A beautiful summer’s evening provided perfect conditions for the Worcestershire Group’s visit to Bretforton Manor in mid-May. The Grade II-listed manor is surrounded by a beautifully-maintained garden and head gardener, Jon Heath, was there to introduce us to a horticultural space with a predominantly green and pastel theme – albeit within a strong structure and with late colour from a range of planting, including dahlias and salvias.
The five-acre garden has been extensively remodelled in the eight years since owners Mark and Angela Chambers moved in to the impressive accommodation, which dates back to 1605. The orchard has been extended with a range of fruit and specimen trees, including medlars. The lake was a relaxed space that added substantially to the character and atmosphere of the garden.
It was a genuine pleasure to see the results of the efforts put in by their team. Jon says major projects within the garden are now complete but there remain the inevitable and continuing tweaks when something isn’t working too well. Next year, for example, some beds will be cleared of rhododendrons and replanted.
Mixed and herbaceous borders – some planted with the advice of local designer Paul Williams - were packed with interest but as I write this report, almost five months later, four particular details stick in my mind.
• First was the use of variegated ground elder - Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’ – beneath a short avenue of beautiful yew trees. I’d never seen it used so well anywhere. And it came as a complete surprise. It clearly creates a degree of work for the gardening team but in the special light of that particular May evening, it looked spectacular.
• Similarly, patches of woodruff, Galium odoratum, another slightly thuggish plant whose spreading habit I’ve been warned about, was used to wonderfully understated effect beneath mature trees along one edge of the main lawns. The planting added a natural feel to what could easily have been a formal location.
• The attractive mix of the informal and formal in many areas throughout the garden was a beguiling feature.
• The high level of maintenance throughout the whole site was obvious from the outset – and was almost perfect in parts. Remarkably, I don’t remember a single weed anywhere.
Several other plants caught my eye –striking Aeoniums in the greenhouse, the elegant Abutilon vitifolium ‘Album’ in the walled garden, the enormous Echium pininana that showed how much they loved their location in the exotic border, and the water hawthorn, Aponogeton distachyos, thriving in the small water features near the house.
My abiding memory was of an immaculately cared-for garden of great interest – from both a wide overview to tiny detail. I had hoped for a memorable visit but never expected such high standards. Many thanks to everyone at Bretforton for making us so welcome and to Sue Chitty for organising such an enjoyable evening. During a quick chat with Jon, I told him he could definitely take the following day off – because I couldn’t see a single thing that needed doing!
I looked forward eagerly to our day trip in September to John Massey’s private three acre garden at Ashwood Nurseries, and Preen Manor in Shropshire. The former had I heard and read of, and seen on TV, but had not managed to visit on one of the open days. The latter was totally unknown to me.
Our group of 27 Worcestershire members, joined by nine HPS visitors from Essex, were fortunate to have a private tour of John Massey’s beautifully planted garden led by writer and broadcaster Howard Drury, who gave us a most informative account of the creation of the garden and the plants it contains. One point he stressed was that John aimed to have all-year-round interest in the garden, so I will definitely try and visit again at a different time of year.
The borders were immaculately maintained and full of lovely plants. Several were themed such as the tropical border which was putting on a very good display of colour, and the splendid grass border running along the canal which forms the backdrop to the garden. The garden also contained an interesting collection of garden sculptures and ornaments. There was a lovely group of chicken-wire deer peeking out of a group of ferns at the base of a tree, and several stylised sculptures of flower heads were threaded throughout the borders. (Oh, to have the money and space to do similar!).
There were some good examples also of a ‘less is more’ style planting which were very effective and particularly impressed me. For example, the bed of Sarcococca with a ribbon of cyclamen in flower in shades of pink and white in front of it. Particularly eye-catching was a round bed, surrounded by a very low circular wooden bench feature, set in the centre of the lawn and containing three white stemmed silver birch trees under-planted with white Colchicum autumnale, which were in full flower, and the black grass Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. Another idea I liked was the very large pot of evergreen Begonia ‘Dragon Wings’ with bright red flowers positioned next to the trunk of another white stemmed birch.
In the afternoon we arrived at Preen Manor, by which time the weather was very grey and damp with low cloud coming down over the Shropshire hills so we did not get the benefit of the views. However, it only added to the romantic atmosphere of this garden located on the site of a former monastery.
In contrast to John Massey’s garden, the six acre garden at Preen Manor has been created very much in the ‘garden rooms’ mould, and luckily we were given maps listing the numerous different areas (about 20) to make sure we didn’t get too lost. These ranged from the formal, such as the Canal Lawn and the Terrace Lawns, to the informal, for example the Cottage Garden, and more modern ideas such as the Pebble Pond Garden. There was a good display of colour both from the flowers and the autumn shades beginning to show in the trees and shrubs. Again, the use of sculpture and ornaments added to the overall attractiveness of the design and planting, including what is possibly the tidiest garden shed (well, at least the exterior) that I’ve ever seen.
|9.00 am||Coach departs Crowle Parish Hall (please park at BACK of car park)|
|9.45 am||Ashwood Nurseries. Intro and visit to John Massey’s Private Garden with Howard Drury, followed by time for visit to Nursery gardens, plant sales, shop and lunch. (Café gets very busy. Please try to stagger our use of it!)|
|1.45 pm||Coach departs for Preen Manor|
|2.30 pm||Arrive Preen (refreshments included)|
|5.00 pm||Depart Preen|
|6.30 pm||ETA Crowle|