Continuing with my ‘reviewing’ efforts, I thought I would write up a piece on some garden visits. Initially, I had planned to do a garden per article; alas, the elusive hand of time has trundled on and I fear the write-ups would be pretty thin. So, instead, I will combine them by geographical location – which I guess likens them to a travel guide, if you will!
Naturally, I had to begin the series with my favourite destination – the Cotswolds. Rightly famed for being the epitome of English beauty, it spans over a large Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. For me, the Cotswolds holds so many happy memories. Throughout university, I tallied up hours of road trips through the district, on visits down to Marlborough. My favourite scenic route was driving down the fosse way – in the company of Mr Nutini, Hozier and the Stereophonics – as the sun was setting in our own little world. Stow-on-the-Wold was the routine stop off for refreshments, but Moreton-on-the-Marsh always had my heart. So for the last few years, this has been my holiday hotspot. I like to travel solo, because it means that I can stay in the gardens for as long as I want to – without having to worry that somebody else is getting bored! Broadway and Chipping Campden are also gorgeous quaint little towns, that are definitely worth visiting if you pass-by. Which brings us to the gardens:
1. Snowshill Manor
I think I may have subconsciously ranked these in order of favourites because Snowshill is absolutely my number one. It had been recommended to me by a colleague (for the manor house actually), because Charles Wade and I share a common interest: hoarding. The gardens are a fair walk from the car park if you’re not steady on your feet; but they had frequent buggy runs to get you from A – Z. The manor is tucked away behind sweet little meadows and quirky garden structures, typical of the Arts and Crafts style. I can’t describe exactly what it is about the gardens. Horticulturally, I’d say the neighbouring Hidcote is more ‘wowza’, but the atmosphere at Snowshill was just beyond anything I’ve ever felt. The garden was full of kooks, with random ornaments, a miniature village and thought provoking quotes dotted around the space. Fragrance and texture are very prominent at Snowshill and every view of the house gives an ethereal sentiment. It is a whimsical dream! Highlights include the Scabiosa in the long borders, Sambucus in the clock garden and the dried flower arrangements in the outhouse. The space feels so relaxing. I decided to do some meditation whilst laid down in the meadow… which resulted in an hour long nap, totally undisturbed – bliss!
At Hidcote, each turn around the corner reveals a garden more beautiful than the last. It’s almost as though they ease you in, bit by bit, so to not entirely overwhelm ones senses upon impact. I enjoy the way you have to unpick the garden. There are little viewing points dotted around the space which draw your gaze onto things you just cannot capture. The site consists of different styles, almost like a bullseye target, with rings leading from a wilder periphery; to the designed landscapes in the middle ground; and a more formal centre. In the topiary garden, the smell of Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile‘ imbued the air with it’s gentle, nostalgic fragrance; cementing it’s place in my heart as a summer favourite. I also enjoyed the contrast of the long borders being situated next to the orchard meadow – a heaven of habitats for pollinators. I spent hours sat in the orchard reading my book, just smiling and laughing to myself. But it was one of those rare moments in life where you feel complete and utter contentment, and I simply did not care who saw!
Kiftsgate is the creation of three generations of female gardeners – so, of course, it was top of my list to visit. Quite a random thing to be impressed by, but I was immediately struck by the beauty of the Berberis as soon as I entered. Great form, good colour and so healthy! Which seemed to be a theme for Kiftsgate because I must say, they had the best Roses I have ever seen! The planting is mainly herbaceous perennials, complimented with the occasional shrub and encapsulates that ‘typical English garden’ style. Highlights include: the hosta/hydrangea combo in the fountain garden, the lilies on the terrace and the unrivalled view at the bottom of site. Alas I was a little confused by one area, which had artificial grass leading on to a black pond with modern ‘love-heart’ shaped sculptures. In fact, I was so thrown by this one area that I’m just realising how much it has distorted my opinion of the site, and how unfair I have been in my judgment of the garden for the last year! Having actually written down my thoughts on Kiftsgate, I am just now thinking to myself “it was actually pretty nice!”. Maybe I was in a mood, it’s always hard to tell when you’re on your own! Anyway, I would definitely recommend visiting this beautiful independent garden.
4. Cotswolds Lavender
Visiting a big open lavender field has been on my botanical to-do list for ages; so, obviously, I was thrilled that there was one close by! I weirdly remember that I needed a wee a lot that day, which was fine because there was a mini woodland and wild flower meadow at the top of the field – sorry not sorry. Anyway, the site itself was gorgeous; like something off a post card with the little chocolate box cottage in the distance. As I mentioned before, there is a wild flower meadow on site too, and some interpretation posts around to give you information about the company. You can also find a gorgeous tearooms and gift shop across the road, selling the dreamiest lavender cakes and teas. I would say that you can definitely make a nice full morning of it if you take a few things with you. For example, I took a wildflower ID guide to spend some time learning and a leisurely book to read amongst the flowers. It’s about £4 to get in and they give you a little ticket to keep, which made me smile when I re-found it in my jacket pocket last week!
A lesson learned in not taking other peoples’ opinion as gospel. I nearly passed this one by as I had heard it wasn’t up to much, but on an idle Wednesday – when sudoko had gotten the better of me – I decided to pay a visit. I’d say it isn’t the most accessible site from the car park; alas, I didn’t pay attention to buggy runs because I was too busy taking in the landscape. The house reminded me of Brodsworth because it was ‘conserved as found’ rather than restored. Throughout the rooms, there was the odd random houseplant (thriving, I must say) which really seemed to amuse me; though I was feeling pretty damn delirious that day. The highlight of the gardens has to be the kitchen garden, with a row of wooden arches making the picturesque isle. Mixed herbaceous and annuals complimented the edibles – some of which are used as garnishes in salads or smoothies alike. But my favourite part was the strawberry picking (for a small donation). I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere at Chastleton, and the contrast between modern and traditional. Would definitely return.
The other day, I was thinking about which flowers my old boyfriends’ would be if they were a plant; and you know, none of them made it to tree status. There is something about the stability and regality of trees that fascinates me. Especially in a collective dedicated space like an arboretum. I feel instantly humbled by them. And so I have decided that arboretums are the shrine of my tree cult and their blooms the sacrament. Batsford is a beautiful place, with sweeping views and lots of secret pockets to admire different species. I went during spring so the Magnolia and Prunus were looking beautiful. Trees have year round interest when you learn to appreciate them for all that they are, and I would recommend a trip to Batsford to anyone.
Whenever I’m off on a trip, I use the map feature on the Great British Gardens site to find places to visit. It’s a very useful tool as it combines NT/EH, private and independent gardens alike – all in one place. Plus, it gives a little background info about the site and it’s history (for anybody who is interested in that stuff)! I hope this blog has been a useful read – stay blessed! x
A trip down memory lane …