At the beginning of June a group of members, friends old and new, spent four days exploring seven fantastic gardens in Herefordshire. Below is a summary of this fantastic trip – and thank you to the members that provided the write-up of the different gardens.
Gresgarth Hall by Anne Mathieson
Our first garden visit was to beautiful Gresgarth Hall Garden in Lancashire, owned and designed by gold medal-winning landscape designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd.
The first feature we encountered was a copy of the Roman Calydonian Boar who held pride of place on the approach to the hall, an impressive centuries old house.
We wandered through the terraces filled with old roses, azaleas, mecanopsis, candleabra primula and hellebores towards the bridge spanning the stream which supplies the water garden, a haven for wildlife and water lillies. A quiet hour could be spent here watching dragonflies, damselflies and other wildlife and listening to the ever present gentle hum of many species of bees.
The well stocked kitchen garden, cobble designs, herbaceous borders combined in a mix of the formal and informal made Gresgarth a stunning place which warrants a day on its own to explore.
The Laskett Gardens by Irene Hudson
The Laskett Gardens are the creation of Sir Roy Strong and his late wife, the designer Julia Trevelyan Oman. Evolving over four decades, each part of the garden reflects highlights of their personal and professional life.
As the garden was initially developed it grew out from the house, bit by bit, in the style of Garden rooms, some large, and some small. As you walked through these enclosed “rooms” paths led off in all directions tempting you with views into the next garden , or a vista with a statue or urn in the distance.
This formality was all softened by some winding paths and informal herbaceous planting, and trees and shrubs left to grow in their natural form. Roses tumbled over arches and fences. These were joined by delphiniums, oriental poppies, irises, nepeta, blue centaurea, and a whole host of other perennials. There were even foxgloves popping up here and there !
Being a cottage type gardener I had some reservations as to whether I would like this garden or not However, the mixture of formality and informality was so well done, it won me over. This was a garden which drew me in and I could hardly wait to see what was round the next corner. There was also the added bonus of having seats to sit on and take in the view. This is a garden not just to be looked at, but also to be “experienced”. It is like no other, and my description does not do it justice. You will just have to go and see it for yourselves.
Hampton Court Castle Gardens by Fran Scott
There has been a manor house on this site for 600 years - the original owner fought under Henry V at Agincourt. Substantial parts of the original manor house still remain. Our group started our visit with lunch in the conservatory, which was designed by Joseph Paxton, Then, suitably refreshed, we set off to explore the gardens.
There were some wonderful huge ancient trees on the extensive lawns round the castle. When we entered the maze, made up of a thousand tall yew trees, we did start to wonder if we were ever going to get back out. However, we eventually came out at a long tunnel which plunged underground. The darkness increased, until it was genuinely pitch-black – however, we were soon back out in the sunlight, beside a pretty waterfall, which descended into a small river sparkling in the sun.
The large meadow was full of colour, with a great variety of wild flowers, interspersed with really fun sculptures, all made by the same young sculptor.
The formal gardens were absolutely charming. What is in many gardens a laburnum arch was in this instance roofed with white and purple wisteria – the effect was like delicate frilly stalactites, very unusual and really pretty. The flower gardens are divided by canals and by pleached avenues. The planting of the flower-beds was really restrained, with gentle blues, pinks and lilacs, and lots of repeat planting. The effect was of great tranquillity – a complete contrast to Roy Strong’s riotous garden, visited earlier in the day.
Stockton Bury Mill Garden NGS by Maureen Morton
This was my favourite garden – which is praise indeed as we visited so many lovely places. What a box of delights it is. It was such a pleasure to see creative treats all around. Tamsin, niece of the two gentlemen who own the house and garden, has obviously devoted much of her time to the design and planting since she moved here. She welcomed us warmly and then we were encouraged to explore the wonderfully different and colourful areas.
Through the first gateway lay a raised area with a mass of colours and textures leading to what had been the gardener's privy – now a sheltered spot decorated with little paintings of plants. Leaving that and wandering down to the enormous and well-organised kitchen garden we came across several plants not seen before – especially a yellow tropaeolum cascading over descending walls. On the way there – we wandered round a corner to find the beautiful covered swimming pool!
Then on down to the water garden past fully flowering deutzias and viburnums – lovely smells on all sides – to the grotto where a surprise lay in store. Turning right round we found we could exit through a narrow opening in the side wall to enjoy a walk back up along a rill to a box crossroads. More surprises were in store as turning right past the urn we could again squeeze through to the Secret Garden, with views through ancient arches to the countryside beyond.
Heading back towards the tearoom we saw the round, ivy-covered tall doocot – or pigeon house while the sheep were being rounded up on the other side of the fence. The cup of tea and cake were very welcome after a wonderful tour.
Westonbury Mill Water Gardens by Michael & Marion Blake
Beside an isolated old mill near the Welsh border, the water-hydrologist Richard Pim and his wife Sally developed Westonbury Mill Water Garden, an enchanting place to pass a sunny June afternoon. There is a very colourful bog garden, crossable dry-shod, leading to a network of streams, paths and bridges exuberantly planted throughout.
But there are surprises: from the mill site rises a crenellated tower issuing water from gargoyles; there is a two-floored Bavarian-style house with a cuckoo clock, cuckooing every hour – water-powered of course; also there is a dome made of coloured wine bottles sparkling like stained glass.
Just beyond the garden is a very colourful wild flower meadow; the topsoil had been removed to encourage diversity and used as a viewing mound. All very ingenious!
Hergest Croft Gardens by Linda Sanders
The last garden visit of our trip was to Hergest Croft Gardens, owned by the same family for four generations. With seventy acres of diverse habitat and stunning views over the surrounding countryside, the gardens contain the National Collection of Maples and Birches and over 90 ‘champion’ trees. A first for me was hugging the wonderful Davidia involucrata (Handkerchief tree) produced from the original specimen.
Exploring the estate was an adventure, from the water features to the kitchen garden with its long colourful herbaceous borders and the beautiful rose gardens, to tea on the terrace! The warm welcome from Lawrence and Elizabeth Banks, who guided some of our party round the arboretum and described the history of the garden made this a very special experience.
Ashwood & Larch Cottage Nurseries by Veronica Davis
Our journey home was broken by visits to two exceptional plant nurseries, each with their own private garden.
Ashwood Nurseries at Kingswinford is owned by John Massey, Chelsea Gold Medal winner who specialise in hellebores and hepaticas. His private garden is a "must" for our next visit south.
Larch Cottage,near Penrith is also a Plantsman's paradise, also with its own special garden was our final stop for lunch and yet more plant purchases, before saying farewell to Colin, our guide, at Gretna.
After a great break, the only thing left to do on our return to Helensburgh to unpack all our purchases!