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A lakeside walk at Trentham Gardens

It was another hot day with clear blue skies and temperatures just short of 30C when we decided to take a drive out to the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent to visit two very different gardens. The first was a courtyard garden at the Emma Bridgwater Pottery Factory featured in my recent post, and the second the vast gardens at Trentham.

We decided to walk the perimeter of the lake now that my newly rebuilt leg was working well. This was a walk we had always wanted to do but I was unable, so it felt good to be setting off on the walk. We were looking forward to discovering new planting by Nigel Dunnett, meadows integrated into the trees and waterside planting designed way back by Capability Brown. We usually wander around Trentham by turning to our right and going through the Piet Oudolf “River of Grasses” then travelling through his prairie gardens before going on to Tom Stuart-Smith’s modern planting within the original structure of the Italian Garden.

On this day though we decided to turn left an make our way around Capability Brown’s lake. Nigel Dunnett’s first meadow plantings tok our breath away. The subtle colours worked so well together and led our eyes twards the water beyond.

As we moved into the shade of mature trees from Capability Brown’s original designs, his choice of flwers changed with brighter flowers being integrated with the purples and whites. This gave the opportunity for Dunnett to use the strong opposite colours, purple and orange, guaranteed to set the heart racing a little faster and smiles to appear on our faces.

With his designs there are always surprises to make to pause and think and we came across just such a place, a plantation of young Birches, Betula Doorenbos. Close by a flowing piece of metal sculptural pieces were integratred within a stretch of the meadows. Corton steel waves to reflect the waves on the surface of the lake when rough. It looked beautifully satisfying floating above the meadow flower colours.

After wandering through the woodland more meadows appeared with much softer planting style. These stunning owl sculptures were a fine finale to our visit.



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A Walk in the Park – Croome

A a rare warm day in May we met my sister, Penny and husband Tony, for a walk in the park near their home. But this is no ordinary park – it was Croome a National Trust property near the village of Pershore in Worcestershire. The park and house are undergoing a huge long-term restoration programme. We were pleased to get a chance to enjoy it part way through its rebirth.

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The parkland was originally designed by Capability Brown and it is beginning to come back to life after decades of neglect. Sweeping wildflower meadows were punctuated with newly planted trees. From the slightly elevated parts of the park we enjoyed distant views of the Worcestershire countryside.

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As we walked along the highest ridge in the park through newly planted shrubs and trees we were amazed to see that one section of the original underground water system had been exposed by a landslip. A glimpse into the genius of those water feature engineers. In places small areas of herbaceous planting had been established. It was refreshing to look at colour close to and in detail as the parkland here is mostly about large-scale views.

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A few old specimen trees have survived and their gnarled twisted trunks were a stark contrast to the newly planted shrubs and trees. Beyond them glimpses of the house and church were revealed.

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Flowering shrubs seemed particularly happy here with fine examples of sweetly scented Lilac and Hawthorn with their rather unpleasant aroma.

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As we left the shrubberies we moved back out into the open passing over an old stone-built bridge over the River Croome where it had been widened out to form a lake. This was typical of the way Capability Brown manipulated the landscape. The fence on the bridge was constructed from the wood of chestnut. This wood makes unusual looking fencing which lasts for centuries without maintenance. (see another post, coming soon, concerning Chestnut trees and fences constructed from their wood)

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Overlooking the lake was a grotto which had been lovingly restored and on this extremely hot and humid day it provided some much appreciated shade and cool air. The fissures and cracks within it afforded the local small birds with safe, secret nesting sites. We spotted Wrens, Blue Tits and Coal Tits while we sat and rested a short while. A statue here was dedicated to Sabrina the Goddess of the River Severn. Sabrina is well known to us as our home town, Shrewsbury, huddles within a loop of the River Severn. The goddess lends her name to many a boat and building in the town.

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In places the lake’s surface bubbled and frothed with a seething black mass of tadpoles. Amazing!

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Our wanderings back to the car park took us along the banks of the River Croome where we were entertained by Sedge Warblers in full song atop waterside plants, through more flower rich meadows.

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A Garden in January – Trentham – Part One

Since I began my blog a few years ago I have written monthly features with photos about our own garden on Greenbenchramblings but for a change this year I decided to visit another favourite garden, Trentham. So every month throughout 2014 we shall take you on a journey around these unique gardens so that you can enjoy them in all their different guises. Different plants will become the stars throughout the year.

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So enjoy a visit with us as we enjoy a winter wander in mid-January. The garden’s major features are huge areas designed by two of my favourite garden designers, Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith, both of whom have appeared before on Greenbenchramblings. These two new areas fit well within a huge parkland area created by Capability Brown including a mile-long lake with woodland all around, open grassland and specimen trees. There is also an Italianate Parterre designed by Charles Barry and an area where small show gardens display good modern designs full of ideas for visitors to take home with them. A huge maze with a viewing mound, a rose walk featuring David Austin roses and areas specially designed for children make Trentham one of the best days out in the Midlands where it is possible to indulge oneself whatever your age.

A beautifully designed modern suspension bridge welcomes you into the garden where Piet Oudolf’s “Rivers of Grass” greets you. Massed plantings of grasses dotted with patches of perennials are full of the colours of all sorts of tasty biscuits. Wide mown grass paths wind sinuously throughout providing plenty of choices of ways through. The atmosphere is one of complete calm, a place to be quiet and listen to the rustling of the grasses as they move in the slightest breezes.

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Seedheads on perennials cleverly left by the gardeners draw the visitor in for a closer look where the rich gingers, browns, greys and russets can by fully appreciated. No doubt the resident finches enjoy the seeds too and bugs such as ladybird and lacewing larvae shelter in their hollow stems.

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A row of River Birch act as an open barrier cutting across between the River of Grasses and Oudolf’s “Floral Labyrinth” which we entered next. The pink, silver and peach coloured bark of these Betula come to life with its peeling strips of orange paper.

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The Floral Labyrinth is explored from winding gravel paths and wider expanses of mown grass. This is in the style now called “New Wave Perennial Planting” featuring tall prairie style plants mixed with grasses especially miscanthus and pennisetum. Again the seedheads are key elements at this time of year.

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Where many plants have fallen or suffered from rotting in the winter deluges the gardeners have cleared up and signs of new growth are appearing. Here Day Lillies look raring to go!

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This fallen leaf has curled up into the shape of a Woodlouse or Pill Bug.

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Many of the seedheads when studied as individuals are like constellations of tiny stars.

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Others are like thin church spires.

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Many of the taller stems are now falling after all our strong winds.

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Under large mature Yew trees, cyclamen have been planted in circles. The leaves shine in the low sun and the little swept back petals of the flowers give so many shades of pink as well as a few white.

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Moving on from Piet Oudolf’s pair of gardens we wander through an area of open lawns with features of the older gardens and get views of the derelict buildings which must at one time have been impressive and dominating in the landscape. Pioneer plants such as Buddleja and Cotoneaster are gaining a foothold on the masonry as it crumbles. Try to spot them near the top of the ruins.

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As we finish the first half of our tour we can look forward to more startling planting creations but these have been created within the old structure of the Italian Gardens. These will be featured in part two, my next post.

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What a wonderful way to spend a cold January day!