Being based mainly in Suffolk, I don't get over to the Cotswolds as often as I'd like so the opportunity to visit gardens between work commitments last week was not to be missed! Homework done on Twitter to find gardens I hadn't been to before (thanks to @DrFrond, @AnneWareham et al) gave me a short list of Snowshill Garden (NT) and Mill Dene (which came with a warning) to be followed the next day by Broughton Grange and Upton Wold with a Garden Museum tour.
Most people visit Snowshill to see Charles Wade's eccentric and eclectic collections of weird and wonderful objects. He had so much that the house was given over entirely to the collect and Wade lived next door in the small Priest's House. He had just as firm ideas about the garden, distrusting roses for their short season and spiky look, and banning green paint in favour of his own mix of turquoise known as Wade's Blue. I couldn't resist taking this photograph since the woman's outfit almost matches one of Wade's painted plaques seen round the garden.
I loved the atmosphere here. A long walk from the car park and commercial NT aspects give it a feeling of other-worldliness just as Wade would have wanted. Some roses have been allowed back in by the Head Gardener who's been there 20+ years. The planting is mostly familiar - lots of cottage garden favourites allowed to seed in a rather un-NT way. Some species peonies I coveted but this is not a garden to come to for rarities but rather to be transported by its magical atmosphere.
My marks out of 20:
Atmosphere 5; Planting 3; Design 3.5; Upkeep 3.5 = 15
I had been warned. But I wanted to make my own mind up. And I did. First the parking is a nightmare. Friendly greeting with that day's food menu and a returnable map of the garden. It's on a tricky site with the mill stream running through the middle but I have an instant hatred of black weed suppressant material showing through brash home made chippings. And then I turned to see what has to be the saddest auricula theatre ever.
Please, if you open your garden to the public - not for charity - try and see it as others see it on arrival. Wombles, etc, are not my taste but may be for others but there is no excuse for sad auriculas and large clumps of nettles in herbaceous borders. Don't be fooled by the photograph below - they are there. There are pluses - they've made the best of this sloping site and it is clearly a much-loved family garden. But I left hearing the words 'we told you so' ringing in my ears.
Atmosphere: 1.5; Planting 2; Design 3; Upkeep 1.5 = 8
Having expected to spend more time at Mill Dene, I left needing a fix of a good garden. The old stalwart Hidcote is closed on Thursday but luckily Bourton House Garden was just nearby.
Bourton House Garden calls itself the 'Cotswolds' best kept secret' but it was no secret that it was put on the market and sold a couple of years ago much to many people's distress. The good news is that the new owners appear to be carrying on the traditional of this marvellous garden since the previous owners had to sell due to ill health.
The design of the garden has always made the most of the imposing house and surrounding open countryside. It is immaculately kept as it has always been - the box topiary looks like a Firth of Forth bridge job to me but it's clearly a labour of love by the loyal but small gardening team.
I was too early for the sumptuous tubs and tender perennials that have been a feature of Bourton House Garden but a peek into the greenhouse gives a taste of what's to come.
The barn is to re-open later in the year for refreshments and exhibitions. I came away with my faith restored in private gardens open to the public on a daily basis. Bourton House Garden is grand but accessible at the same time. Long may it stay this way.
Atmosphere: 4; Planting 4; Design 4; Upkeep 5 = 17
Next blog: Part II - Did Tom Stuart-Smith's Walled Garden at Broughton Grange live up to the hype? And where and what is Upton Wold?