Gardening Club members enjoy not only garden-visiting but also looking at notable National Trust Houses so two were included on our 2016 tour. En-route we visited Baddesley Clinton, one of the finest moated houses in England, nestling in a lovely setting. The Manor occupies an island hemmed in by a wide moat with water-birds galore. The house boasts several priest holes, fine panelling and examples of stained glass. Nearby at the end of a leafy lane was a delightful mediaeval church dedicated to St Michael – well worth a visit. Next we popped in to Packwood House; here we marvelled at the dramatic atmosphere created by severely clipped conical yews in contrast with the rest of the garden – an excellent example of how garden design should be used to create interest, jolt the imagination and excite the senses. We were charmed by the packed herbaceous borders, many growing against mellow brick walls. A sunken garden with a small stretch of water added a different dimension, creating reflections of light and shadow. Around it were even more flower beds full of mainly hardy perennials. We all loved this garden! Our tour had started in earnest.
A couple of years ago I read an article about Helena Gerrish. She had moved in to a perfect Artsand-Craft house called High Glannau set on a steep hillside above Monmouth, enjoying spectacular views over the Vale of Usk towards the Brecon Beacons. She discovered that the garden had been designed by Henry Avray Tipping, a friend of Gertrude Jekyll but was now very overgrown. Tipping had been the architectural editor of Country Life back on the early 1900’s and had quite a reputation for garden design. So Helena decided to bring back the garden to its former glory, even if that meant digging up a swimming pool – which it did! So herbaceous borders were gradually faithfully restored after Country Life provided Helena with photographs of the original borders printed from negatives from glass plates. Fast forward eleven years and there is now a garden fit for a king – well almost – Prince Charles has already visited and was most impressed!
So when it came to arranging a gardening tour for 2016, it just had to be to Herefordshire and the Welsh Marches. Our visit to High Glannau was a highlight – Helena and her art-dealer husband could not have been more hospitable. They opened the doors to us – literally – and we were treated like house guests with access to the many rooms with wood panelling and mullion windows, coffee and cakes in the dining room and a splendid tour of the garden. And yes, it was the right time of the year to see the herbaceous borders in full bloom with blue delphiniums and blue irises to name just a couple of the plants. We were shown the woodland walk, the grass walk, the pond, the terraces, the 40ft glasshouse still with the original beaver-tail glass and cast iron ratchets that opened all the windows.
t made sense to visit another Arts-and Craft garden designed by Tipping – a challenging drive through beautiful, narrow lanes and the coach eventually reached Wyndcliffe Court. Here we appreciated splendid views of the Severn Estuary with the old and new bridges spanning the water. Formal terraces, lawns, stone walls, – all typical Tipping garden features as were the shady paths leading to woodland walks. This again creating exactly the contrast between cultivation and natural landscape that Tipping loved. But now there was one different factor – this was a sculpture garden, some objects fitted in well but others ………..well we weren’t so sure.
In its day Penpergwm Lodge had been THE garden to visit especially as it was a RHS partner garden. Now it was beginning to be overgrown; never-the-less the variety of plants was stunning. We were very pleased when an exceedingly knowledgeable neighbour joined us to tell us the names of plants which baffled us. Another charming owner entertained us to tea and cakes!
Hedging was another feature of our tour demonstrated in two gardens – similar but so, so different. I am talking about Veddw and the Laskett. Both were created from nothing on small budgets and both rely on hedging to give them structure. Both are highly individualistic, dramatic and theatrical.
On the slopes of the Tintern Valley in Monmouthshire the Veddw has been created by Anne Wareham – author and gardener – and Charles Hawes – the gifted photographer. Another leafy lane for our driver to overcome and a steep slope down to the garden entrance for us. Once inside the garden an equally steep descent meant that it took quite some time for us all to congregate outside the house (painted black so as not to compete with the garden!) where we met our charming host, Charles. The garden is a series of small rooms inside hedges creatively clipped and high! One contains a dramatic black reflecting pool and another is dedicated to ornamental grasses. The Veddw is considered by some to be one of the finest contemporary gardens in the country. Although there were many different, creative touches most of us felt more at home in the splendid flower-rich meadow!
As for the Laskett – there was something here to please everyone. Through the sections of the garden Sir Roy Strong has marked the many landmarks of his long marriage to Julia Trevelyan Oman. With his career as an eminent historian and former Director of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum and his late wife’s fine reputation as a theatre/opera set designer, it is no surprise to find a chapter of their life together portrayed through plants and statuary in each garden section. There is also an orchard full of unusual varieties, amazing topiary, a triumphal arch at the end of the Silver Jubilee Garden. I could go on and on …..
I hope that this brief summary of our Gardening Club’s 2016 Garden Tour has inspired readers to also visit these interesting and highly individual gardens.