and aconites make it a great place to visit in the winter with long views over the Cotswold countryside.
Batsford, near Moreton-in-Marsh, is open daily from 9-5pm and 10-5pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Admission is £7.95 adults, children aged four to 15 £3.50 (prices include voluntary 10% donation to the arboretum’s conservation work).
Newark Park is one of the snowdrop gardens where the appeal is the size of the display rather than the rarity of the flowers.
The snowdrops are naturalised around the old hunting lodge and through woodland on the estate. There are also long-reaching views thanks to the sloping site.
The National Trust property at Ozleworth is opening for a special snowdrop weekend on February 4 and 5 from 11am-4pm. Admission is £9 adults and £4.50 for children.
The NGS Snowdrop Festival
Four Gloucestershire gardens are opening for the National Gardens Scheme’s Snowdrop Festival.
Home Farm, Huntley, has lovely views and spring flowers along a one-mile walk through woodland and fields. It is open for the Snowdrop Festival on Sunday February 12 from 11-3pm. Admission is £3, free for children.
Lindors Country House, near Lydney, covers nine acres with woodland, streams and formal gardens. It is open for the festival on Saturday and Sunday February 25 and 26. Admission is £3.50, children enter free.
The Old Rectory at Avening has naturalised snowdrops, woodland and an Italianate terrace. It’s snowdrop opening is on Sunday February 19 from 11.30-4pm. Admission is £3.50, children’s entry free.
Trench Hill at Sheepscombe is well known for its spring display of snowdrops, aconites, hellebores and crocus. It has a woodland walk and good views over the Cotswold countryside. It’s open for the festival on Sundays February 12 and 19 from 11-5pm. Admission is 4, children enter free.
For more details on the Snowdrop Festival and for the gardens’ other opening dates, visit the NGS website.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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