John’s Garden – Ashwood Nurseries.

We have wanted to visit John’s Garden for a long time but have never been able to attend on any of his open days, so when we noticed that a private visit was planned for the Shropshire Group of the Hardy Plant Society we were determined to go along. It is always worth going on these garden visits which give the chance to share the experience with your friends and also share their joint expertise and interest.

John Massey is well known for breeding his own strains of Hellebores and more recently Hepaticas too. He is also an excellent speaker and he has spoken to our Shropshire HPS group several times.

As we wandered down the drive to his bungalow we stopped to admire this imaginatively clipped hedge like billowing clouds. Opposite this was a lawned area with a small collection of interesting trees and some crazy sheep sculptures grazing the grass.

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As we entered the main garden there was more smart pruning deserving a closer look, including this Pyrus salicifolia shaped into an umbrella.

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Let us take a quick look at a few photos of garden vistas, views which tempted us onwards.

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Sculpture featured strongly in John’s garden and here is a selection for you to enjoy.

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Some well-chosen and carefully placed sculptures adorned the area around a beautiful pool. The planting was intriguing too and called out for closer examination.

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A second much smaller water feature was surrounded by a collection of beautiful plants. The little fountain raised the water just a few inches before it dropped back creating gentle ripples and a relaxing sound.

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The area of garden around the back of the house was partly covered with a large pergola over paved areas. Imaginatively planted containers and plenty of seats made this a restful area inviting the visitor to sit and relax to enjoy the succulents and alpines. From the paved area a lawned areas sloped gently down to the canal, a lovely feature acting as the boundary to a garden.

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John and his garden team seem very good at putting plants together especially using foliage as the link pulling the design together.

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As in any good garden however good plant combinations and plant communities are, there are always individual specimens that draw the visiting gardener in for a closer look.

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We really enjoyed our leisurely walk around John’s Garden particularly  as we were accompanied by John himself, who was such a generous, knowledgeable and humorous guide. We were lucky to share this garden with the owner and chief gardener.

But I shall leave you with two surprises we had during our journey, a totally unexpected border, a newly built stumpery and a lovely close-up view of a frog on top of a topiary sphere!

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Winterbourne House Gardens – a city garden

You don’t very often find yourself travelling into the centre of a major city to find a beautiful garden but that is exactly what we had to do to find a garden that had been on our bucket list for years, Winterbourne House Gardens. We travelled along three motorways, the M54, the M6 and finally the A38M into Birmingham until we found the street we were looking for and just 600 yards down there we found the entrance to the garden. Putting up with the motorway journey and the city traffic was soon lost from our minds as the entrance was so welcoming and we knew we were in for a wonderful day.

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Obviously we started our visit by obeying the sign above! The only downside of a visit to this garden is the tearoom being much too small for a wet and cold day. But the garden itself was a beauty with views, pathways and archways to invite us to explore further.

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A botanical garden though is all about special plants and the way they are grown together. There were plenty for us to study at Winterbourne and to help take our minds off the dull skies and increasing threat of heavy showers.

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Little features that draw the eye added extra points of interest to our wanderings.

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An unexpected treat was found as we took a path through woodland, a shaded walk alongside a large lake. The light was very special there. Looking out over the lake we could see the skyscrapers of the city. This was the only time we were aware of our city centre location during our wanderings.

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After enjoying our lakeside promenade we followed the winding path through the water gardens where the giant leaves of Gunneras and Dalmeras dominated and the wide ranging colours of Primulas added interest to the greens.

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We love to see sculpture in gardens so were delighted to spot these beautiful slate pieces  inviting us to read their words. We were amazed to discover that one piece was based on a clock – beautiful!

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So we discovered another garden that we enjoyed so much that we have added it to our favourite list. A great garden in a great city.

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Another friend’s garden – Holly Cottage

We love visiting small gardens listed in the National Garden Scheme’s famous Yellow book but even more enjoyable is visiting the NGS gardens of friends. So as we drove along miles of narrow lanes winding their way in and out of the counties of  Shropshire, Powys and Montgomeryshire we couldn’t wait to arrive at Holly Cottage, the home of Allison and Martin. As we approached the gateway our anticipation levels rose steeply as we spotted beautiful brightly coloured plantings running along the drive banks. The planting here varied and flowed from meadow planting to prairie style plantings and other areas of Alison’s own style. What a beautiful way to welcome visitors with a garden that embraces you so warmly.

Alison met us at the end of the drive and took us up to her home and garden. We had to wait a bit longer to explore the drive side plantings.

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This is also a garden with wide spreading beautiful views affording vistas of farmland leading to distant hills.

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Allison and Martin have built the garden to wrap around the house. The design is such that the garden surrounds the house and feels and looks as if it hugs the house. There is a beautiful link and bond between home and garden. Martin has built borders, walls and terraces in which Alison gardens with flair. A great team!

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Wildlife is welcomed into the garden.

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We started our tour of the garden in the courtyard behind the house where Allison is developing a collection of delicate Violas. Placed on shelving on a wall means that you can look these little beauties in the face and be engulfed by their scents. Such a clever idea!

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Moving around the side of the house we turned a corner to be greeted by more scent, but this time the scent came to us from shrubs, Philadelphia, Buddlejas, Rosa and more. There was also a richness of colour and texture. We wandered the narrow paths to study every beautiful plant and appreciate the way each plant worked with its neighbours.

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Through an archway beneath scented roses we moved into the little front garden enticed by the gentle bubbling sound of water.

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Exploring further steps took us around a series of raised beds holding herbs, cut flowers and nursery beds. Scent was evident here too, the warm relaxing scents of herbs. Soft coloured flowers burst from glaucous blues and grey of herb foliage. Temptation made us rub leaves between our fingers to savour the aromas and flavours.

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After a break for a chat enriched with tea and cakes, we excitedly wandered off towards the amazing borders clothing the two sides of the long drive.

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The simple and very common Moon Daisy is as beautiful as any rare tropical plant. Against a blue sky viewed from low down they present ethereal shapes, colours and patterns.

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To one side tall trees grew skyward from a native hedge and gravel paths invited us to discover the borders of meadowy prairie planting.

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What a beautiful afternoon we enjoyed in Allison and Martin’s garden. We came home with gifts of plants grown from seed by Alison in the greenhouse designed and made by Martin.

The garden at Holly Cottage

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My Garden Journal in June

Half way through the year and we are also at the half way point of my garden journal. Here is my journal for June – I hope you enjoy it!

It is June and the sky is blue and the sun warms us as we garden. These summer days mean relaxed hours in the garden and it is tiredness or aching backs that stop work rather than the dark.”

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I added four photos of general garden views below the first paragraph.

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On the opposite page I featured a tiny simple grass, a favourite but also a bit of a nuisance. It is the Common Quaking Grass. It moves in the slightest breeze.

“We have a grass growing on the Chatto Garden, our gravel patch. It is beautiful and looks so delicate but unfortunately it is a thug!”

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Turn over the page and we find two pages mostly of photographers.

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“Individual plants in our garden give points of interest, encourage interest and admiration but it is putting plants together in a sympathetic manner gives our garden its character and special atmosphere and creates different moods.”

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“Flower colours can contrast with or compliment other colours on other plants both flower and foliage. Good combinations can come from different plants’  foliage working together. These combinations can be restful or even startle us!”

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Over the next page I talk about two yellow flowering plants, the Welsh Wanderer, the Welsh Poppy and an aquilegia.

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“Welsh Wanderer – Meconopsis cambrica, decides each year where it will set up home. It is a champion self-seeder!”

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“Aquilegia chrysantha is a beautiful tall aquilegia with flowers of various yellow tints.”

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I finish off my June entries in my Garden Journal with a look at some of the tiny creatures who live in our garden with us.

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“Tiny critters who share our plot with us are mostly made warmly welcome and we enjoy seeing and hearing them as they explore our borders. Slugs and snails of course are the big exception to our welcoming attitude!”

I painted the caterpillar of the Grey Dagger Moth in watercolours and artist colour pens. It was a big challenge to show how hairy and brightly coloured it was.

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For the final page in June I painted some of our common snails, the Banded Snails that come in a mixture of colours and the Garden Snail. Again I used a mixture of watercolours and artists pens.

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For my next visit to my Garden Journal we will move into the second half of the year and into mid-summer.

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The Dorothy Clive Garden in June

It is half way through the year and also through our monthly visits to the Dorothy Clive Gardens. When we arrived at the gardens for our July visit we noticed signs for a vintage tea party and vintage fair. So we had a little extra to enjoy.

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The Dingle Garden which was so colourful on earlier visits had waned but still had a few points of interest. We were surprised to see several plants in flower but extra amazed by the beauty of the selection of Lilium martigon and Hydrangeas.

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I think the best way to share our June visit to the Dorothy Clive Gardens will be to present a gallery so that you can share our wanderings. As usual just click on the first image and navigate using the arrows.

So there we have it, the Dorothy Clive Gardens in June.

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My Garden Journal in May

Just as I completed my journal for June I realised that I had not yet posted “My Garden Journal for May”, so here it is now for you to enjoy! The June journal report won’t be far behind!

Summer creeping in can only mean that our May garden is changing by the day. Exuberance in every border with things growing before your eyes. A month of excitement! I began my May entry in my garden journal by writing,

“May means exuberance! It is the month when our garden shows us the ability it has to surprise. It shows off its strength and its artistic talents. Growth is so rapid and colour so exciting, that we are aware of what our garden means to us and also aware of its power that Mother Nature possesses and uses with pride and to excess!”

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I then turn to looking back at my original garden journey recording the first few years that we have lived and gardened at Avocet.

“Looking back in my garden journal that recorded the early years at Avocet, I read a paragraph that shows just how similar May is now. 

“The garden is bursting with life – butterflies including Holly Blues, bees and so many birds. Suddenly the garden is alive with birds giving extra colour, sound and movement. There seems to be so many finches – Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Greenfinches. Swifts, Swallows and House Martins swoop overhead especially in the evening.”

Sadly though there are far fewer Swifts, Swallows and House Martins overhead. So many have not survived their long migrations. What does the future hold for these beautiful acrobats?”

Turning over the page of my journal and we see the next two pages feature Acers and Roses.

“Acers are one of the many stars of the May garden, a month when their foliage and stems are delicate and colourful.”

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“May means Roses and by the middle of the month we have many buds and pioneer blooms. Reds and pinks dominate at the moment. Yellows and oranges are still to come.”

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I moved on to look at one of the climbers we enjoy in our garden and at the grasses that have now started to grow rapidly.

“Think of climbers early in the summer garden and Clematis is the first plant to spring to mind.”

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“Grasses are growing quickly now and the myriad shades of green move skyward in our borders.”

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Turning over again and succulents are discussed. These are a recent interest and I have only been growing them and propagating them for a few years.

Succulent plants are an interest that has grown over the last few years. Beginning with Aeoniums and Echeverias I soon branched out.”

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“Troughs of succulents grace the Rill Garden in May and on into October when the risk of frost mean that they retreat to the warmth of our greenhouse.”

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When we turn over next we see that I talk of Hostas and in particular those growing in our Bog Garden. The bog garden is so full of life at the moment with plants growing appreciably by the day.

“Hostas are one of the more subtle of our garden favourites both their foliage and later in the year their flowers. The Bog Garden next to our Wildlife Pond and snuggled up to it is a place of rapid growth in May.”

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White is not a colour I particularly appreciate in the garden and as a result I do not use it much.

“White is not my favourite colour in the garden. I particularly do not like white painted garden furniture or white painted fences, trellises or walls. We tend to paint our seats in ivory or cream which are much softer colours particularly on bright sunny days. Our fences we paint in browns and trellis work in gentle shades of green which acts as a great foil for our plants. I think this dislike of white is to do with our weather as it can work so well in other countries. Where flowers are concerned I appreciate them most in May when white can look good with the brightness of fresh foliage. Below are photos of a few particularly good white flowers, Viburnums, Cornus, white Bluebells, Iberis and Camassias. Some of these are the purest of white where others have gentle hints of colour. The Camassia has a green tint to it and the Iberis the gentlest hint of pink.”

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As we leave May behind we can look forward to the longest day, the time when day and night share equal number of hours.

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Our Delightful Dogwood

Cornus kousa chinensis “China Girl” is one of those shrubs that we look forward to with great anticipation every year. It gives its special performance almost every year but does occasionally have a year off. It is as far from the house as it can possibly be so we have to wander down to see what it is up to.

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It is a shrub that keeps on performing with wonderful white bracts early each summer followed by raspberry-like fruits in early autumn and red leaves each autumn.

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In this post I want to share the special show that the bracts give. The two pics above and the first batch of pics below shows our own shrub in our Japanese Garden.

When the bracts first appear they are pale green with deeper green bosses of flower in their centres. Slowly the green changes as it prepares to transform to cream, then to the purest of whites.

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On a visit to Winterbourne House Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston Birmingham we came across two particularly beautiful specimens of Cornus kousa, a pink bract variety known as var. chinensis Miss Satomi and one of the best white bract-bearing varieties Norman Haddon.

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