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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