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Westgate Villa, a Japanese garden in Shropshire

Jude and I have a soft spot for gardens with a Japanese feel to them, and we are lucky to have an excellent example in our home county of Shropshire and just a short drive away. We had heard of the garden at Westgate in Bridgnorth and always intended to pay a visit but circumstances had not allowed us to. But eventually we managed to make their National Garden Scheme open day in April.

It was well worth the wait! We loved it, the planting, the structure and its special atmosphere. The front garden however was of a very different feel altogether being a formal garden designed to match the age and style of the house. Foliage was the star there!

On the flight of steps nearby foliage again featured but this time succulents were the stars.


Moving around the house looking in small borders and corners we found interesting plants and objects that gave clues to the beauty of the Japanese section we were making our way towards. This area prepared us so well for the treat that lay ahead of us.


We stepped through an archway into a different world with an atmosphere of such peace that it made us feel so calm. The Japanese garden at Westgate was one of the best examples we have ever seen in an English garden. Come with us on a journey through such a special place. To view the gallery click on the first photo and navigate using the arrows.



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Fresh Foliage – our Acers

Over the last few years w have been gradually adding a selection of Japanese Acers to different areas of our garden to add year round foliage interest but with an emphasis on the spring and autumn seasons.

We already had a few different acers only one of which was a Japanese variety. The largest is a beautiful snake bark maple which looks over our Rill Garden and is a great all year round tree absolutely full of interest and it always receives admiration from any visitors to the garden.

In mid April when I took these photos the flowers were just forming and the leaves just unfurling. The while pencil thin lines show up clearly on the smooth green bark.

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I took a mid-morning stroll around our garden with camera in hand to record what our Japanese Acers were up to. It is amazing how they are all at different stages of opening their foliage, with some almost fully out and others still in bud with only a hint of activity from within. Please come with me and enjoy what my camera saw. When I had finished my wander I realised just how many acers we had planted over the last few years, which was far more than I thought.

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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!