Sandywell Barn House

001The garden visiting season is well under way and I decided to get my ‘looking for new ideas’ head on and take a look at Sandywell Barn House just a couple of miles from home but, remarkably for such a wealthy town, the one and only private garden which opens for the National Gardens Scheme charity in Cheltenham.

This two and a half acre walled garden is the former kitchen garden of Sandywell Park, a grand country house built in 1704 by Henry Brett, an army colonel, Tory politician and ‘man about town’. The Estate was broken up in the 1980’s and the house turned into posh flats. The barn was bought in 1985 by Shirley & Gordon Sills who set about a complete restoration of the garden once their children had grown up and left home. The remarkable transformation from asparagus beds and apple trees to a fully landscaped country garden is a testament to their hard work and dedication over the last fifteen years. 031

Shirley kindly showed us her photograph album charting their progress and it is hard to understand where they found the time, energy and money for such an endeavour in what is, in gardening terms, a relatively short period of time. Shirley is largely self taught although she did attend local gardening courses which helped her understanding of design principles. She is now Assistant County Organiser for the NGS in Gloucestershire and obviously knows a thing or two about how to prepare a garden for opening.041

This is not a review of their garden, more a collection of my thoughts on how and why people like them open their garden for charity, what it takes to do so and a record of the things which made me stop and look and photograph. Despite it being 23 June, gardens are generally a month behind schedule in Cheltenham this year and this one was a further 3 weeks behind that, being 750 feet above the town and very exposed to the elements.

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Shirley must have a thing for the ‘Barlow’ series of aquilegias because they were the predominant variety and in all their colours. They certainly seem to stand well in the weather with strong upright stems and durable flowers. I was particularly drawn to the dark red which I believe is called ‘Bordeaux’ and the white form as below.009

Astrantias also play a big part in the spring planting here and the dark red ‘Ruby Wedding’ is one I definitely must get as it is our 40th next year!038

I am not known for my diplomacy skills (!) and am openly critical of gardens I feel are not worthy of opening but this one had me from the moment I went through the gates. Everything was right. The sign boards were timely and well placed, the parking adequate and clearly signed, we were warmly welcomed by the owners and £4 seemed good value compared to some we have been to recently. It was an hour well spent, inspirational and educational, and an example of what can be achieved by an excellent, passionate plantswoman. I have put together a gallery of other photographs which amply demonstrate her skill.005 026 014 035 052 041

Of course, it’s not perfect….nowhere is… and it is always reassuring to find a patch of ground elder, the odd bit of bindweed and particularly at this time of year  aphids!010

A lovely garden, well planned, well executed and well maintained. Good ideas for plant combinations and new plants to try. I couldn’t ask for more.

My Garden This Week

Unashamedly pinching an idea from other garden bloggers, I have decided to put up a selection of photos each week of the things I am most pleased with. These would not warrant a post of their own but deserve to be recorded and published for my records and others’ pleasure. So, in no particular order, a quick tour.Kolwitzia amabilis 'Pink Cloud'

The Kolwitzia amabilis ‘Pink Cloud’ commonly called the Beauty Bush is in full flower and laden with pink and white blossom. It only has a faint scent but the bees don’t seem to mind. It is absolutely buzzing.007

I love alliums and this Cristophii really captures the attention. It is not tall, perhaps 60 cm or so but the flower head is a good 25 cm in diameter, a perfect circle of tiny star shaped flowers. How does it do that???017

The height and intense colour of Purple Sensation makes it stand out in the borders and I think it looks good paired with Nectaroscordum siculum, the Sicilian Honey Garlic, which is a major bee attractor and totally hardy. 021

The first red dahlia of the year is Arabian Night and what a stunner! Very early but one of the benefits of starting them off under glass.Gladiolus communis byzantinus

The gorgeous fuchsia pink of Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus, apparently a good old English cottage garden plant despite it’s obvious Mediterranean origins. I bought a 9 cm pot at Malvern last year with one bulb in flower and popped it into the front border. This year it came up strongly and with 7 separate flower spikes so it seems to naturalise and multiply well.009

It’s really difficult to get a good photo of this plant and despite several attempts this is the best I can do with my basic Nikon. It is Silene dioica ‘Firefly’, a cultivated double form of the roadside wild flower, Pink Campion. Very floriferous over a long period and fully 120 cm tall but needing support to stop it flopping. I put in some hazel twigs early which are now doing their job beautifully and inconspicuously. Schizanthus 'Angel Wings Mixed' 016

The annual Skizanthus and Sweet Rocket are providing some colour in the front border while the late summer perennials are preparing to put on their show next month. I have kept some wallflowers going as well for the same reason. I hate ripping them out in full flower, it seems such a waste. Anyway, it’s only tradition that they are removed to make way for summer bedding so they can stay a while longer.

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Aquilegias have been fantastic this year. They have popped up all over the garden and in every shade of pink, purple and blue. I let them grow wherever they want because their slender stems always seem to fit in and never get in the way of other things. This incredible self-sown hybrid has an amazing number of flowers and is 120 cm tall. If only they had scent they would be the world’s favourite cottage garden plant.Geranium macrorrhizum & Aquilegias

In the back garden, the poor dry soil in front of the beech hedge doesn’t support much life but it has been colonised by Geranium macrorrizhum ‘Bevan’s Variety’, Geranium magnificum and hybrid Aquilegias. I don’t care if the path gets covered for a couple of months, we walk on the grass and in August they get cut to the ground when I trim the hedge and then they grow back in a few weeks and sometimes give me another show of flowers in October. One of the hardest working plants in the garden and the least fussy.Aquilegia 'Nora Barlow'

And just one more Aquilegia, this one is ‘Nora Barlow’ one of the Barlow series of cultivars which is truly perennial and comes back true every year. It lacks the ‘spurs’ of the hybrids and species  but has wonderful double flowers instead.

There is lots more about to happen. The Inula hookeri is in bud for the first time, the lilies are about to open and, best of all, we have started picking Sweet Peas!