Where do I start? Perhaps with the weather? Yet again we were blessed with fine weather throughout – no storms, no hailstones, just pleasant, if occasional slightly windy days – perfect for garden-hopping!
But our first stop was Waddesdon Manor – yes I know that was a Gardening Club holiday but we can still enjoy the treasures amassed by the Rothschilds such as the many items of Sevres porcelain , Gainsborough paintings in so many rooms – have you seen ‘The Pink Boy’ up close? If you are lucky enough to visit Waddesdon, do spend time watching the introductory film – one section not to be missed shows an extraordinary musical automaton on the shape of an elephant who, when wound up, will flap his ears, move his tail and ears, spin the flower petals…… Apparently the Shah of Persia was so enchanted with it that he asked for it to be played over and over agin, showing no interest in seeing the rest of the collection. But the hardy members of the Gardening Club moved on, taking in the wonderful textiles, bookbindings and furniture.
The garden was designed to complement the Manor – a parterre to challenge Wimpole, three dimensional bedding – we met people who gave up their holiday to create these massive birds out of bedding plants to fill Alice’s garden! Then there was the wild flower valley, huge specimen trees and an aviary! Yes, you read correctly – an aviary full of apparently happy, well-cared for exotic birds.
A lightning stop at Tewkesbury where we visited the splendid 12th Century Abbey located near to rows of 15th century timber framed buildings.
Garden-visiting then began in earnest on our second day which started at Mill Dene, a watermill garden created by the Dare family on a site which had housed a water mill from Saxon and possibly Roman times.. You may remember Mr Dare who used to work for Unwins and has many happy memories of lunches in the Chequers, Fowlmere! What a small world…….. We appreciated the many terraces and walks, we loved the ducks and baby moorhens in the mill pond. We welcomed the hot coffee and cakes served in the conservatory temptingly close to plants for sale!
After lunch at Moreton-on-the-Marsh our group split into two. Some found their way to Bourton- on -the-water – still a picture-postcard Cotswolds village. Lots of people enjoying the sunshine, of a Saturday afternoon with happy children paddling in the river which flows through the main street. Others spent the afternoon at a brewery sampling Cotswolds beer.I will say no more about the spirits which entered the sampling room too!
Next day saw us visiting the classic gardens – Hidcote, the first garden to be acquired by the National Trust, and Kiftsgate.
At Hidcote we enjoyed a talk about Lawrence Johnson, the American garden designer who created the garden. Did you know that he lived at Little Shelford for a brief time in 1893/4 and moved back in 1902, creating a rockery at Woodville Road, Newton Road? It is also said that he was the first person in the village to have a car! A formidable garden designer he was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Veitch Memorial Medal ‘for his work in connection with the introduction and cultivation of new plants’. It took Johnson some 30 years to transform fields into one of the country’s great Arts and Crafts garden. As we walked around Hidcote, garden spaces slowly unfolded to reveal another new room, a different vista, another corridor — with shrubs mingling with roses, seedlings appearing everywhere. Do go and visit……
Follow that! Yes, we did, by going just half-a-mile up the road to Kiftsgate, another classic garden of great charm created by three generations of women gardeners. We loved the exuberant flowering borders although we were too early for the July flowering famous Kiftsgate rose. There were mixed feelings about the water garden which was once a tennis court. Now gilded bronze leaves sway gently on long stems above the water – in my view it was truly an oasis of calm created by Simon Allison’s inspired foliage sculpture reflected in the black water of the pool.
We wake to the morning of the final day – but, oh what treats awaited us. If ever you are in the Cotswolds do go to Bourton House – easily our favourite garden by a long way.
The scene was set by the magnificent, imposing Grade 1 listed 16th century Tithe Barn through which we walked to reach the garden. Such calm, such peace, such plantsmanship. awaited us. Here was imaginative topiary, a knot garden, walks and parterres, luxuriant terraces, borders with rare and exotic plants, spring-fed water features including a raised basket pond from the Great Exhibition of 1851. Then there was a unique shade house, a serene white garden and planted pots galore. All this with a splendid backdrop of the Cotswolds landscape.
Totally bewitched we enjoyed tea on the lawn before leaving for Cotswold Garden Flowers. Another world awaited us. Here was Bob Brown’s nursery (a Gardeners World contributor in recent weeks) at the end of a narrow road and track and a parking space so small that even our very experienced driver was nervous. Here in a small room we listened to Mandie give an excellent talk on ‘Colour magic in the garden’ with the resident cat interrupting us at regular intervals by making an entrance through his cat flap. The opportunity to buy special rare plants was too good to miss especially as the stock beds were full of happy quality plants, many in full colour. The sound of kettles boiling and the sight of delicious cakes drew us back to our meeting room and all too soon our visit was over,
Back to the villages full of lovely memories.