Strong design pays off at Brocklehurst

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

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

Brocklehurst
The garden has many peonies

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

Not that it was in the sort of shape it is today. Ill health meant the previous owners had not been able to devote the time they wanted to it and the quarter of an acre was somewhat overgrown.

Brocklehurst
Many of the roses are in pastel shades

Anne spent the first year clearing and 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.

Brocklehurst
Anne designed the gate

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

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

Brocklehurst
‘Teasing Georgia’ is the only yellow in the garden

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

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

Brocklehurst
There are long views down the garden

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

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

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

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

Brocklehurst
The new terrrace gives another place to sit

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

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

Brocklehurst
Badgers hide in one corner

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

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

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

Sheep, music and plants help charities’ fundraising

Hidden sheep, live music and lovely gardens will be raising money for good causes in the Cotswolds in the next few weeks.

There are several village garden events and the chance to see one of the Cotswold’s beautiful large gardens.

Ozleworth Park

On Sunday June 18, 2017, Ozleworth Park will be the venue for an open day in aid of Stroud district Citizens Advice.

Mixed borders, a rose garden, orchard and water garden are just some of the features of this large and varied garden near Wotton-under-Edge.

ozleworth
Ozleworth water garden

Nailsworth Silver Band and Panache, a steel band, will perform and there will be teas and plants for sale.

The event runs from 2pm-5.30pm and entrance is £5, free to children under 16. No dogs are allowed, except guide dogs.

Prestbury Open Gardens

There will be gardens of all sizes open in Prestbury, Cheltenham, on June 17 and 18, raising money for St Mary’s Church and The Butterfly Garden charity.

ozleworth
One of the Prestbury gardens

The event runs from 2-5pm on both days and includes plant sales, nursery stands and cream teas.

Admission is £5 for adults, accompanied children enter free. You can pick up a passport for the gardens at St Mary’s Church or at any garden with the Prestbury Open Gardens sign.

Chedworth Open Gardens

Chedworth is holding an open gardens and flower festival on June 24 and 25, 2017 from 11-5pm on both days.

As well as around 13 gardens to wander around, there will be cakes, plants and produce for sale, and refreshments. Admission to the gardens is £5 for adults and there will be a shuttle bus from the village hall.

The money raised will go to the Friends of St Andrew’s and other village charities.

Sheepscombe

ozleworth

Youngsters at Sheepscombe School have been making sheep ready for the village’s open gardens trail.

The sheep will be hidden in the 12 gardens taking part in the open day on Sunday July 2, 2017 with a competition to find them.

ozleworth
One of the formal gardens that is open

Among the gardening attractions will be formal borders, cottage-style planting, water features, a Japanese garden and wild flowers.

There will be cream teas available at either end of the two-mile trail and all profits will go to Sheepscombe Primary School.

ozleworth
The Japanese-style garden

“You can take in as many or as few gardens as you like while walking through the surrounding woodland and countryside in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,” says one of the organisers Sachi Hatakenaka.

Combined entrance to the gardens is £6, free entry for children and the Sheep Hunt is £1 a sheet.

Greenfields – a secret garden

One of the delights of the National Garden Scheme is that it gives you the chance to look around otherwise private plots. Occasionally, it is a ‘peep over a garden wall’ into a space that is otherwise completely hidden. Greenfields, Little Rissington, is such a garden.

I must have driven past on the road out of Bourton-on-the-Water countless times but thanks to hedges and gates there’s no indication of the garden behind.

greenfields
The garden has been created over the past 16 years

Not that 16 years ago when Diana and Mark MacKenzie-Charrington bought the old Cotswold house there was much of a garden. Grass, some trees and a lot of black sheds pretty much sums up what the couple took on.

Looking at the garden now, it seems hard to believe. Despite visiting on a less than perfect day – frequent showers, grey skies and a blustery wind that was scattering blossom like confetti and battering the remaining tulips – there was plenty of colour and interest.

greenfields
Wind and rain were scattering blossom

It’s obvious that this garden has been designed: carefully focussed vistas, colour co-ordinated borders and glimpses of garden through neat blocks of hedging.

greenfields
Carefully placed gaps in hedges allow views through

So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Diana had ‘phoned a friend’ for help. Katie Lukas is well known among Cotswold gardeners, the former owner of Stone House at Wyck Rissington (now called Laurence House) and a garden designer.

greenfields
The path weaves through mounds of plants

She in turn suggested calling in Sherborne Gardens and John Hill’s influence is obvious in the long snaking path through mounds of lavender, hebe and geraniums, topped by mop-headed Portuguese laurel. It’s similar to the Yew Walk at Littlefield and just as effective.

Against the wall alongside are roses, ceanothus and a golden hop, a reference to the family’s brewing history.

At Greenfields, the path forms the perfect view from Mark’s office to a white seat backed by yew.

greenfields
Alliums and ceanothus are the stars at this time of year

In fact, views from the house were high on the list of requirements when John drew up plans for the garden.

“What I always wanted and always liked is that you can see the garden from every single room in the house,” says Diana. “We’re so lucky because not many people have that.”

Near the house, a sunken area is used for al fresco meals while what was originally intended to be a herb garden because of its proximity to the kitchen is now used for annuals: tulips and anemones followed by cosmos and gaura, which is lifted every year and overwintered in the greenhouse.

greenfields
Hebe is used instead of box to give structure

“It’s at the bottom of a hill on heavy clay and it rains a lot in England so everything died,” says Diana with a wry smile.

Beyond, the edges of what would have been a large rectangular lawn have been rounded off by borders filled with roses in pink and cream, and perennials, including phlox, aconitum, hostas and, at this time of year, masses of white and purple alliums. The planting is punctuated with mounds of hebe, an interesting variation on the traditional box balls.

“It’s quite a flowery, pretty garden,” comments Diana.

greenfields
Crab apples add height to the front garden

It’s a theme that continues into the garden in front of the house, which Diana has created with Katie’s help. Crab apples pruned to a neat goblet add height to borders of peonies, exochorda, and frothy Alchemilla mollis.

Against the house itself is a beautiful Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ and – when your own wisteria has been hit by frost – an envy-inducing display of pale lavender blooms.

greenfields
Wisteria cloaks one wall

Throughout Greenfields, Cotswold stone walls and hedges – beech, hawthorn and laurel – have been used to divide and create smaller, more intimate areas or to hide the ‘working parts’, including chickens, compost and a neat vegetable garden.

A recent addition has been the creation of a wildlife pond – the spoil has been used to make a ‘viewing mound’.

greenfields
Cow parsley is allowed its head on the edges of the garden

Diana says she didn’t want a garden that was too structured and, towards the edges, the style softens with cow parsley and mown paths through long grass, giving a gradual movement into surrounding fields.

There is, however, just enough structure to give it shape and interest – even on a gloomy day.

Greenfields Little Rissington is open for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday May 28, 2017, from 2-6pm. Admission is £5, children’s entry is free. The event is part of the NGS Anniversary Weekend marking 90 years of the scheme and more than 370 gardens will be open across England and Wales. For more details, see the NGS website.

A garden crafted by nature

Sometimes nature 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.

home farm
Naturalised daffodils are a spring highlight

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.

home farm
The view stretches to the Cotswold Hills

“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.

home farm
The Dymock daffodil grows wild in 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.”

home farm
The camellia is covered in blooms

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.

home farm
The purple-blue and yellow make a lovely combination

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.”

home farm
Vinca covers the ground

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.

home farm
‘Snowdrop Wood’ is turning yellow

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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Cheered by the sight of yellow

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

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

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

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Sezincote is one of the original NGS gardens

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

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

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

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

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

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

national garden scheme
Berkeley Castle is one of the ‘1927 gardens’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Manor House, Blockley is part of a village opening

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

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

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

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

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

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Discovering snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

Take on an established garden in the summer and you would expect to see most of what it has to offer. There may be the odd winter-flowering shrub, or some spring bulbs to discover but the rest of the year is unlikely to hold many big surprises. Colesbourne Park is different as new head gardener Arthur Cole is finding out.

When he arrived last year, the Cotswold garden’s snowdrops were hiding underground. Now, with the snowdrop season well underway, he’s beginning to see what makes this garden special.

Colesbourne
‘Fiona’s Gold’ is one of the yellow snowdrops at Colesbourne

“Seeing things coming up now is so exciting,” he says.

Already there are big drifts of ‘S Arnott’, ‘Ophelia’ and ‘John Gray’ spread out under the trees and this year, there’s the added bonus of ‘Colossus’, which is flowering weeks later than normal.

colesbourne
‘John Gray’ is out in the garden

“I was told ‘Colossus’ came up at Christmas and was finished by the end of January. This year they were only just poking their noses up around Christmas. Now they are looking amazing.”

Meanwhile, more unusual varieties, such as the yellow ‘Carolyn Elwes’, are flowering in raised beds near the house and in the Spring Garden, where snowdrops are grown with a mix of shrubs and perennials in a woodland setting.

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The Spring Garden has a mix of early blooms

Arthur, who trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, arrived as the long job of lifting and dividing the snowdrops was underway at Colesbourne.

The garden, which has more than 300 different varieties, is known for its mass displays through woodland and alongside the unusual blue lake; the colour is thought to be due to suspended clay particles in the water.

colesbourne
The blue lake is a notable feature

Every year, Colesbourne’s owners Sir Henry Elwes, his wife, Carolyn, and the garden team, lift, divide and extend the display.

“All that was here was the grass, markers and gaps marked on pieces of paper,” recalls Arthur.

colesbourne
Viburnum flowers add a dash of pink to the display

What guides the work is the knowledge built up over decades of not only Sir Henry and Lady Elwes, who started expanding the collection in the 60s, but also gardener Will Fletcher who has worked at Colesbourne for many years.

“Having that experience is invaluable.”

Arthur says lifting the clumps was like “digging for gold” – an apt description as some of the snowdrops are sold to help fund the garden.

colesbourne
‘Ding Dong’

One third of each clump is replaced with the rest either potted up for sale, or replanted to extend the display.

And making the show even bigger is one of his main objectives.

“What I’m aiming to do is expand the snowdrops right along the lake,” says Arthur. “I want different varieties that are diverse enough to show the differences clearly.”

colesbourne
Cyclamen are an important part of the show

Already, there’s been some replanting on the raised path while on the lake’s banks, where the ground is too heavy for snowdrops, more trees have been put in, including Pinus orientalis and a Californian nutmeg, grown from seed.

Other changes since I last visited include moving a boundary fence to bring ‘George’s Garden’ further into the main garden. Now, you can walk around both sides of the border of shrubs and trees while the arboretum is being extended with more trees and snowdrops up to the new boundary.

The trees, many of them planted by Sir Henry’s great-grandfather the Victorian plant hunter Henry John Elwes, make a stunning setting for the snowdrops, which are mixed with cyclamen and aconites.

colesbourne
Snowdrops are spread throughout the arboretum

And it’s what Arthur refers to as the “macro and micro” interest of Colesbourne that makes it different.

“You’ve got champion trees, the ‘blue lagoon’, and then the snowdrops all in a concentrated package.”

Colesbourne Park, between Cheltenham and Cirencester, is open every Saturday and Sunday until March 5 2017. Gates open at 1pm and last entry is at 4.30pm. Entry is £8 for adults, children under 16 enter free.

A snowdrop study day will be held on February 15 with snowdrop experts John Grimshaw and Judge Ernest Cavallo. Numbers are limited and tickets must be pre-booked. See the website for more details.

For more Cotswold snowdrop gardens open in 2017 see here

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Growing medicinal herbs

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.

medicinal herbs
Medicinal herbs fill the borders

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.

medicinal herbs
St John’s Wort

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.

medicinal herbs
Toadflax

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.

medicinal herbs
The main axis leads to the ‘magic circle’

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.”

medicinal herbs
Californian poppies

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.

medicinal herbs
Yarrow is pretty and useful

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.”

medicinal herbs
The garden has a relaxing atmosphere

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.

medicinal herbs
Tom Verity’s water feature sits in the magic circle

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.”

medicinal herbs
Some of the dried herbs

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

Read about my visit to Barnsley House here

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Icomb Open Gardens

Icomb Open Gardens offers the chance to get some gardening inspiration at a lovely Cotswold village with many sloping sites.

Slopes, screening and sitting out

Front gardens are often low on the list when it comes to time and attention. At best they are a neat face to the outside world; at worst little more than a parking space.

For Ros and Steve Watson, who are taking part in Icomb Open Gardens, ignoring their front patch was not an option. Most of the ground at their Icomb home is in front with a smaller area to one side of the cottage and little more than courtyard behind. It’s a layout that has determined their approach to the garden, both in terms of design and the choice of plants.

icomb open gardens
Soft planting lines the path to the front door

Top of their considerations when they moved in nearly five years ago was improving the privacy; it may be a sleepy Cotswold village but the garden is alongside the main route in.

A large, mature hornbeam and several existing shrubs already gave a framework and Ros has supplemented this with more evergreen shrubs and trees, including Holm oak, golden choisya and several viburnums.

Adding a new border and extending an existing one has created an enclosed feel in the lower part of the garden and allowed Ros to frame a view of the house with a pair of Holm oak. Meanwhile, the borders have been filled with shade-tolerant planting, such as foxgloves and hellebores.

icomb open gardens
Curved borders now frame a view of the house

Around the cottage there is a relaxed style with geraniums spilling over a low lavender hedge, white lupins, and Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ scrambling along the wall; Ros has planted a wisteria to balance it on the other side of the front door.

The biggest changes have been made in the side garden, which has been transformed from a sloping piece of grass into the main flower garden. Part of the ground has been levelled and the existing wall made slightly higher to increase the privacy.

icomb open gardens
In true Cotswold style a rose adorns the front of the cottage

You access this area via a short flight of steps and Ros has increased the sense of change from one part of the garden to another by framing this entrance with pergolas that are gradually being covered by white clematis – ‘Beautiful Bride’ and ‘Arctic Queen’.

“I wanted to be able to walk in through a flower archway,” she says.

This area has been designed around an axis that runs from the back door, across a higher deck terrace and through to a second seating area. Either side of this line are flower borders filled with cottage favourites – astrantia, roses, nepeta, geraniums – in pale pink and white.

icomb open gardens
Soft shades dominate flower borders in the side garden

“I had this idea that you would come down from the terrace, have a bed on either side and a focal point at the end,” explains Ros.

Alchemilla mollis softens the edges of the small patio and the white theme is picked up in garden furniture, pots and pergolas that Ros has painted.

Another border is filled with Nigella and Ammi majus grown from seed, climbing hydrangea is beginning to cloak the wall and a second Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’, that was ailing elsewhere is now covered in flower and starting to spread.

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White is repeated in planting, pots and sculpture

Again, she’s been careful to create a sense of enclosure, this time closing off part of the back of the garden with climbers on trellis. Beyond, fruit trees and honeysuckle-covered obelisks add height.

While the couple inherited the bulk of the terraces that deal with what was a very sloping plot, the planting has increased the sense of ‘garden rooms’, proving that you don’t need rolling acres to create changes of mood and distinct areas.

What is surprising is that until she retired, Ros had never gardened and started only because a friend asked her to share part of a vegetable plot.

“I had never been interested in gardening at all before,” she says. “This is all experimental. I have never done a new garden before.”

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Putting Erigeron karvinskianus in a pot keeps it under control

As yet she has no vegetables in this garden; the former veg plot is now home to sun-loving Mediterranean style plants, although there is still a rhubarb crown lurking at the back.

Salad leaves and herbs are on the list of future projects, along with creating a small herbaceous border and another seating area when an old Wendy House is removed. Planning the next thing is, she says, part of the fun.

“It’s what a garden is all about, planning that next step and moving things around.”

Icomb Open Gardens, near Stow-on-the-Wold will have 10 gardens open for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday June 26 from 1.30-5pm. Combined entrance to the gardens is £5. There will be homemade teas and a flower festival to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday. Entrance to the flower festival is free but donations are requested towards the church fabric fund.

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A surprise in the Cotswolds

It’s always good on a garden visit to see something a bit different but few Cotswold gardens deliver quite the surprise of Barton House. Forget the flowing herbaceous borders typical of the area this plot has dazzling rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas with just a touch of the Orient.

In other parts of the country a spring show of these acid lovers would be nothing unusual but in the Cotswolds they are a rarity.

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Spring explodes into colour at Barton House

It is, explains owner Hamish Cathie, all down to chance. Like Westonbirt Arboretum on the other side of the county, Barton House sits on a seam of green sand, giving just the right conditions for growing lime-haters. Even neighbouring properties in the village just outside Moreton-in-Marsh have different soil and some of Hamish’s collection were gifts from others who have tried, and failed, to copy his planting.

“We’re just lucky,” he observes.

This difference in style is trumpeted from the moment you approach the six-acre garden. The circular drive wraps around a display of azaleas, which explode in shocking colour during May. There are some rhododendrons here but most have been moved as this part is too sunny for them.

Elsewhere, there is the pink-flowered R. oreodoxa, a gift from a former head gardener at Batsford Arboretum where it was ailing, and R. praecox, a favourite of Hamish’s mother, who started the garden in 1949.

“There was a big hedge of it in Edinburgh Botanic Garden and she always used to go to see it.”

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Rhododendron oreodoxa

R. ‘Taurus’ is, as Hamish says “as red as you can get” and R. barbatum is another with scarlet blooms.

The recent felling of a dying Japanese larch in the main lawn has enabled him to start a new rhododendron display, this time in shades of red and yellow.

“I want to get away from the pinks and whites,” he explains. “I want to have a very colourful thing here.”

When I visited, many were already in place with more, including a 9ft-wide ‘Hotei’, about to be planted.

Meanwhile, the ‘secret garden’, hidden behind tall hedges, has a growing collection of camellias, along with magnolia and Arbutus menziesii, whose striking bark splits open to show emerald green beneath; Hamish holds National Collections of both arbutus and catalpa.

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Camellias thrive at Barton House

Tucked away under the shade of acers is the ‘Japanese Garden’, complete with Moutan tree peonies, a pagoda, bamboo and a wisteria-covered bridge over a small rill. Replacing the bridge with another specially commissioned piece has been one of this spring’s projects.

More peonies are found in the Kitchen Garden where head gardener Kevin Line has established a cutting border of those and iris. There’s also an area of alpines, a small vineyard of red and white grapes, planted to mark the millennium, and an exotic garden with palms and olives. The glasshouse is used to propagate from the National Collections and to raise annuals for the summer display; this year a vibrant theme of blue, yellow and orange has been chosen.

Nearby, arches in the rose garden span pebble mosaics by local artist Sue Rew. They were inspired by 4th century mosaics in Motya, Sicily, where Hamish’s aunt helped excavate a Phoenician warship.

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Sue Rew has created pebble mosaics for the garden

What was once a ha-ha is today a tranquil canal with a water spout at one end and a bridge made from recycled metal by the estate’s blacksmith. Hamish’s father had already repaired the ha-ha and when it started to collapse again, Hamish decided to line it with thick clay and flood it.

“I didn’t want to do what my father did and go to immense expense and build it up again only to find the same thing happening again in 10 years’ time.”

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The ha-ha has been turned into a canal

This is very much a plantsman’s garden with the components chosen primarily for their own worth rather than with an overall display in mind. As such, much of the collection is displayed not in neatly ordered borders but informally in grass or in the shade of the garden’s many trees. It makes it an easy garden to wander through and a refreshing change from the tightly clipped style so often associated with gardens of this size.

Barton House, Barton-on-the-Heath, is open from 2-6pm on May 29 for the National Gardens Scheme. Admission is £5.

Eastcombe, Bussage and Brownshill Open Gardens

 Garden design tricks transform plot

There’s something about a well designed garden that shouts out the minute you enter. Maybe it’s the choice of plants whose colour and form blend perfectly. Perhaps it’s the structure that draws you in and moves you around the space seamlessly. For me, it’s the tiny details: the way a path is made; the attention paid to corners and the edges of borders. At Hawkley Cottage, which is part of Eastcombe, Bussage and Brownshill open gardens, there are all these features and a lot of clever garden design that is not so obvious but which underpins the whole thing.

The skilful way the plot has been tackled is not surprising given that owner Helen Westendorp once ran a successful garden design company. Yet, turning what was a neglected three quarters of an acre into a country garden with style was not an overnight transformation. Helen and her husband, Gerwin, bought the cottage in Eastcombe 11 years ago but did not start properly on the garden until three years ago.

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Borders along the brook are filled with colour

“The garden design had been sitting on my drawing board for absolutely ages,” admits Helen. “But it always went to the bottom of the pile because clients’ work always goes to the top.”

No longer working as a designer and with a young family wanting to use the space, her vision for the garden finally began to take shape.

Several things defined her approach: the wish to have planting that wrapped around the house and the main rooms; the realisation that something had to be done about the deep and dangerous brook that ran through the plot; the need to keep access to the garage, inconveniently sited halfway down the long, narrow space.

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Bergenia ‘Eric Smith’ is a favourite

Helen’s solution to that problem is the most ingenious and, at first glance, the least obvious of her garden design tricks. What appears to be a fairly normal arrangement of garden ‘rooms’ alongside the dining room and kitchen are actually part of the drive.

Yew hedges that form divisions are kept wide enough to allow a car through, while planting in the centre has been kept low with thyme and Erigeron karvinskianus. There’s a water feature in one section but it’s a low-lying bubble fountain while paving in the ‘outdoor dining room’ has been underpinned with sufficient concrete to take the weight of vehicles; the couple have also planned ahead and run service cables and pipes to the garage so that it could be converted at a future date.

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Cushions tone with the magnolia flowers

The brook, which used to run along the boundary, has been widened and diverted to sweep into the garden, allowing wide borders on each side. Meanwhile, what was a silted up pond is now a raised outdoor living area with a permanent awning. Rubble from the building work was used to fill in the space, part of Helen’s determination to make the garden landfill neutral.

“The only thing that was sent to landfill was a bit of plastic packaging.”

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An old pond has been turned into another seating area

The garden’s lack of width has been disguised with the hard landscaping – slabs run across rather than down the space – and planting. Paths crisscross, creating oval-shaped borders and lawn that draw the eye across rather than down the space. Within the borders, plants are grouped in repeated smaller ovals, while the paths’ sinewy shape is echoed in trees and shrubs, including hornbeam and choisya, that sweep through the space.

Plants have been chosen to give year-round interest: golden liriope dotted through with daffodils for early colour; Bergenia ‘Eric Smith’, whose pink blooms are a contrast to purple sage, lavender and Iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’, whose young foliage has a purple tinge.

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Planting follows the sweep of paths

“I love it when a plan comes together,” smiles Helen.

Outside the dining room, she decided to use circles and around the circular bubble fountain there are domes of hebe and rosettes of sempervivum tumbling out of a pot. Stipa gigantea, carefully positioned at the ‘doors’ to this space, form a transparent screen later in the year, helping to create a feeling of privacy despite the proximity of the front door and road.

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The low bubble fountain can still be driven over

And what of those tiny details? The main patio has smaller slabs laid as an enclosing outer border that subconsciously make you slow your stride and linger while drainage slits point to the practicality underpinning this garden. Meanwhile, what would often be a forgotten area under the yew hedge is planted up with cyclamen, providing an attractive weed suppressant, and the angular corners of beds by the house are softened with mats of Stachys byzantina. Details that are so easily overlooked but which mark this garden as different.

Hawkley Cottage is open on Sunday May 1 and Monday May 2 as part of Eastcombe, Bussage and Brownshill open gardens for the National Gardens Scheme. A total of 13 gardens will be open from 2-6pm and combined admission is £6, children’s entry is free.

There will be a plant sale in Eastcombe Village Hall and homemade teas available.

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