Dorothy Clive Gardens

Visiting gardens is one of the things I’ve missed most during the lockdown, so it was a joy to finally be able to get to a garden. We (Mrs Pullingweeds and myself) headed out to the Dorothy Clive Garden near Market Drayton in Shropshire, on one of the hottest days of the year so far (reaching 31 degrees in the afternoon).

A flower-lined path meanders up from the car park to the tea shop. I love the way the colourful borders are set within the wider context of the arboretum, rather than being hidden away in ‘garden rooms’

The gardens have an extensive collection of rhododendrons, azaleas (which are, I believe, now classed as rhododendrons) and camelias. I expect they will have looked spectacular. I hope the gardeners enjoyed them, because by the time the gardens were able to open to the public once more, that particular seasonal show was over. As was the laburnum arch. Never mind; there was far more on offer, on what turned out to be a much larger site than I had realised (it actually covers twelve acres). Spring flowering shrubs are history – we’re into the summer show now.

Roses are in full bloom, as well as many of the perennials, such as salvias, heleniums, campanulas, delphiniums, nepeta, to name just a few. Judging by the number of verbascums, the soil may be quite sandy.

Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’ works well against a backdrop of… what? I should probably know what that spiky-leaved plant behind is, but I can’t think just at the moment.

Many of the roses smelt wonderful, but be careful; I’m beginning to think smelling roses can become an addiction. Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’ (one of David Austin’s roses, I believe) climbing up a trellis, was one of the best.

Of the tender plants, dahlias were getting into their stride – mostly zesty oranges and rich, velvety reds (perhaps, like me, they like their dahlias as they like their wines). There were plenty of cannas and hedychiums (ginger lilies) out in the beds and in pots, though they won’t begin to flower for a while yet.

The hot borders. A lush, single dahlia (‘Mexican Star’?), with Salvia ‘Amistad’, against a background of tropical bananas.

That damned covid meant of course that facilities were limited. Plant sales are off this year. The cafe was serving drinks and cakes (a little over-priced I felt, at £2.95 for a coffee) to have outside. The counter was cordoned off with a row of upholstered chairs, curiously set up facing the counter, as if they were the front row in a theatre where the stage was set for a play set in a cafe. You had to eye-up the cakes from a distance, and shout your order from the back row, then wait at the end for the staff to bring the card machine to you. They were doing their very best under difficult circumstances. Fortunately the gardens weren’t very busy, so there weren’t too many awkward moments where ‘social distancing’ became tricky.

The gardens include an old quarry site, long since grown over (some of the large, older trees are reaching the end of their lives). Labyrinthine paths weave to and fro, up and down, so that finding your way isn’t easy. It took us a while to find the waterfall, but it was worth the hunt.

By the side of the waterfall a mysterious figure is almost obscured by the large leaves of a Rodgersia.
A lone Iris sibirica stands out against the background of ripples in the pool at the foot of the waterfall.

Even with the doors open, with the temperature in the high twenties the heated glasshouse was something of an endurance test, but we were rewarded with some beautiful blooms, such as Brugmansia (also known as Datura, or more commonly, ‘angels’s trumpets’)…

Bouganvillea…

And the air was filled with the intoxicating vanilla fragrance from the Heliotropes near the entrance…

The gardens are surrounded by countryside, with views out here and there…

We had a lovely picnic lunch on the grass among the trees. All we were missing was one of those rich, velvety reds, but then we did have to drive home, so it was probably just as well. I don’t know whether, like so many other gardens, they have been operating with reduced staff during the lockdown, but if they have, it didn’t show – the gardens were looking superb. We had a great day out, and were sad to have to leave. But as we don’t live that far away, I’m sure we’ll be back before long…

Text & photos © Graham Wright 2020

What Makes a Garden? Bringing the Garden Indoors

Have you ever given any serious thought to what makes a garden? For as long as I can remember, eminent garden designers and TV pundits have pushed the idea of the garden as an extension to the house – a ‘room outside’. I’ve heard this repeatedly, particularly when researching garden design for my post graduate diploma. Apparently, garden design is not about plants. Comments like ‘ plants are the last thing you think about’, or ‘the plants are just the icing on the cake’ (John Brookes, among others) proliferate. But now, with the rising popularity of indoor gardening, comes the fightback – while they try to persuade us to turn our beloved gardens into ‘indoor rooms’, we’re letting the plants take over our houses!

A small selection of my cactus collection, with the blades of an Australian Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea preissii) in the foreground

Indoor planting allows us to compensate for the increasingly denuded state of our outdoor environment by packing our indoor spaces with plants. Maybe we can use this to persuade the unenlightened of the inescapable truth; that as well as being beautiful, plants are a physical and psychological necessity.

My two Aloe plants are coming into flower now; probably because I neglected their watering!

Too many people have been persuaded that what they want and need from a garden is copious space for eating and socialising, play areas for children (and adults), every type of cooking facility you can think of, from a simple BBQ to an ‘outdoor kitchen’, fire pits, hot tubs, covered areas and outdoor heaters (global warming, anyone?) to make the weather irrelevant, and extensive lighting systems to turn night into day. You can even buy powerful weather-proof sound systems, telling us it’s perfectly OK to broadcast our choice of music to the wider environment, as if both neighbours and wildlife don’t have a right to peace and quiet. Too many garden designs are predominantly hard landscaping – a room outside – with very little in the way of plants, and what planting there is tends to be isolated clumps of wildlife dead-zone plants such as bamboo. Don’t even get me started on the state of Britain’s front gardens.

A Schlumbergera (known as ‘Christmas cactus’ because they are often covered in showy blooms at that time of year) looking resplendent in dappled sunshine in the corner of the lounge.

There is another way. My garden hero takes a very different approach. The late Geoff Hamilton wrote of the garden as an escape from the speed, the complexity, the pressure and the noise of everyday life. He wrote of our biological need to spend time in touch with nature. Yes, we might want to be able to eat outside when the weather allows, and share our gardens with family and friends, but for me, the primary functions of a garden are as a sanctuary from the world, and a place to immerse yourself in nature. You can use plants to create a garden that, even in a town or a city, can cocoon you from the outside world, and in which you can imagine you are deep in a beautiful wilderness. Until the neighbours fire up the BBQ and the outdoor hi fi, and the heavy bass beats of what popular culture laughingly considers to be music drives you indoors. But don’t despair, because as they make use of their ‘room outside’, you can retreat to your indoor garden sanctuary.

My Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) is thriving. Peace Lilies are known to be particularly effective at improving the quality of air in rooms
An unknown cultivar of Streptocarpus. Streps, as they’re commonly known, are easy to grow, produce copious flowers all summer, and can be easily divided in the spring to produce more plants). They can even be used as an outdoor bedding plant in the summer if you end up with too many.

If we re-group indoors, maybe one day soon we’ll be ready to go out and change our twisted society’s attitude to gardens. Plants are not ‘the icing on the cake’, but rather the basic building blocks, into which the functional elements of the garden should be fitted. Garden design should attempt to create beautiful environments on a small scale; ‘paradise gardens’ in which we can escape from the ‘real’ world and commune with nature.

You heard it first here – let’s have a revolution…

Text & images © Graham Wright 2020