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What our visitors saw! Our first NGS open Day of 2015

This year we are opening our garden five times, once each month from April to August so that visitors can see it develop as the year progresses. Our first opening was on 15th April, a sunny warm day so we were pretty busy. This blog is a wander around our Avocet garden with my camera just before our visitors arrived. Enjoy a wander with me.

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Our next opening will be in May when the garden will look very different.

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My Garden Journal – April

Back to my garden journal where we can see what was interesting me in our garden at Avocet during the month of April. My journal for April begins “As March gave way to April the weather responded with the sun making regular appearances and for the first time this year daytime temperatures made double figures. The garden celebrates!”

It celebrated with bright colours of spring flowers such as Celendines, Pulmonarias and early chartreuse flower s and bracts of Euphorbias.

My quote from Jenny Joseph’s book “Led by the Nose – A Garden of Smells” speaks of the delicate scents of the garden and in the countryside that are so important in spring.

The flowers that had come out in the sheltered places on banks and in woods – violets and primroses kept fresh by the rain at the beginning of the month – had been too shy and careful to part with much of their scent. Now they opened to the sun, and woods and walks began to have a lighter sweeter air. The air began to be a mingling of fragrances.”

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As the water in the wildlife pond warmed up we thought we would have our first dip with our net to see what wildlife was in evidence beneath the surface. In the journal I wrote “What fun as we reverted to childhood!”We were surprised by just how many different creatures had already stirred into life. I chose to paint the nymphs of Dragonflies and Dameslflies and a Backswimmer. The Damselfly Nymph will hatch out into an Azure Damsel and the two Dragonfly Nymphs into a Hawker Dragonfly and a Darter Dragonfly. They were quite a challenge to paint in their subtle earthy hues.

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Continuing on the watery theme on the next page of my garden journal I wrote “Jude gets excited each time she catches a newt when she is on her regular pond maintenance forays. The first this year appeared in early April. Such excitement at Avocet!”  We were so pleased to find so many newts out and about and so active this early in the year. As well as enjoying seeing them using our pond we are even more pleased to know that they are helping us with out pest control out in the borders. They spend much of their time out of water and are partial to slugs. Welcome visitors indeed!

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Now these little critters were even more of a challenge to paint than the other pond creatures! Anyway here are the results.

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On my next page I wrote, “During Easter Weekend, usually associated with cold and rain, the sky turned the deepest, clearest blue. Temperatures suddenly doubled and the garden buzzed and hummed with the arrival of bees and hoverflies. The most popular of all plants is the flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum.” 

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April is the busiest month of the year in the greenhouse. We raise vegetable plants for our allotment plot and annual plants for our garden, but a lot of space is taken up with Jude growing hardy perennials to sell on our open days.

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Towards the middle of the month the ponds were getting livelier with Water Boatmen, Pond Skaters and Water Beetles in evidence whenever the sun shone on the water. We set up our live moth trap for the first time this year to see what was about when darkness fell on the garden. Moths have such wonderful names, mostly given to them by English country clerics with far too much time on their hands. We found Small Brindled Beauties, Muslin Moths, Common Quakers and Early Greys.

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I next wrote “Goldfinches are searching the uppermost branches of our trees for the best nest site. We have at least one pair nest every year”. I then got out my watercolour paints and pens and attempted a painting of a Goldfinch.

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My final page in my journal entries for April featured two colourful beetles which we found in our garden in that month. “A tiny and very welcome visitor, a 14-Spot Ladybird came to our garden on our first Open Day of the year. A tiny but very unwelcome visitor to our garden also appeared on our first Open Day, a Lily Beetle. We welcome the 14-Spot as he eats aphids but we hate the Lily Beetle as it devours our lily leaves.”


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Yellow Book Gardens – 3 – Brobury House Gardens

For our third Yellow Book Garden visit we found another garden set in our neighbouring county of Herefordshire, so we drove down through the beautiful countryside of South Shropshire and North Herefordshire. It was a sunny day with a sparkling blue sky. Brobury House Gardens are open for much of the year but on the day of our visit they were open for the NGS Yellow Book Scheme. Their website was enticing so we arrived with high expectations. The garden was situated alongside the River Wye so we were looking forward to views of the Wye, probably the most picturesque river in England.

We began as usual with coffee and cake which was served in a beautiful conservatory with seating in and out. The view we enjoyed as we sat enjoying our refreshments increased our expectations. We were given a beautiful plan of the garden with some details of the garden and from this we learned that the garden was being redesigned and a lot of replanting had taken place.

As we approached the conservatory we spotted this beautiful blue Clematis and a nice barrow of plants for sale. From the conservatory we admired this beautiful, gnarled Mulberry tree reputed to have been planted by the naturalist and diarist the Rev Francis Kilvert. Close by, yellow tulips lit up the borders.

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Among the tulips we were pleased to see a Drimys showing its delicately scented yellow flowers. We have a couple of these evergreens in our Avocet garden but we have rarely seen them elsewhere.

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From the pond, in the section of garden inspired by Lutyens, we got a wonderful view back to the house.

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After the formality of the Lutyens styled garden we wandered down to the strongly contrasting stream and informal pools. Close by was a stand of mature white stemmed Birches, which glowed on this sunny afternoon.

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As we followed the narrow stream of clear water we found a border of Hellebores under the shade of tall native deciduous trees. The stars of this border were the Hellebores with flowers the colour of Primroses.

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The stream continued its short journey to the River Wye through beautifully planted bog gardens.

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As we left the boggy areas we found a stand of Weeping Silver Pears covered in white blossom.

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The stream beyond the boggy areas became narrower as it passed through sloping meadowland. Here our native Snakeshead Fritillaries graced its banks and among the purple flowers we discovered this white beauty with thin green lines on the outside of its petals.

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Behind the coach house the walled kitchen garden has been renovated and redesigned. It still has peaches growing on the walls and the greenhouse range has been beautifully restored.

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We were drawn by the varieties of Tulips in flower in this area, especially this stunning lily flowered orange bloom.

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We had one border still to see, a long border against the wall below the house. Spring bulbs featured strongly here so it was a very colourful border.

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And naturally we had a coffee before we made the journey home, this time we sat outside on the terrace as the weather had improved throughout our exploration of this interesting garden and the chill wind had lessened. We shall certainly recommend this garden to our friends.

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Yellow Book Gardens 2 – Radnor Cottage

Our second visit to an NGS Yellow Book garden for 2015 was just a few days after the first of the year to Bury Court Farmhouse, and was to a garden in South Shropshire near to the village of Clun.

Radnor Cottage sits on a steep hillside with broad views over the countryside. We visited on a bright sunny day with temperatures in the upper teens and this surprising Spring weather brought out lots of garden visitors.

We hadn’t been to Radnor Cottage for many years so really couldn’t remember what to expect. The garden owners described it as a semi-wild woodland garden so the plants of this season looked good in their setting. As we walked slowly up the steep gravel driveway we spotted wetland areas to our right and a mini-arboretum to our left, but we passed these by in search of the sign indicating “TEAS”.

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While fetching the teas I spotted this bright yellow leaved Berberis which we were pleased to see looked so fresh and lively as we have just planted one in our front garden in the Hot Garden. We enjoyed our tea and cake sat among a vast array of containers planted up with Sempervivums and other cushion alpines.

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I have a soft spot for Celandines so I just had to stop for a close look at this double form.

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We began our tour of the garden meandering up a steep slope with typical Spring planting among the close cut grass. We liked the juxtaposition of the formal box balls and the gentle naturalistic planting on the grassed bank. William Robinson would have enjoyed this garden! Species Tulips, Anemones, Muscari and other spring bulbs were to be discovered from the narrow gravel paths.

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We found a little veggie patch hidden behind a beech hedge.

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We then moved back down the drive to explore the wet area with a series of pools beneath old trees. Banks of daffodils flanked the grass paths. These grass paths appeared as we rounded corners presenting a choice of ways to go each time.

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Leaving the wetland we crossed the gravel drive and entered the mini-arboretum. Buds were bursting and bark glowing in the sunshine.

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Apart from the fact that it was on a steeply sloping hillside, we could not remember the garden at Radnor Cottage at all, so it was just as if we were visiting it for the first time.

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Yellow Book Gardens 1 – Bury Court Farmhouse

Our first National Garden Scheme’s Yellow Book garden of 2015 was to Bury Court Farmhouse in the Herefordshire village of Wigmore. We always look forward to our visits to other gardens which open to the public under the auspices of the NGS because of course we open for the Yellow Book too. We were particularly keen to see what other gardens looked like in April as our first opening this year is on 16th April.

To celebrate our first NGS garden of the year the sun came out and the temperature shot up to 17 degrees way above anything we have so far experienced in 2015. We drove down through the beautiful Shropshire Hills and into Herefordshire a county with such beautiful villages among beautiful countryside. We were directed into a rough grassed car park riddled with muddy puddles. We had to seek out a space for our car among dead farm machinery slowly decaying and being taken over by Mother Nature. A cheerful welcome awaited us at the garden gate. Spot the horse shoe hanging from the NGS sign.

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We passed through a five barred gate into a courtyard with narrow borders around its perimeter and a rectangular bed in the centre all planted with cheerful spring bulbs and early flowering perennials and shrubs. Hyacinths, Vincas, Celandines, Doffodils and Tulips.

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We were amused by the owl family and the bird bath.

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The garden boasted a small productive patch with leeks and broad beans already growing well and cloches warming up soil for future crops. A lawned area alongside was bordered by a tall hedge which allowed woodland plants to grow in its shade.

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At the front of the house was a large sunny lawn with island beds full of brightly coloured spring flowering plants. Primroses, Primulas and bulbs especially Hyacinths and Narcissi.

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This beautiful bronze statue of a hare was basking in the sunshine among blue Anemones.

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The borders around this sunny lawn were truly mixed borders with herbaceous planting, shrubs and trees giving interest at every level.

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Right in the centre of this lawned area was a clue to the original use of the imposing stone built building in the centre of the garden. It had originally been a farm growing apples to make cider. The photos below show the mill stone that would have been used to crush the cider apples. Ponies were used to pull the stones around a groove.

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So our first Yellow Book garden of 2015 was certainly worth a visit with its cheerful planting and it served very nice tea and cakes!



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Post 500 – Tom Stuart-Smith at Serge Hill

As promised for the third in my week’s posts celebrating my 500th post we go down to Hertfordshire to explore Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden designs at his own home and the home of his sister. The family home at Serge Hill is surrounded by mature planting. The new gardens  designed by T S-S are within its grounds. When these gardens open they are very popular with thousands of visitors making an appearance. It looks very busy and taking photos is difficult as the gardens are only open for one day each year as part of the National Garden Scheme, so people find it in the famous Yellow Book. The friendly herd of Guernsey calves greeted every visitor. We wandered through the gardens around the house which had been there a long time but the influence of T S-S can be seen.

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In the gardens at Tom’s and his sister’s, both designed to suit their particular needs, we felt we had found the nearest to perfection in meadow planting, prairie planting and courtyard planting. Come with us and see what you think.

Firstly I shall share my photos of the courtyard at The Barn. It has an atmosphere of such calm. Those loungers must provide a wonderful place in which to relax and be content with the world. The rectangular corton steel pools with their sheets of water dyed black for extra reflection mirror so clearly the moving clouds and any overhanging plants. Looking into them it appears as if they are bottomless.

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The planting is so simple but effective. Every plant has its place and complements its partners perfectly. Chartreuse and purple flowers and bracts work together so well against their background of grasses and coloured foliage.

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Reaching the prairie we found fellow garden fellow visitors exploring every pathway that were winding throughout.

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Close by a huge area had been planted as a native wildflower meadow which provided a wonderful contrast to the more vibrant prairie. We shall look in greater detail at the prairie and meadow as well as Tom Stuart-Smith’s sister’s garden in the next post.



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Two Cheshire Gardens in one day

Jude and I arranged a coach trip to visit some Cheshire gardens for the Shropshire Group of the Hardy Plant Society as part of our programme secretaries role. The main garden was Arley Hall but we added on two smaller gardens as a contrast, which I am going to concentrate in this blog ,The East Garden within the Arley Hall Gardens and Grafton Lodge near Malpas.

We were given the privilege of being given a tour of the East Garden inside the main garden at Arley Hall. The East Garden is owned and tended by the same person who runs the nursery there which specialises in unusual quality perennials so we were in for a treat. We were even given a short talk about how the garden was created before we looked around. It was an intimate garden with strong structure created by paths and trimmed hedges all softened by mixed borders of perennials and shrubs. It was raining all the time we were exploring but the colours glowed through especially the yellows. I shall leave you to enjoy the photos I took.

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We ended our day by visiting a 2 acre garden in a tiny Cheshire village half way home, where we enjoyed a wander and a break for tea and cakes. The garden is owned by Simon Carter and Derren Gilhooley, who also designed, created and now maintain it. It is a garden full of surprises, original touches and lots of enticing paths and junctions. We were enthralled by the unusual collection of small trees and herbaceous plants.

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Our members were soon milling around keen to take a look around what looked to be an interesting garden. They were right!

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Many members were surprised to see this little specimen of Catalpa bignoides, the Indian Bean Tree in flower. Being a small tree it meant that we could get a close up look at the flowers that were reminiscent of foxgloves or Horse Chestnut.


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This is a garden that as you wander around you are stopped in your tracks by original ideas that make you wonder “Why didn’t I think of that?” In the first shot below we see a plant pairing that works so well but both plants ,the Birch and the Lysimachia, are such ordinary plants. Together they look great. The second shot shows a low growing hedge that made all of us take a second look as we had never seen this plant, a shrubby Potentilla, used as a hedge before.


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This plant combination similarly impressed, once again a Birch but here partnered by an Acanthus.

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As we left after a great day out we were waved off by Simon and Derren who had been wonderful hosts and by this friendly garden glove.

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Aiming for a year round garden – our garden in June – how our visitors saw us.

This year, 2014 will be the year we open our garden under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme, so we saw our garden details published in the famous Yellow Book. This is a landmark for any gardener in England and Wales, albeit a pleasing one and a worrying one. So many questions pour into your mind when you see the description of your garden in print.

I had to provide 9 photographs of our garden taken in previous years at the same time of year we are due to open. It was hard to choose shots that gave the right “feel”. We wanted to give a taste of what our plot is all about and these pictures give further ideas for the visitor after they have read the paragraph we presented to the NGS. Luckily I could look back into the archives of my blog. To check out the photos I selected go to the NGS website,, click on “find a garden” and type in Avocet where you are asked for a garden name.

We have also been asked by a couple of garden groups if they could visit. So the first of these we set for mid-June and we felt it would provide a practice run for the big day in August. The group were the Shrewsbury Mini-group of the Shropshire Hardy Plant Society, so we knew them already which made the day a bit less daunting. I took a series of photos in the morning of the day they were coming to give an idea of how they would see our little quarter acre of garden.

This post also serves as part of my series on “Aiming for a Year Round Garden” where I look around our garden to see if our aim to have interest throughout he year is working.

The first photos show how we welcome visitors as they find our gateway and look up the drive.

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Next we take a quick wander around the front garden to view the gravel garden (The Beth Chatto Garden), the stump circle and the driftwood circle, as well as the mixed borders around the lawn.

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We have worked hard this year to make the drive and the side of the house more welcoming using antique galvanised containers planted up with Dahlias and Calendulas and brightly coloured Pelargoniums are planted in the hanging baskets and other containers.

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The next “port of call” is the Shade Garden followed by the “Fern Garden” and then into the “Seaside Garden”. I always seem to follow a set pathway around the garden when taking photos but I have to admit that I designed the garden to give visitors choices and so have created a situation where no two people wandering around need to follow the same route. I want each section of the garden to be viewed and approached from several directions. So although I am trying in this post to show our garden from our visitors’ viewpoint it is in reality just my own personal route.

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And so to the back garden which has a different feel to it altogether as the individual garden compartments are all hidden in some way. It is a garden where you have to go looking – you cannot sit and look and take it all in in one go. Unlike the front, where from the seat under the arbor you can view most of the garden borders in one go, there are parts you can’t see so you are enticed to go to them for a close look.

In the back garden we find the water feature among Hostas and Toad Lilies on the end of the Shed Bed and from there you can look down the central path with arches draped with trained apple trees, roses and clematis. Another arch to the side of the main path affords glimpses of more borders.

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From the central path we can peer over the cloud pruned box hedge into these borders, which hopefully will entice the visitors to explore further.

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By turning right off the central path visitors find themselves between the Chicken Garden and the Secret Garden and after a mere half dozen steps must choose which one to look at first.

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Within the Secret Garden alongside a comfortable cream coloured seat visitors can enjoy our latest creation, the Alpine Throne.

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If however our visitors chose to go left at the central path they would find further choices, the Japanese Garden, the Wildlife Pond and Bog Garden to the right or the Long Border and Crescent Border to the left.

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Back closer to the house we can find the “Pollinators’ Border” complete with insect hotel, the Shed Scree Bed and the new Tropical Border.

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So there we have a quick tour of our garden in mid-June just as our first group of garden visitors saw us. We enjoyed the kind comments they left and felt it had been worthwhile, particularly when several said they would be back when we opened for the NGS in August.

The only downer was that the Bearded Iris had given us their best show ever, a true extravaganza for the three weeks or so prior to the visit. On the day just one bloom remained to show everyone what they had missed. Gardeners always say “You should have come last week.” and for us this may well have been true, at least where the Iris were concerned.

Our next big day is our NGS Open Day on the 3rd August so we are hoping we can maintain interest in the borders until then. A second mini-group of Shropshire Hardy Planters will be visitors a month after that so we will have to be “on our toes” for a while yet!

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Three Welsh Gardens – Part Three – A Garden of Two Halves

We visited another garden in the countryside of Powis, our neighbouring county. It proved to be very much a garden of two halves. We approached “Cil y Wennol” on foot up a gently sloping curved driveway with trees on both sides dotted around in grass. Closer to the more formal front garden there were interesting land forms with a small meadow facing the sun on an embankment. Moon Daisies shone out almost glaring in the sunshine. As you have gathered from that statement we were experiencing bright sunshine.

This Betula with its beautifully coloured peeling bark had enticed us up the long drive where we were greeted by this bank of smiling daisies.

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The front garden was a typical cottage style with interesting plants such as Astrantias, Lilies and Irises dotted throughout.

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We had now realised that we had visited this garden years ago so we were not surprised by the sudden change in the garden design that greeted us as we entered the back garden. Here the design was much more modern. It was a garden to explore slowly taking advantage of the invitations presented through good design.

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One path invited us into woodland, a relief for a while from the brightness and warmth of the sun. We were impressed by how a beautiful woodland can be created with the commonest of tree species. It proved you don’t have to have rarities to impress. Here the gardeners grew just native Birches, Rowans, Cherries and a few non-natives to add a touch of spice. A lovely atmosphere pervaded this space.

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Leaving the woodland we were again presented with several options, different paths to take with different views and different plants.

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Closer to the house a gravel area gave a completely different feel. Here were neatly trimmed conifers and Cotinus with their skirts lifted to expose twisted limbs. Soft planting among these features reflected the planting in the nearby borders.

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Moving around the side of the property we found another path to take through gap in the hedge where we discovered a swimming pool overlooked by a summerhouse.

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We walked from here along a narrow path below a wall with soft planting above, beautifully backlit by the sun.

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This was most definitely a garden of many parts beautifully linked with winding paths found through enticing arches and gaps in hedging.


Leaving the garden along the central pathway of the front cottage garden we enjoyed the view behind this wonderful gate. A great garden – it was good to return.


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arboreta Banbury climbing plants colours garden design garden photography gardening gardens open to the public half-hardy perennials hardy perennials meadows National Garden Scheme NGS ornamental trees and shrubs outdoor sculpture Oxfordshire photography poppies shrubs The National Gardening Scheme" trees walled gardens

Broughton Grange – a walled garden plus.

Back to Oxfordshire and this time we shall share  a wander around a most wonderful and varied garden which we were privileged to visit recently. The gardens at Broughton Grange are only open a few days a year in support of charities and we visited on a weekend when it was open under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme, The Yellow Book.

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We arrived not long after it opened and approached across a traditional wild flower meadow through which was cut a vehicle width track. Without thinking we drove slowly across the grass, the fact that we were taking a mechanical monster over something so delicate and special made us move as gently as possible.

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Although there is plenty to see here we had to immediately make for the walled garden which had been designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. I was so keen to explore this garden that I even did without my pre-explore coffee! I was glad I did!

The design had a strong structure beneath it, both of hard landscaping and natural frameworks, which provided a network into which the plants could grow, softening the hard surfaces as they did so.

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The planting scheme here had a wonderful coherence which allowed your eye to move slowly across  a delicate colour palette but sometimes individual plants stood out from the crowd and demanded a closer second look. Luckily for us there were lots of access pathways so we could delve into the borders to enjoy a close look at specials that caught our eyes.

First a few shots of borders………….

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………… and now for some of the glittering stars!

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Foliage played an important role here too, with leaf texture, shape and colour adding further interest to the plantings.

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We spotted this little cameo as we were leaving the walled garden to explore the outer grounds. A piece of accidental garden sculpture?

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Outside the walled garden many acres awaited discovery by Mr and Mrs Greenbench. Woodland, a new arboretum, meadows and features such as this Laburnum arch – sunglasses were essential if you wished to pass through it!

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Nearby a new patch of woodland featured many native trees plus a select few non-natives, such as lilacs with rich fruity scent that filled the air all through the neighbouring trees.

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We wandered through an interesting garden in front of the house itself on our way to the arboretum. Here little meadows full of airy wild flowers and native grasses moving gently in the summer breeze bordered a parterre with bright blue obelisks as highlights.

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As we left the old woodland to enter the newly planted arboretum we discovered a stumpery. We have a soft spot for stumperies and this was an interesting one as it was designed and laid out to form a welcoming funnel between the two sections of garden. From the woodland side the stumps build up to form a gateway.

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So in my follow-up post about this wonderful garden I shall begin with the stumpery.