What is it in a garden that draws me to it? Snowshill Manor…

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The dovecot, Snowshill Manor, June 2017

A reader challenged me yesterday in the nicest possible way.  Responding to my blog on Bourton House, she set me thinking about what it is that I love and warm to in a garden.  If horticultural perfection was what lit my fire, then Bourton House would have been up there with a gong- so that led me to ponder on what it is that I love about gardens, if it isn’t horticultural perfection.  And I think that, indefinable and possibly fuzzy though it may be, I am drawn to an expression of the person who made the garden or, in that absence of that person, a story being told in some way.  And I love the creation of mood or of spirit, be it in the planting or landscaping, or in the way that both of those elements respond to the natural environment in or around the garden.

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The gate that draws you in, Snowshill Manor, June 2017

So, as we travelled on to Snowshill Manor, on that grey day after all the heat, I was expecting to be more interested in the house than in the garden.  In fact, when we got there, the ticketseller actually said that the garden was a sideshow to the house.  The house, it is true, contains a compelling personal collection of objects and objets lovingly selected by the unusual Charles Paget Wade– we easily spent two hours beguiled by the range and detail of what he collected.  But the garden is much more than a sideshow- and is, in it’s more modest way, every bit as beguiling as the collection in the house.

Charles Paget Wade worked with the well-known Arts and Crafts architect, Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, between 1920-3 on transforming what had been the farmyard of his Tudor manor house into a series of garden rooms, intent on creating atmosphere and and inspiring an emotional connection with the landscape.  The bones of the hard landscaping that Wade and Baillie Scott created still remain, and have been beautifully written upon in terms of the planting by the National Trust gardening team.

It seemed to me that the garden inspired the same sense of adventure as the collection in the house, and in walking through, I was struck by children playing in the weeping pear trees and the fun created by the being-restored miniature village, Wolf’s Cove, which was captivating. Using a almost ordinary plant palette, the gardening team have created borders of airy, frothy planting in blues and yellows, and have left alone the small sheep fields so that they still abut the main garden area as they were intended.  And yet it is not too twee- it is rather refreshing, simple and very attractive.

So nothing grand here.  Simple, effective plantings repeat throughout, areas that can be left are not mucked about with, stories are told and enchantment is created.

Below are top and bottom views of the Long Border.



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Frothy, airy planting, Daucus carota ‘Dara’, in the Long Border detail, Snowshill Manor, June 2017
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An inviting step division between one room and another, Snowshill Manor, June 2017
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There’s a story here, Snowshill Manor, June 2017
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Border stuffed with Alchemilla mollis, white Lychnis and Nepeta, with just a hint of pink and some borrowed landscape, Snowshill Manor, June 2017
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An ancient well framed by the courtyard and planting, Snowshill Manor, June 2017
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The splash of orange Hemerocallis does the trick, Snowshill Manor, June 2017
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Old copper watertank outside the ladies’ loo, Snowshill Manor, June 2017


Bourton House Garden…wonderful plants but somehow…

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Borrowed landscape, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

In our whirlwind tour of gardens in the Cotswolds, Shropshire/Herefordshire and Sussex/Kent, we covered many miles in a comparatively short time.  By the time we got to our third garden on Day 2, we had a ‘nose’ for what we liked and didn’t, and our opinions were strengthening.  On the face of it, Bourton House Garden should have been a winner.  It has a beautiful position overlooking fields and a rolling landscape that probably has hardly changed in the 300 years since this gracious, part sixteenth, part eighteenth century house was built.   And, some to-die-for planting could be seen.  Here are some of the plants that grabbed my attention…

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Abutilon ‘Ashford Red’, Bourton House Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

Abutilon ‘Ashford Red’ wove its way through the hot colours in some of the borders- what a gorgeous colour and spectacular presence this plant has- I adored it.  Not hardy sadly, but I am on the hunt for one, it is not to be resisted.

This Abelia floribunda, which I think is the correct identification, is a bit of a rarity.  Tenderness may be the reason, but this cerise-pink sharpness ran through several border areas with emerald green foliage at a very handy 1.5m or so, height and width.  It is a sumptuous plant, from Mexico originally, and needing a fair bit of water and a protected situation, and no frost.  Which rules it out for me really, but to be totally admired.

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Abelia grandiflora, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

This was a real charmer, Trifolium pannonicum, just around 0.5m tall and weaving in and out of the borders, a bit like a clover on drugs, but very pretty and apparently easy, so I may well give this a try if I can get seed.

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Trifolium pannonicum Hungarian clover, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

I have puzzled over this plant!  Looks like a cross between a Honka Dahlia and a Leucanthemum, but no hard and fast identification yet…any ideas?  Very pretty and quite striking especially as a splash of white in amongst darker plants.  Probably only about 0.5m tall max…Chloris, thank you, says Argyrantheum frutescens

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Argyrantheum frutescens, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

An ambitious planting of Echium pininana had been a tad disrupted by super-hot temperatures and a windy day, but the remains were very impressive all the same.

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Echium pininana, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

There was a lovely shade house with some very unusual plants to be seen.  I have had a go at identifying all three of these plants, but I am not there yet.  Here they are, as mystery plants.  Top left plant has tiny leaflets growing in the centre of those beautiful leaves, top right has what look like cream berries growing in bunches under the leaves and the bottom one, doing a good impression of Deinanthe, has strange red-tinted bladders which can just be seen in amongst the leaves.

And the mystery is partially solved, thank you Chloris- the bottom plant is the very extraordinary Amisia zygomeris

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Podyphyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

Cutting to the chase, so there were some very lovely borders.  And some beautiful topiary and a faultless knot garden.  But the trouble was- total horticultural perfection does not a garden make.  It felt as if it had been made by computer or a robot without a human hand in sight.  This was not just me going off in a mood, we all four of us pretty much expressed the same sentiment when we exchanged thoughts half way round.  Somehow, it had no soul, no spirit about it. It really did leave us cold.  So, personally, I would carry on to Snowshill Manor if you are in the vicinity.  Of which more later.

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The Parterre topiary.  Yes, well.  Bourton House Garden, June 2017
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Immaculately planted shady border, Bourton House Garden, June 2017
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The Knot Garden, but why, oh why, the blue herons?, Bourton House Garden, June 2017