Welsh Border and Herefordshire Garden Tour 2016
Day 1: Leaving Houghall at 8am prompt for the long journey to Hereford, we were all looking forward to the trip. After a coffee stop we arrived at our first Garden visit Whatton House House near Leicester. What an unknown gem! Not far from the M1 the 19th century house is perched on top of a hill giving views of the surrounding country from all sides, we arrived to see a herd of Limousin cattle with calves and a horse with a leggy young foal. Built in 1802 the 15 acre plot has charming gardens. A splendid arboretum, some of the trees are 200 years old, is at its heart. There is a formal rose garden where a wide variety of roses with luscious perfumes abounded. There is a long perennial border – quite cottagey in planting style. But my favourite was the woodland, where lovely ponds were tucked away with winding paths bordered by woodland planting. Also a quirky Chinese garden with terracotta warriors and splendid Chinese planters secreted itself in the woods.
Back on the road for an hour or so then to arrive at The Laskett. The garden is owned by Sir Roy Strong and his late wife. It is inspired by their life in the Arts, his spell as chair of the V&A and hers in designing sets for ballets, theatre and film productions. It is dominated by yew hedges and topiary surrounding rooms with every style of planting imaginable, formal, gravel, orchard, wild flower, perennials, Scandinavian etc etc. Also interspersed with classical statuary and awards and plaques honouring their work it is a heady mix! Podcasts received on handsets at points in the garden kept us informed of the rationale behind their designs. I particularly liked the mantra that the Axe is the gardeners best friend – regarding one area where they had chopped down original planting of conifers to replace with updated perennial and grass planting which was super. His belief was that a garden needs updating every 20 years – food for thought!
Day 2: After a good night’s sleep and excellent breakfast we drove through lovely countryside learning about the local agriculture from our knowledgeable guide Duncan Combes on the way. Brockhampton Cottage belongs to Peter Clay owner of Crocus and was designed by Tom Stuart Smith the award winning designer. The cottage is set on the top of a rolling down and is planted right up to the chimneys to ensure it blends into the landscape. The planting around the house is of lush perennials and was very pretty. On a lower level giant foxtail lilies abound – finished flowering but still statuesque. Moving down the hillside to the lake we walked through wild flower meadows – packed with a large variety flowers including orchids and with damsel flies darting through the gently waving grasses. A lake at the bottom of the hill has been planted with native trees and surrounded by bog garden planting in parts. It was a long haul back up the hill but well worth the effort.
A complete contrast followed as we drew up into Hereford city centre and walked up to the cathedral to visit Hereford Cathedral Gardens. Guides took us on a tour of the 8 gardens in the cathedral grounds. 7 are maintained by volunteers and much to their credit, they were excellent. Tucked betwixt and between the cathedral buildings all were sheltered spots with pretty perennial plants with roses and hollyhocks much in evidence. In the more expansive Bishops garden by contrast were huge old trees – cedars and mulberries.
Then onto Hampton Court – this one in Hereford was the original! The estate is over 1000 acres but the 12 acre gardens were developed in the 1990s by an American family who bought the estate. They are fabulously varied. Ancient walled gardens are used for growing vegetables and herbs organically (struggling with brassicas!), for two beautiful perennial borders colour themed in apricots and soft blues punctuated by standard roses and for flower gardens divided by canals, island pavilions and pleached avenues. There is a 150 year old wisteria tunnel leading out to vast lawns and woodland walks which we did not have time to sample! There was also a yew maze with a gothic folly at it centre from the top of which there are views over the whole garden. Descending the steps below the tower and you enter a dark tunnel leading to a sunken garden complete with pond and waterfall which you can walk behind. Further round you ascend broad stepping stones through the brook to emerge once more into the gardens. What a fascinating and interesting garden. To round off the visit which had been punctuated by two heavy rain showers – we got a sharp downpour of hailstones. Just another typical English summer…….
Day 3: And now for something completely different – Bryan’s Ground, a 3 acre plot gardened by Simon Dorrell and David Wheeler, one likes formal the other likes wild and the result is quirky, “controlled neglect”. The main garden is a series of rooms with connecting allees giving intriguing glimpses of things to come. Rusty things – beds, mowers, whatever, decorate some spaces – I quite liked them! The formal hedges and topiary trees were tightly under control, then wonderful plants spilled out of them and over them everywhere – large eleagnus quicksilver abounded as did teasels, campanula, roses and much much more. I particularly liked the young (1999) arboretum, planted around some existing splendid old trees (such as an ancient wellingtonia) there was a huge variety of young trees (cornus abounded) giving endless interest. Whilst walking along the stunning lime tree avenue an owl – tawny I think – flew out at me and doubled quickly back into the trees. It was a lovely place to be.
Too soon we had to leave for Hergest Croft, our next garden. Here we had a tour guided by Rowan, a hugely knowledgeable young gardener, who led us around the arboretum pointing out an endless treasury of special and extraordinary trees and shrubs. Oh if only I could remember half of what he told us! This is a massively important garden in the work it does preserving and exploring trees all over the world. Unfortunately time was short and I did not get to see the kitchen garden and herbaceous borders, not to mention the plantation with more collections of rare and beautiful trees. To encourage everyone to plant more trees their nursery offered amazing tree bargains – some of which will make their home in our quarry garden!
Pushing on our weary and wet (yes the rain was with us today) band went to our last garden of the day Stockton Bury. A 4 acre family garden it was well worth making the effort. It was beautifully landscaped and had a huge variety of planting. There was a wonderful little sunken garden with giant gunnera and a brook trickling into a wildlife pond. Along the brook were masses of bright primulas making a gorgeous sight. A secret garden gave views over the rolling landscape towards Leominster, and a meandering lawned garden rolled down a hill to an ancient dovecote. On clay soil but well sheltered and watered, it seemed anything would grow there, but climbers were everywhere – amazing clematis, golden hops, hydrangea petiolaris and loads more besides. Then back to the hotel for a well-earned rest before our last evening meal.
Day 4: Inevitably an anticlimax given the distance we had to travel, but we made a stop in the morning at Burford House and Gardens. Duncan showed us around the gardens, pointing out the massive collection of clematis which were tucked in everywhere, a collection of well-behaved bamboos and a magnolia (sorry can’t remember its name) which was still flowering, and had interesting red seed pods as well as a delicate perfume. Stunning. Having suffered from flooding there was renovation work in the garden which overall looked a bit “in progress” in parts as efforts had clearly had to focus on rescue work, but thanks to Duncan we made the most of it.
And then onwards back to Durham – a smooth journey except for a 30 minute holdup near Catterick due to an accident. Alan Burrell our driver circumvented as soon as he was able and we arrived tired and happy back home safely.
Thanks again to the committee members who organised the trip. They had gone to a lot of trouble researching the destination and choosing a new tour operator which was very good. The holiday is excellent value and really enjoyable. We all appreciate the work they put in. The company was excellent – I LOVE picking people’s brains – and it is lovely to get to know people better by spending some time with them.
Back to the weeding now with a vengeance! It finally rained while we were away after a month of near drought conditions – so lots to do………
Photos provided courtesy of Iain Anderson