HPS Holiday to Worcestershire, 3rd-6th June 2019
All Photos by Linda Hall, except where noted
Kingsbridge Farm, Steeple Claydon, 3rd June
Serena Aldous welcomed the group to her garden and told us she had no previous gardening knowledge but over 30 years has developed a peaceful oasis of colour, shape and clever design. Serena said she had gardened with children in mind and shared it with rabbits, badgers, deer and more.
The now mature garden was formed from a cornfield. The farm house of soft peach coloured brick is clothed with climbing roses, wysteria, honeysuckle and many troughs and pots of all sizes containing pelargoniums, cheiranthus phlox, dianthus and many treasures stand as its base. The scent from the roses was a reminder of long summer days.
The tree canopy was raised allowing vistas throughout the garden and space and shade for under planting holly, box privet and euonymus were clipped to form mounds, pillars, conicles and blocks, paving stones were set diagonally end to end, bricks, stones and a large ammonite formed interesting circles in the paths.
The vast lawn behind the farmhouse was mown diagonally drawing the eye across the garden defining the light and dark shades made by mowing.
A semi circle of hornbeam with stone globes between each tree repeated in the shape of the haha and situated here a stone seat affording views back to the house and out over the meadow beyond.
A stream which joined the Great Ouse ran along one boundary, this could be crossed by two bridges or a plank braved by several members. A planting of silver birch trees and willow reflected in the stream. Roses and peonies abounded.
This was a truly magical natural garden with space for every planting, what a way to begin our holiday – so many ideas, so many plantings – food for thought and a generous lunch.
Now for some detective work. Serena said previous owners of the farmhouse were two members of parliament and that Hugh Gaitskell had visited. He bought an iris which is still resident in the garden but remains unnamed. Could anyone help? Mavis and Lawrence could, having a similar blue iris in their garden, ‘Iris Storrington’ a Cedric Morris iris grown by Sahar Cook, query solved!
Meadow Farm, Feckenham, 4th June
Day 2 and our first visit was to Meadow Farm Plants, where we were met by husband and wife team Rob and Dian Cole. Bypassing the sales tables we were ushered into the barn and seated for an introductory talk by our hosts. We heard that a holiday romance lead to this pair combining their talents, that of architectural landscaper and plantswoman and eventually in 1998 fulfilling their dream of setting up a nursery. Twelve hard standing areas were created and the propagating of a wide range of perennials began in earnest, with the aim of selling at plant fairs and to visiting groups. A further acre became a wild flower meadow and supports a variety of small mammals, birds and, we were told, 22 British species of moth and butterfly.
On the gently sloping site to the rear of the house a superb garden comes into view. Meandering paths lead past planted structures and along to numerous island beds. These contained a wide array of perennials, shrubs and trees, all beautifully co-ordinated and artfully displayed. There was much colour to see and the promise of much more to come. Seeking attention was a bed where bright red ladybird poppies were taking centre stage. Two years ago the pond was relinquished in favour of a bog garden; spring fed it gives the opportunity to grow a wide array of moisture loving specimens.
Collections of planted containers surrounding the house offered even more interest. Keen hybridisers, in particular of echinacea, also in evidence in the sales area were helenium ‘Feckenham Ruby’ and monarda ‘Feckenham Delight’. DIY refreshments taken and purchases made, this visit was a superb start to our day.
Morton Hall, Holberrow Green, 4th June
We were met with plans of the grounds but were asked to walk to the terrace at the front of the house for the introductory talk. The corner of the house has two dog-sized windows installed so that one of the two dogs could keep an eye on their domain.
Anne Olivieri stood on the portico steps to explain that she has recreated the gardens since 2008 with Charles Chesshire. Anne wanted the gardens to wrap around the house and to create views from every window as well as provide interest throughout the year.
Possibly a Jacobean house, a Georgian frontage including portico was added and beyond the terrace is the lawn with mature trees. Unseen beyond them is the meadow covered in Snakes’ head fritillaries in spring. On the edge of the lawn we could see the white foxgloves in the Stroll garden among the trees leading to pools with bright candelabra primulas and stepping stones of the rockery (roped off to prevent accidents) which climbs the slope to the side of the house. Here is the east terrace, one of three garden rooms which surround the house itself, together with the Kitchen garden where we found the head gardener, Harry Green, who added names to some of the plants which caught our eye.
Roses and paeonies in the South garden, several in deep red or yellow, were a contrast to the greenery of the East Terrace.
We had approached the house above a steep drop with timber framed buildings below but the chance to explore further was curtailed by a sudden heavy downpour and a scurry to the coach.
Photo by Judy Sims
Little Malvern Court, Little Malvern, 5th June
Three little stone pigs greeted us at Little Malvern Court. We were then gathered together and given a talk by the head gardener, Hugh Thomas. Among other things he mentioned the ancient 250 years old Lime Tree which had been battered by storms in the last 20 years. It is the second oldest Lime in England but luckily more limes had been planted in 1983. These looked very sturdy.
Then our tour began with the highly scented rose garden. It was in full bloom, and early, no doubt due to global warming. Linda, our Chairman, had a fine distant view from her ivy throne, if not the scents.
We then walked towards the lakes created by the monks in the 12th century as fish ponds for their earthly sustenance. Many interesting trees surrounded the lakes and indeed much of the grounds. A yew topiary hedge formed the western boundary. It was 300 metres long and contained features like the camel taking shape and two birds making an arch over a quaint picket gate.
Nestled behind the abbey against a dark north facing wall is found the Fernery. It was crammed with a wide variety of ferns interspersed here and now with other shade loving plants. These are rapidly replacing the Periwinkle which originally grew here.
Finally, after refreshments, we were off to our next engagement
The Picton Garden and Old Court Nursery, Malvern, 5th June
Our ever-obliging coach driver, Steve, dropped us at the gate and the very neat scree garden immediately caught my attention. I hadn’t expected to see this in a garden holding a National collection of Asters. I don’t know what several of the gorgeous creeping gems were but they were very pretty.
You enter the main garden past the potting shed and an open area of beds fittingly stuffed with asters greets you. The background purple beech hedge must set the asters off to perfection when they are in flower. The alliums and peonies dotted among them were the current interest here.
The path winds through a woodland garden charmingly underplanted with ferns and Podophyllum, and shrubs. Colour was provided by Cornus in flower and Japanese Acers and more Peonies. The woodland narrows to a point by the road and then the path turns back towards the silver garden. 1½ Acres in total, so small but packed with interest.
In the plant sales area there were, needless to say, a lot of asters, but there were also some alpines and other plants. The asters all had the new genus names attached which was a bit confusing but they also had helpful comments about mildew resistance. Quite how mildew resistant they are given that Worcestshire has much higher rainfall than we do, remains to be seen. I did buy one called Purple Dome to try out. I was very restrained!
Photo by Karen Mountford
Photo by Karen Mountford
Ragley Hall, Alcester, 5th June
Our arrival was unorthodox, since John Foster was misinformed about where we should be dropped off and we were sent along a narrow track with a very tight bend, carefully defined by a set of large logs, requiring first John, and on the return, several more able-bodied members, to bowl them out of the way to let the coach pass - and then put them back again.
Arriving eventually in front of a massive portico and stone staircase, facing north, we then entered the lower floor rooms through the tradesmens’ entrance, where we were served lunch of soup and a selection of sandwiches and rolls.
We were split into two parties to tour the ground floor of the house, based on the history of the house and the family leading to the present day 9th Marquis of Hertford.
The family still live on the upper floors.
The original manor house, which was on the site of the adjacent present-day rose garden, was bought by Edward Conway, when he came to the area to marry the heiress of Arrow. The present house was built by his grandson, the first Earl of Conway, starting in about 1680, but the beautiful plasterwork decoration was not completed until 1750.
We toured through room after room of interesting and attractive decoration, furnishings and paintings, amid anecdotes about the generations of the family, noting the great and good, and spendthrift and illegitimate on the way, including a portrait of the Duchess of Somerset, who fell out with the family, and whose portrait now sports a witches hat on her head. The tour culminated at the foot of a stairwell painted with a wonderful mural of the family and others looking over the balustrade of the staircase, over several levels, including grisaille paintings, all enlivened with brightly coloured birds, insects and plants, including a dog, with biscuits painted on the real bannister rail, and a mouse and a few mouse-droppings, also on the bannister rail.
The garden had a grand vista looking south from the house, and, on the horizon, to the west, was a distant castle just catching the sunlight on it’s pale-coloured stone. The castle was allegedly built after the Prince of Wales of the time, suggested that the view would be improved by such a structure.
We took our tea and biscuits onto the south facing terrace, overlooking the rose garden, which was bilaterally symmetrical, but not planted exactly in mirror image.
The roses were planted in great swathes, but interspersed with alliums, underplanted with Japanese anemones, the foliage of which already masked their prospectively unattractive underpinnings. Both gold and purple-leaved berberis, more or less fastigiate, were used as unifying markers around the two beds, the yellow, contrasting sharply with the blue catmint and more purple hardy Salvia planted around the roses.
Making our way carefully down steep steps to the meadow, then along, past a stand of eye-catching white-stemmed silver birches, partially underplanted with black- leaved ophiopogon, to where we could see the lake and herbaceous beds, passing woodland planting with foliage of hellebores, pulmonaria, golden-leaved hakonechloa, ferns and some wonderful tree stumps and roots, with plants tucked into the crevices.
On a corner, was a much admired sambucus, with greyish green, very finely divided leaves, and the usual heads of scented creamy white delicate flowers, and the beds here were surrounded at intervals, by tall lime trees, neatly clipped into ovals. There were a number of clipped conifers throughout the remaining light woodland on the steep slope back up to the house, where there was a last flurry of excitement over a lovely deep purple-red orchid and two alpine plants we could not identify. These were later identified (roughly) as Eriogonum flabellum, with a tight mat of grey green leaves topped by bobbles of creamy yellow florets, and, another with slightly looser foliage, like a helianthemum, but with many soft green stems, and hanging racemes of narrow cream bells, was identified by another member as a species of Onosma.
John extended our visit by a quarter hour to give the second tour party time to hurtle round the garden, which was perceived as not so important as the house, though, while not large in planted area, covered extensive acreage, on a steep site.
Coton Manor, Coton, 6th June