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

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