Blockley gardens: a lesson in colour at Church Gates

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.

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The ‘polite garden’ is a mix of pink, purple and white

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.

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Lavender Tulipa ‘Candy Prince’ is one of Brenda’s favourites

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.

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Wallflowers in shades of mauve partner the tulips

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.

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In a small space even the compost bin must look good

“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’.

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The ‘impolite garden’ has fiery colours

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.

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Lots of green helps to bind the bright colours

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.

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Step-over apples make a low hedge

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.”

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Pails are planted with a mix of spring bedding

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.

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Brenda is planning to replace the tulips for next season

“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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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‘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.

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Berkeley Castle is one of the ‘1927 gardens’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Manor House, Blockley is part of a village opening

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

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

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

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

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

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