First stop, just north of Banbury in the lovely village of Wardington, was at Pettifers Garden and then we moved on to Broughton Grange, south of Banbury, for the afternoon.
Pettifers is a private garden of around an acre and a half and is open to groups only by appointment, so this was a rare opportunity to see this beautiful place. It is at its best in the autumn – with grasses and autumn–flowering perennials predominating.
In complete contrast, Broughton Grange is an estate of around 350 acres including a variety of planting areas - including a six-acre walled garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, a woodland garden, an 80-acre arboretum, a sunken garden and a parterre. We had an introductory talk with refreshments before being free to wander. It was a return visit for some – we last went in 2003, and changes have been made, so it was good to see how things have developed. An interesting aside - in the early 20th century, Lady Ottoline Morrell entertained guests such as Bertrand Russell and Lytton Strachey at Broughton.
Pettifers is in the village of Wardington in North Oxfordshire; as we drove down the motorway the sky boiled with grey rain clouds but fortunately the showers had stopped by the time we arrived. We were greeted by Polly Stevens the Head Gardener, who told us that Pettifers was ‘’a dynamic garden’’ and the owner Gina Price was unsentimental when it came to replacing plants.
This private garden is one and a half acres and nestles in a fold of the hillside with lovely views over open countryside. There are deep herbaceous borders filled with a wide variety of hardy plants interspersed with some lovely grasses; especially admired by members were Calamagrostis ‘’Overdam’’ and Calamagrostis brachytricha. The owner prefers bright colours and that was certainly evident in the colourful Autumn border, which contained massed groups of Rudbeckia, Aconitum, Symphyotrichum (Asters) plus grasses, backed by red and yellow leaved shrubs. In a walled courtyard there was a lovely scented Clematis rehderiana spilling down the wall and complemented by common Ivy. If you wish to see the garden in September look at the Pettifers website as they have some beautiful photographs.
I first visited this garden on a cold, wet day in early April, so I was interested to see how it would look later in the season. We were met by the Head Gardener, Andrew Woodall, who explained a little about the history of the garden and also, interestingly, his own career. He originally worked in commercial horticulture and, for some reason, was involved in growing oysters! He then worked in private gardens, including a spell in Italy before family needs brought him back to Britain. He has been at Broughton Grange for 13 years. Andrew likes working at a garden open to the public as he feels his work van be appreciated by a wider audience.
The 350-acre estate was bought by the present owners in 1992, and in 2000 garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith was commissioned to turn 6 acres of field close to the house into a garden. The south-facing slope was landscaped into a series of terraces with, at, the top, structural planting of vertical yews, surrounded by naturalistic planting of grasses and prairie plants. Then comes a large square pond with stepping stones, and on the lower terrace a parterre. Here the box hedging is designed to mirror the cell structure of ash, beech and oak leaves, giving a delightfully random and informal feel. The “cells” were interplanted with, (among other flowering plants), large stands of black curly kale, and cream and green variegated cabbages, which gave an architectural effect.
The garden continues down to a yew terrace, an open area with a formal fountain, then a sunken garden and a stumpery. Off to the left is the arboretum, which needed more time to explore. To the west are the long herbaceous borders, with a formal parterre above.
September is often a difficult time in gardens, unless they’re specifically designed with Autumn in mind, and I felt that we didn’t see it at its best. Nevertheless, the strong structure and variety of planting makes it an interesting garden which is well worth a visit.