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A Tale of Two Gardens – Part 2 – Esme’s Garden

After enjoying a couple of hours and fine refreshments at Nancy’s home town garden we drove a short way to her other garden which is dedicated to her mother-in-law, Esme.

Through a gap between two rows of terraced cottages we discovered a narrow grass pathway between hedges on one side and gardens on the other. An open gate within the hedge invited us to enter the magical world of Esme’s Garden.

We thought Nancy’s home garden was something special but what awaited us at Esme’s was simply amazing, a large beautifully designed space packed with interest. Again the planting was beautifully and thoughtfully put together and the use of foliage exceptional. A network of paths, arches and path junctions directed us around borders packed with trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials.


There were Gothic touches throughout the garden and Nancy herself had created a great folly at the bottom of the garden, which impressed us all.

There is so much to enjoy at Esme’s Garden that I think the best way to share the garden with you is to create a gallery of my photos. As usual click on the first pic then navigate using the arrows.



So now I have shared both of Nancy’s gardens with you and I now presume like me you think she is one amazing gardener. Just thinking about creating and maintaining two gardens makes me breathless!

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Stone House Cottage Garden – rare plants and follies

A return visit to a garden that we have not seen for a few decades is a rare treat. We returned to Stone House Cottage Garden and Nursery as part of a day out with our Hardy Plant Society Shropshire Group friends. In the afternoon we followed up with a wander around Arley Arboretum, another place we have visited before. Both gardens open for the National Garden Scheme during the year too.

We were greeted by Stone House’s owner and gardener, Louisa Arthbutnot, who invited us to wander freely but saying she would be around to answer queries. We entered through a round tower and were soon reminded about what makes this such a special patch, interesting plants combined well and brick-built grottoes.

Entering the garden through the first folly we are given a choice of paths straight away, so enticing.

But we did not make a choice straight as we were attracted to the unusual selection of plants growing right alongside the back door of the entrance folly.


Brickwork and follies feature so strongly in the is cottage garden and enhance it in a unique way.


As we moved through the garden we discovered unusual shrubs with loose meadow-style planting beneath them.


But what makes this cottage garden stand out as being something rather special is its collection of rare and unusual plants and the way Louisa places plants in communities so effectively.


As we left the garden we all made for the nursery where many unusual plants were waiting to tempt us.





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Garden Entrances and Archways – No 6 in a very occasional series

This is the sixth post in this very occasional series concerning gardens entrances and archways. So here are photos taken over the last few months of these important design elements of gardens large and small.

Firstly here are some entrances we discovered at Batsford Arboretum in the autumn, on a dull showery day. The red bridge certainly added a burst of colour and invited visitors to cross over its boards and discover planting on the fare side. The friendly black wrought iron gateway lead visitors into an orcharda area as an alternative to following the main driveway.

The three pics below show how steps can provide entrances to invite the visitor to wander and see what is at their tops. The first photo is in our own Avocet garden while the second is at Gregynog an NGS Yellow Book garden in Powys. The third flight of steps are wooden and lead the wanderer up through dense woodland shrub and tree plantings.

Sunningdale, an NGS Shropshire garden near Wem, a market town north of Shrewsbury was a garden designed to make you explore and the several entrances and archways there excouraged the visitor to make choices and discover different parts of the town garden.



More pictures now from Gregynog, another NGS garden, this time a woodland garden with several different facets as seen in the photos below.




Down in Cornwall for a September holiday last year we found plenty of interesting entrances and archways in the varied gardens we visited. Firstly we visited Poppy’s Cottage Garden. The first picture below shows its rather odd entrance from the road.


Then we explored a strange garden to find in Cornwall, The Cornish Japanese Garden.


The gardens at The Eden Project gave plenty of varied places to enjoy.


Back closer in home here are a few photos from Hergest Croft Gardens


Here are three mystery photos for which my memory has let me down. I simply can’t remember where I took them!


The last pair of pics feature a beautiful gate at the Picton Garden near the Malverns, the garden that holds a National Collection of Asters. The gate leads you on a journey into beautiful mixed borders studded with masses of Asters. The secong pic features an archway from our very own Avocet patchwhich is designed to entice visitors to follow the central path and take the many inviting sideways paths.


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Garden Entrances and Archways – Part 5 of this very occasional series

It has been a while since we visited this series so here is a new selection of my photographs of entrances and archways we have discovered in several gardens during our visits.






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Ruthall Manor – well worth the wait.

We go for years intending to visit a garden but sometimes circumstances dictate otherwise. This is what happened with Ruthall Manor, a Shropshire Yellow Book Garden. After years we finally visited earlier this year in June. The wait was so worth while!

First impressions count for a lot when you visit a garden, and a good garden can quickly reveal its qualities and general level of care. Atmosphere, special places and surprises will reveal themselves later and more slowly. A good garden will keep on giving.

Ruthall Manor soon made us feel warmly welcomed and involved in the plantings and design. It had the added bonus of some original interesting sculptural pieces beautifully positioned within plantings or out on their own as centres of attention.


Pathways, arches and gateways encouraged us to explore further, around the next corner, through a hedge or border or into the next garden area.


I thought that the best way to share as many pieces of sculpture and artifacts as possible I would create this gallery for you to enjoy.  The variety of pieces was so large that we just did not now what to expect around the next corner.

In the end of course good plants well chosen, cared for and partnered thoughtfully are what gives a garden its true quality.

So Ruthall Manor was certainly worth waiting so long to go and visit. What an enjoyable afternoon!


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Return to a favourite garden – Wollerton Old Hall

We are lucky living where we do with the choice of top quality gardens for us to visit and enjoy. The counties of Shropshire, our home county, and its neighbour Herefordshire are home to some real gems from tiny back gardens to large parklands. One of the best Shropshire gardens is Wollerton Old Hall, a garden we have visited many times as it is one of the best gardens in the UK created in the 20th century. We decided we were due another day there in 2016. Wollerton is a great garden all throughout its open season but it peaks in late summer and early autumn so we decided to visit on a bright day in September.

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Two elements make Wollerton such a charismatic garden, the strength of its structure and the originality and quality of the planting. Wollerton’s many garden rooms are linked by pathways, gateways, arches and alleyways inviting the visitor to make choices to help guide their route around the garden.

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Box cut into shapes and hedges of box and yew give strong bones to the garden and help lead the eye and focus on important elements.

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The borders at Wollerton Old Hall are full of exciting planting combinations and exciting plants.

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The Hot Garden is the most exciting planting as it shines and glows in the slightest hint of brightness. There are so many strong plant combinations to enjoy. This patch can brighten the dullest day and bring a smile to the saddest face.

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It has been fun sharing our love of the gardens at Wollerton Old Hall with you. It is a garden we take friends and family to so that we can share our enjoyment with them. Perhapps we will visit in the spring or summer of 2017 and we can show you what a good garden it is then too.



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Garden Entrances and Archways – No 1 of a very occasional series.

This will be another occasional series, similar to my “Are you sitting comfortably?”series which has been around for quite a long while now. Here I shall share with you those little features in gardens which entice us to take a particular routeway through a garden, enter a garden room or tempt us to follow a path or open a gate.

These features can be a beautifully crafted arch of metal or wood, perhaps even with a seat included to encourage us to sit and ponder what lays ahead ……………

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….. or simply a path framed by trees or borders to entice you onward …………..

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……. or even just a gap between two beautiful apple trees or a narrow pathway to a comfortable seat.

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A Wonderful Community Garden

Returning from a few days away down south we made a diversion from the direct route home to visit a community garden in the Wiltshire town of Swindon, a town renowned in its heyday for manufacturing everything to do with railways at their peak in the era of steam.

As Jude, aka The Undergardener or Mrs Greenbench, and I are involved in running an allotment community garden we were keen to see what was going on at TWIGS, another community garden which like us open under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme.

TWIGS stands for Therapeutic Work in Gardening in Swindon, which proved to be a perfect reflection of what goes on in what we discovered to be an amazing and caring enterprise.

It was hard to find even though the directions in the NGS’s Yellow Book made it look simple. We navigated our way around the bypass searching for the right exits and often failing, until we found the right district. We wriggled through industrial and business parks in search of a garden centre which shared its grounds with TWIGS.

When we successfully arrived were welcomed by this cheerful planter alongside the gateway in. Once inside we immediately spotted colourful borders and rows of busy polytunnels.

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Come around with us now as we wander the paths of TWIGS discovering their wonderful work.

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The staff and volunteers here help their clients who have problems of all sorts, to regain their pride and confidence through raising plants, looking after chickens, making bird boxes and insect homes, creating gardens and crafting sculptures and much more. The plants raised are used both in the gardens and for sale in the little nursery and the nestboxes and insect homes are found around the site to encourage wildlife as well as for sale to visitors.

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The gardens themselves are peaceful places, calm and quiet and great places to relax in or retreat to. The gardens are managed using organic approaches and in partnership with nature. They must have such a strong effect on those who care for them or like us just visit them.

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There were some original ideas here too created by the clients, such as this sedum planter.

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We found wandering around TWIGS a most enjoyable, relaxing and enlightening experience. It shows what can be achieved by dedicated people who want to use gardening and working with nature to improve the lives of others. It was good to visit another community garden which proved to be very different to our own at Bowbrook Allotment Community.I shall finish with this set of pictures which illustrate what TWIGS is all about. A sunken retreat had been designed by an artist in residence and built by the TWIGS clients using all recycled materials. It is a peaceful place to sit and widlife has found homes within it.

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A Garden in February – Trentham

As promised we made our promised return to the gardens at Trentham, near Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, right on the edge of The Potteries.

The day promised good weather which would make a welcome change. On our last few visits to this garden we had been subjected to rain and often cold winds. For our February exploration the sky was blue and the car’s dashboard read out told us the temperature was 9 degrees. The aim of this return visit and indeed all the following monthly ones was to see how the garden had progressed, how things had changed, which plants were looking good and which ones were the stars.

As we passed over the gentle arch of the suspension bridge we could see the “River of Grasses” with the golden stubble of the grasses which had been trimmed down low. In contrast the close mown grass areas along the riverside were bright green decorated with strips of sparkling white snowdrops. I realise the life buoy is a safety requirement and realise it has to be red so that it is easily spotted in an emergency but it is really distracting!

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As always the gently curving line of River Birches looked wonderful, with the bark peeling more than when we saw them in January. I liked the meandering line where the dried grass area joins the deep green foliage of the evergreen Euphorbia robbiae with pale green highlights created by their flowering bracts.

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Once beyond the birches the perennial borders designed by Piet Oudolf looked very flat having been trimmed tight to the ground. This was in strong contrast to all the interesting seedheads and stems that decorated it in January. But with the clear view over the area we did spot this lovely wooden seat which we had totally missed in January. The bright green new growth of the Hemerocallis has progressed well since our January visit.

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We enjoyed seeing that the rings of cyclamen were still flowering away happily beneath the Yews. They looked good in the sunshine, their colours seeming richer.

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There was little change to be seen at the Hornbeam arbor but we did notice a few white sparkling Snowdrops around the base of their trunks. The trimmed box alongside is most noticeable at this time of year when such green sculptures become one of the stars of the garden. Some other stars of the Trentham gardens on this visit waited for us close by -Hellobores and Cyclamen in full colourful bloom. The Hellebores impressed with more than the colour range however, for they had really proud upright habit. They lit up the shade beneath an allee of Hornbeam.

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Leaving the Hornbeam allee we entered the old Italian Garden, with its rigidly symmetrical patterns of short cut grass, white chipping and smartly trimmed box edging. The low winter light emphasised this structure. It is not our favourite part of the garden but we always admire the skill taken to keep it looking so neat.

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From here we could look out across the huge Italian Garden, re-designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. Since our last visit the perennials and grasses have been neatly and closely cut ready for the new growth that is sitting just below the soil surface ready to burst out.

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Then after walking through these borders in waiting, we went off into the parkland where mature trees tower above the grassed slopes. Under the trees sits the coffee shop where we stopped for our statutory break. Some slopes appeared a bluer green than others and we discovered that the leaves here were of daffodils already with flower buds fit to burst.

Near the coffee house are areas for children and it was noticeable how busy they were. When here in January this area was deserted but on this visit there were lots of families with young children. It was the school half term holiday.

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On the lake the swan sculptures presented sharp silhouettes taking off over the water.

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Over in the display gardens the low bright light made the colours in foliage, flowers, stem and bark look extra bright.

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We returned through the Tom Stuart-Smith gardens and walked along the rose pergola. The gardeners were busy pruning the roses, weeding and freshening up the soil surface.

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The shrub borders at the end of the rose pergola were showing signs of interesting things happening, the Witch Hazels were shining yellow and the scented but subtle winter flowering honeysuckle sitting along side it looked rather drab. So that finished our February visit to Trentham. The next blog in this monthly series will be in March. Things should be really livening up then.

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Replacing the garden arches at Avocet

We made the mistake when we designed the garden here at Avocet of using metal arches to span our paths and grow plants over. We have 8 arches altogether around the garden with all sorts of climbing plants over them including trained fruit trees. Most of the climbers are purely decorative, different varieties of clematis, rose, honeysuckle and a purple vine so not only do they look good but many are scented to give wafts of their gentle aromas as we pass through the arches. The productive trees are apples, blackberry and cherry.

We soon found out that the windy site here close to the hills of South Shropshire was not the place for metal arches. We get strong winds swirling around the hill behind our house which often distort, break or blow over our plant covered arches. For years we have carefully repaired them and put them back up with the plants mostly intact. This winter we found our garden was attacked by frequent gale force winds and howling storms so we have given up on the metal arches and are slowly replacing them with much more solid wooden constructions.

We began with the arch nearest the bottom of the garden which by the end of January was leaning at an uncomfortable angle so we had to duck to get through it and parts of it had broken off. This arch was clothed with a rose called Goldfinch, a small yellow early flowering variety which flowers profusely every year without fail but it also grows strongly so has to be pruned extremely hard, so hard you feel cruel doing it! On the other side of the path climbs a purple leaved vine which looks amazing when then the sunlight glows through its foliage. It also flowers and fruits some years producing tiny dark purple grapes which are very bitter – even the birds turn their beaks up at them.

First job was to prune the climbing planting carefully and even more carefully unwind their main stems from the remains of the arch. Then we extricated the arch. It looked a sorry sight lying on our lawn.

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Once pruned the rose hung limply without support until we carefully bent it sideways and tied it onto the wooden support for our cordon plums.

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We had three arches delivered and luckily they came in pieces as they were so heavy. At least we could unpack them and move them to where they were to be put up one piece at a time.

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Once the plants were pruned and tied out of the way we could get on with digging out 12 inch deep trenches to fix the uprights into.

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Once the hole was dug out to the correct depth we then spent a while with a metre long spirit level making sure the upright piece was vertical in both planes. We then poured in the post fix concrete mix and left it to dry.

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Once the concrete had set we could fit on the top decorative pieces and the job was done. Just the easiest part left – re-tying the climbers back in place. They should now be ready for the spring. Just seven more arches to go!

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