Garden Visit – Wollerton Old Hall Gardens

Wollerton Old Hall Garden, in Shropshire, is referred to in the David Austin rose catalogue as one of the most beautiful private gardens in the country. So beautiful in fact, that they decided to name a rose after it. When I discovered the garden was only seven miles from where I now live, I got very excited, and of course, had to visit at the earliest possible opportunity. That was back in October last year. I kept my review back, so I could bring it out to brighten the dark days of the lockdown. Now seems to be an appropriate time.

We visited on a cool, fairly dull day. It was well into Autumn, and some of the leaves were colouring up well. The late-flowering perennials, such as asters (most of which were probably in the newly created category of symphyotricum – thanks for that, botanists!) had taken over the floral responsibilities. They also have quite a range of salvias, which flower over a long period, and were still going strong…

Most of these are slightly tender, so may need some protection in a cold winter. Having them in well-drained soil, in a sunny, sheltered position, should normally be sufficient. The flower in the next picture is unfamiliar to me, and there wasn’t a label, so if anyone knows what it is, please let me know.

Unidentified, but striking – actually, I’m wondering if this isn’t a form of salvia

Apparently the gardens were created in 1983, but look as if, like the house itself, they’ve been there for centuries. It isn’t clear from the website, but I suspect many of the solid features – walls, pillars and gateways – are original.

Doorway to autumn!

Beyond this doorway, a grass path curves around, adding (cliche alert) a sense of mystery…

There are lots of hydrangeas at Wollerton; particularly the paniculata types, which in my opinion are the best. This magnificent specimen is Hydrangea ‘Unique’ (except it isn’t, because I’ve seen it elsewhere!)…

Wollerton is arranged as a series of themed areas, or ‘garden rooms’. This one is called the hot garden…

There are some decidedly cool colours in there too; particularly the blue aster making its late season entrance among the fiery dahlias and cannas. And there are a few cheeky little blue salvias invading this jungle-like banana and dahlia combination…

This is salvia ‘Amistad’; a large, beautiful deep blue variety with almost black calyces. Salvias are pollinated in a particular way. Called the ‘staminal lever mechanism’, when an insect (say, a bee) enters the flower, they weigh down a trigger that causes the stamen to press down on their back and deposit some pollen, which they then transport on to any other flowers they visit. Except, some bees struggle to get all the way into the flower. So instead, they cheat; biting through the base of the flower to get to the nectar. Here’s one in action…

A peep at the old hall itself, hiding among the salvias…

This is the upper rill garden (not to be confused with the lower rill garden). The design makes full use of different levels, from the height of the standard trees, through the mid-level hydrangeas in large terracotta pots, right down to the rounded shapes of box at ground level. And all of it reflected back up through the surface of the water in the formal pond. The plants are set out like chess pieces facing each other…

Back in October the cafe was still open, albeit with social distancing measures, and masks to be worn when not sitting at your table. It’s an attractive interior space, and I seem to remember the staff were friendly, and the cakes were very good.

The plant sales were limited due to the pandemic (I hadn’t realised it can be transmitted to plants) but I couldn’t stop myself from buying a couple of salvias. Unfortunately they’d had a run on ‘Amistad’, so I picked up a couple of other varieties, including a vibrant red one called ‘Royal Bumble’ – one for my very own hot garden.

To have such a wonderful garden so close to where you live is a great privilege , and not one I intend to waste. I’m going to buy a season ticket, and visit often; I’m looking forward to watching the garden as it changes throughout the year.

Wollerton Old Hall Garden re-opens at the end of this week (Easter Friday).

Text & photos © Graham Wright 2021

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

Stars of the Autumn Border

By this time of year, so many of our flowering plants have done their thing and are in various stages of decay – some more decorous than others. In autumn we rely on the turning leaves to provide colour and interest in our gardens. But there are some flowering plants that are at their peak now. One of these is the plant we know as sedum.[1.]
A dark-leaved sedum, sold as an unnamed variety, but which is probably ‘Xenox’).

A closer view, showing the intense colours of leaf and flower.

Another Autumn favourite is the aster, or Michaelmas daisy. The one below was actually taken last month at Picton Garden, near Malvern, which holds the national collection of autumn flowering Michaelmas daisies. Continue reading