Wednesday 2 November 2011

Three gardens in one weekend

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Pfau' - a well-named peacock of a plant.
On Saturday I gave a talk for the Lakeland Horticultural Society in Windermere, which provided the opportunity to see their gardens at Holehird. This is a remarkable place, with 17 acres of garden surrounding the former estate mansion (now a Cheshire Home), entirely curated and worked by volunteers of the society: there are no paid positions. The site is nicely varied in terrain, with what should be spectacular views across Windermere to the mountains beyond, and has great diversity in its plantings. Three National Plant Collections are held there: Astilbe, Hydrangea and Polystichum, all seeming to be well maintained and labelled.. Though none is at its prime at the end of October, the standing stems of the astilbes were rather attractive, and many of the hydrangeas were showing pleasant tints in their senescent flower heads - in fact 'Pfau' (picture above) was really very spectacular at this stage.
Holehird Gardens in the rain.
Unfortunately it started to rain as we arrived in the Lake District and it just got heavier through the day, so although it didn't stop me carefully going round the garden, it wasn't showing its best face. Even so, the autumn colours were looking good and I very much want to see it at another time of year.

Austwick Hall
On Saturday evening we stayed with our friends Michael Person and Eric Culley at Austwick Hall, their beautiful boutique hotel in the Yorkshire Dales, and had a wonderfully pleasant evening of comfort, great food and excellent company. One really can't recommend it too highly. In the morning we took a tour of the ever-changing garden, where the borders are to undergo a major makeover this winter, and through the wood above the house where a trail leads to a series of carefully chosen and aptly sited contemporary sculptures. The woodland is also planted with snowdrops and the garden is open in season for visitors to enjoy these - dates are on their website, as well as at other times during the year.

Woodland steps at Austwick Hall

Crozier sculpture in the Austwick sculpture walk.

The Italian Garden at Trentham, designed by Tom Stuart-Smith on Sir Charles Barry's plan.

Returning southwards on the M6 and frustrated by the crawling traffic, tempting signs led us to make the snap decision to visit the gardens at Trentham. Once the property of the Dukes of Sutherland, the estate was acquired in 1996 by St Modwen Properties Plc, who have unashamedly turned it to profitable purpose. Only being familiar with images of the garden, we were not prepared for the vast carpark and behorded retail village through which one passes, but once over the bridge into the garden that all seems very far off.

The gardens were laid out in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries to accompany successive incaranations of the great house, Trentham Hall: first (1759-1780) with a 'Capability' Brown landscape of lake and wooded vistas, which remains magnificent, and the formal Italian gardens adjacent to the house, created by Sir Charles Barry in the 1830-40s. The house fell into disuse and was demolished in 1911, but the landscape survived and has been magnificently, and justly famously, restored by St Modwen. The centre piece remains the vast Italian garden, whose parterre beds have been filled with grasses and perennials in the modern style by Tom Stuart-Smith, but adjacent to it are areas designed by Piet Oudolf (the 'Floral Labyrinth' and 'Rivers of Grass'), a Victorian trellis walk, and areas of lawns and trees.

We arrived with just half-an-hour off sunlight left, in the unpleasantly and suddenly shortened winter afternoon, but the low sun showed the plantings at their most beautiful and radiant - a really lovely sight. It was interesting to compare the styles of the two designers: Oudolf's big bold blocks, and the subtle diversity of Stuart-Smith's plantings, so skilfully worked into a true parterre with formal box edging. Once again, this is a place to return to and really explore and study.
Artichoke heads embedded in grasses.

Miscanthus plumes catching the last of the sunshine.

Amsonia hubrichtii

Piet Oudolf's Labyrinth of Flowers.


  1. Beautiful photos. Autumn colours, rain or no rain, lovely sceneries. The one from Holehird Gardens is fab.
    Greetings from Denmark.

  2. Brief glimpses of very different gardens on a weekend ramble. Pleasant and tantalizing. Have to look for that hydrangea. Thanks.

  3. any idea what the garss is at the bottom left of the last picture?
    it looks like a form of molinia to me


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