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Ferrers Craft Centre

We spent a few days away in Leicestershire recently as our son and daughter -in-law live in the Leicestershire village of Belton. Whenever we visit the county we always spend an hour or two at a wonderful craft centre called Ferrers. It has a great coffee shop and some interesting craft shops and workshops as well as a garden centre.

I hope you enjoy this series of photographs taken there.

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A Cottage in Leicestershire

Our son, Jamie and his fiancee, Sam have just bought their first home together, an old cottage in a small Leicestershire village and so we were looking forward to visiting them and having a good nose around and of course to explore their garden to see what promises it had in store for the coming seasons.

The village seemed a perfect, idyllic place to live, with a pub, a village shop, a primary school and lots of friendly neighbours. Homes have been built here over the centuries giving a huge range of styles – a potted history of domestic architecture. Jamie and Sam’s cottage was built about 300 years ago, but I should really have said two cottages as originally these were two tiny workers cottages. From a quick look at old census returns for the village the cottages were likely to have been home to stocking knitters, lace workers or agricultural labourers. There could be many hours of internet searching of historical sources ahead to enjoy.


It is a very welcoming cottage with a beautiful porch with a feature stain glass window alongside it. The front garden consists of a triangle of land just big enough for a Lilac to grow with a few small shrubs at its feet. Sadly the day after I took this photo the lovely old Lilac blew down in strong winds.

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J and S are excited by the thought of what treats might emerge from the cottage garden to the back of the cottage. A walk around revealed some lovely secrets awaiting their season. The garden is a long plot, well stocked with plants to attract wildlife.

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From the plants we could identify it should reveal itself as a true cottage garden planned with wildlife in mind. A small pond, a wildlife friendly hedge and a couple of log piles have also been included. A beautiful dry-stone wall provides shelter for a variety of creatures. We took along a bird table and nestbox to add to these and these were soon in place.

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The perennials present include Asters, Aquilegias, Foxgloves, Sedum, Iris, Crocosmias, Hemerocalis and Aconitum, so there is a promise of lots of colour and lots of butterflies, bees and beneficial insects.

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Of particular interest were the many clumps of Arum Lilies, a family I know little about. We grow Arum italicum marmoratum which was present as several clumps, but I think there were others there with different foliage markings and colours. The main reason to grow these is for their marbled leaf markings.

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One task J and S set us was to identify “the sticks”, their non-gardening word for shrubs and trees without leaves! The biggest and most impressive “stick” proved to be a very old apple tree over which scrambles an equally old rambling rose. These will both take a lot of remedial pruning but will prove to be wonderful features. A mature Buddleja, Spiraeas, Hydrangeas and a small cherry will provide colourful flowers in the future, and the Buddleja will bring in both scent and butterflies for their enjoyment.

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The large terrace is separated from the garden itself by a low wall of mature bricks which proved to be a handy place to display interesting objects discovered as we cut down the old growth of perennials and tidied up the borders. The little sculpture of stacked sea-worm bricks is one I made years ago.

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Three found items, a chair, a terra cotta bowl and a rusty pruning saw blade now adorn the shed.

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Two days with J and S wandering around and discovering their new garden and hatching plans for the future, inspired ideas for a mini-meadow of wildflowers, a much bigger pond, a prairie garden and some trained fruit. They have years of fun to come!


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A Felley Foray

Felley Priory Gardens are described in promotional literature as “a tranquil garden” and as  “one of Nottinghamshire’s best kept secrets” but how can this be true when it is just half a mile from the M1 motorway? There is only one way to find out the answer to such mysteries visit and see for ourselves. Such a visit should be a delight as the gardens are reputed to contain many rare and unusual plants.


So did our recent foray to Felley present us with answers to the queries above?


Just minutes from the heavy traffic of the motorway in quiet farmland we find a narrow drive leading to a roughly surfaced, virtually empty car park. As usual coffee was our first requirement, so off to the “Farmhouse Tea Room” which was remarkably busy.

When we entered the garden we were the only visitors and a gardener opened up the garden gate for us. It seemed as if most visitors were just using the tea room.

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The claims were indeed true. Tranquility engulfed us, enticing us on through archways and gateways to discover new garden rooms and more rare and unusual plants. Another claim seen to be true.

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A pool within a walled garden presented us with clear, still reflections of the trees around it.

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The gardeners were quietly working away in the shelter afforded by tall trimmed evergreen hedges, cutting down last year’s perennial growth and adding compost as a mulch around them. Their biggest task must be keeping these hedges and the varied topiary specimens in tip-top condition.

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Throughout our wander around these unusual gardens we met few visitors, the most interesting being this ancient stone bishop. He looked so cold I shared my hat with him for a while. He didn’t thank me but I hope he appreciated it.

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Felley is truly a secret, tranquil garden with rare and unusual plants to enjoy.

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Betula at Bluebell

Back to Bluebell Arboretum for a look at their collection of my favourite trees, the Birches. Browse the photos below and you will see why.

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Betulas are particularly popular at the moment because of an interest in coloured and textured bark. This is coupled with a surge of interest in the creation of winter gardens within major gardens open to the public, an interest influencing plantings in smaller private gardens. I thought a gallery of our favourites at Bluebell would show the amazing variations.

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Bluebell Arboretum

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We recently spent a morning at Bluebell Arboretum in Leicestershire, a return visit in fact as we visited it many years ago. It is a young arboretum and small as arboreta go which gives it an intimate, manageable feel.

As we approached the wooden cabin that acts as reception, the door creaked open, “I see you have your walking boots on! I wouldn’t recommend you go around if you hadn’t.” Apparently we had arrived the day after a foot of snow had melted onto already water-logged ground. It was wet so we splashed and slid with great care around boggy pathways, but the trees that greeted us made it all worthwhile.

We are great fans of Betulas (birches) and Acers (maples) and here we found many to admire. We admired them for their profile, their bark texture and colour.

Acer griseum is a classic winter garden tree, with its silky-smooth, shiny mahogany bark. the thinnest of slithers peel off, curl and catch the low winter sun. It has a perfect common name, the Paper Bark Maple. It appears to be wrapped in sparkling, shining and very fancy wrapping paper

Acer griseum
Acer griseum

Another Acer that caught our eye, similarly had beautifully coloured bark, was Acer x conspicuum “Phoenix”. The bark on this Acer though was silky smooth.

Acer x conspicuum "Phoenix"
Acer x conspicuum “Phoenix”

The celebrated Snakebark Maples need to be studied close up where the delicately textured and multi-coloured bark can be fully appreciated.

Acer tegmentosum – The Amur Maple.
Acer davidii
Acer davidii

The type of Acers most frequently grown in smaller gardens and arboreta alike is Acer dissectum, grown for its leaf colours, the fresh young growth in spring, the rich summer colour and perhaps most of all for the extravagent autumn colours. But at Bluebell Arboretum we discovered this variety, “Eddisbury” which had another layer of interest and an extra reason for growing it, the beauty of its stems.

Acer dissectum "Eddisbury"
Acer dissectum “Eddisbury”

I am not a great fan of conifers but two caught my eye, both Piceas. One had bark with eye shapes and the other an amazing profile.

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If the amazing trees of Bluebell weren’t enough for the gardener to delight in, other points of interest are there to catch the eye. An archway of clematis, a petrified tree stump, a kettle Robin nestbox, a logpile for beetles, an interesting old stump and another stump with rings making a picture reminiscent of an ammonite fossil.

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There were too many examples of my favourite family of trees, the Betulas, so they deserve a post of their own. One to look forward to!

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A Canalside Walk in Leicestershire

When visiting Leicester recently for a few days, we passed a brown tourist sign to “Foxton Locks” and we both thought we knew the name. So when we had a morning to spare we found the sign again and followed it. We were so pleased we did. Here we found a series of locks which were a popular tourist attraction. The area was so picturesque.

The old lock keeper’s cottage was now a cafe, the seating area of which was adorned with this bronze figure and traditional “Roses Castles” narrowboat ware.

Artifacts decorated the grass slopes alongside the canal, and served to emphasise its past importance.

Beautiful and almost life-sized the sculpture of the canal worker and his horse provoked memories of the people who lived and worked the canal.

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A Little Leicestershire Gem

Orchard House was open for the second time in its first year as a Yellow Book garden, and is special because it fits so much into such a small space. It is an excellent example of fitting lots of interesting plants and features within an effective design. The design encourages you to wander, to make decisions and stop to admire views and cameos.

The day of our visit dawned wet – very wet. As we arrived at the garden it was pouring with rain, so we waited in the shelter of the car for some respite. However after ten minutes there was no sign of the downpour giving over so we donned waterproofs and defied it.

At the cottage off a narrow lane there was no sign that a garden awaited us. The houses fronted straight onto the lane, with no front garden at all. But we knew we were in for a treat as this little welcoming cameo greeted us alongside the entrance to a narrow pathway leading around the back of the cottages.

We were not to be disappointed for as we turned the corner we were greeted by colour and richness of planting, dotted with little features to draw the eye.

This little garden gem in a village in Leicestershire proves that it is not the size of the garden that matters. It is the size of the gardener’s heart and imagination. One aspect of this gardener’s character is his sense of humour shown by the sign on the gate to his composting area.