Brockworth Court

143Today we took some visiting relatives to Brockworth Court, a Grade 2* Listed Building on the outskirts of Gloucester and close to Cheltenham which opens for the National Gardens Scheme. Dating back to 1540 and originally built for Richard Hart, the last Prior of Llanthony Secunda Priory. 115

The buildings are truly magnificent and of great national importance. The Tithe Barn pre-dates the house by almost 100 hundred years and was completely rebuilt in 2000 after it was nearly destroyed by fire.104

With the adjacent St. George’s Parish Church, formal gardens on three sides and a kitchen garden over the lane, the current owners must be working very hard to restore and maintain this ancient pile. The ‘Monet’ bridge over the pond to a thatched round house we found rather twee and served no real purpose other than as a visitor attraction. 078

However, the borders and planting combinations were colourful and inspiring.123                      I was particularly impressed to find the Rose Campion, Lychnis coronaria, planted with the bright yellow Potentilla recta ‘Sulphurea’  which worked for me. The strong magenta  coloured Lychnis is lovely on its own but awkward to place unless it is with white. I might try it with Geum ‘Lady Stratheden’ which is long flowering, equally tall and bright yellow.098

The strong yellows and purples were a big feature of this garden and made excellent photographic subjects.124

Equally attractive were the reds and purples of these Monarda, Knautia and Salvias flanked by Solomon Seal and Acer palmatum.129

But sometimes a simple pot or urn is enough.114

I think I would have steered away from rusty peacocks and stone ladies playing the flute in a cupola topped gazebo but everyone to their own! I think this is where garden design and ‘marketing’ often bump awkwardly together in places open to the public.

Overall, a ‘good’ garden to visit, lots of good ideas and some not so good. A place of heritage and history and somewhere we will visit regularly to note the seasonal changes.

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.

Not so Keen Garden

013 I recently took my wife to see Mary Keen’s garden on one of her very limited open days but, I have to confess, we were a bit disappointed. The beautiful old rectory in the tiny hamlet of Duntisbourne Rous near Cirencester is an idyllic setting for a classic country garden which Mary herself describes in this month’s The Garden magazine as “a bit on the wild side” and “more about atmosphere – a place to be, not one to impress.” I agree entirely, we were certainly not impressed.                                                                                                                                           012

It is not for me to suggest that any garden, particularly one which is owned by an eminent gardening journalist and author is not up to the mark. I have no right to say that. However, I do have the right to speak as I find and, in our opinion, it was a waste of £10 on 22 April when we visited under the auspices of the National Gardens Scheme. Mary Keen herself was there and I fully expected her to apologise for the lack of interest but she didn’t . In fact, apart from a few bulbs and woodland anemones which were going over it was all very green and boring. Even the green was disappointing. I have never seen a lawn so full of moss. My wife, who is far more balanced and forgiving than myself, said she found the garden “rather unkempt” which I think is an accurate description.019

If I say that the highlight for me was the compost heap, it might put the visit into perspective. I don’t think the garden should have been open for paying guests. I suspect that the opening dates were agreed last year in order to meet copy deadlines for The Yellow Book and had not been altered in spite of the appalling spring weather which has delayed everything by at least a month. It just shows that gardening must be flexible and adapt to the conditions, and opening a garden with very little to see or impress is a waste of people’s time and money. It does no-one any favours and, in fact, does the garden owner and the National Gardens Scheme a disservice. 003

Having said that, I liked the Auricula theatre in the old outside loo, as featured in the Daily Telegraph 4 years ago by Sarah Raven, though there were was not a single flower open. I am sure they were intended to be a wonderful feature and probably would have been in any ‘normal’ year.049

I also admired the climbing path to the old schoolhouse where the tea and coffee was ‘available’ rather than served, something else which irked us.

Sorry about the moan but I had to get it off my chest!