Anticipation could not have been higher as a group of us met at Banbury Station last week to visit nearby Broughton Grange with its famous 'walled garden' created ten years ago by Tom Stuart-Smith. I'd seen the photographs, read T S-S's thinking behind the garden and like everyone else, couldn't wait to see it in the flesh.
Met by the delightful Head Gardener, Andrew, we were let loose on this icon of contemporary garden design. First impressions were as expected; one cannot help but be blown away by the scale of the design and scope of the planting.
This is an astounding garden which will undoubtedly influence other less ambitious gardens (including my own) for years to come. It oozes modernity yet also harks back to the eighteenth century. Money, patronage, and a strong sense of male-ness.
Small niggle: In general I'm a fan of labels as long as they are used discretely. But these are just too in your face and high. Some will get hidden by foliage eventually but those that don't give it the look of a botanical garden. I wonder what T S-S thinks of them? Maybe it's a boy thing...
Of course, Broughton Grange isn't just about the walled garden even though that's what everyone wants to see. There are other areas, an 80-acre arborteum in its infancy, a peat-block ericaceous garden, a stumpery (groan....), a Spring garden walk, a parterre in front of the house which is reassuringly modest for such a grand estate. And I'm delighted that the garden is now open to the public both for groups and for the NGS in high summer (see the Yellow Book for dates).
So did I come away exhilarated or disappointed? A little of both. I still believe it is one of the most influential gardens so far of the 21st century. There are planting combinations galore that I will be copying. But I didn't expect it to be quite so masculine and impersonal. Perhaps I should have done.
Marks out of 20:
Atmosphere 3; Planting 4; Design 4; Upkeep 3
So on to Upton Wold. Where? Yes, that's just what we said. I hadn't heard of it either. Quite a long coach journey brought us to some corrugated barns which did not auger well. But minutes later we were greeted by the ebullient owner, given plant lists and we sensed we were in for something special.
While the estate is enormous, the garden is traditional Cotswolds, divided into various rooms all with a different atmosphere. At the heart of this garden is the owner's astounding collection of walnut trees. While not the most exciting trees to look at, knowing that this collection is probably the best in the world makes it exhilarating. But for me it was the special touches like 'windows' cut into beech hedges, a tunnel made through a yew hedge for chasing grandchildren, and excellent specialist planting throughout that made this garden very special for me. It is only open to groups but is well worth seeking out.
Atmosphere: 5 Planting: 4 Design: 4 Upkeep: 4