My first gardening hero was Geoff Hamilton, my second Alan Titchmarsh, my third Mirabel Osler, then all together in a rush of green buses came Christopher Lloyd, Carole Klein and Anne Wareham.
If you’re not a gardener perhaps these names mean nothing to you (apart from Alan surely -where’ve you been?) but I adore them all for slightly different reasons which I won’t go into now because I want to tell you about my new local heroes. These are people who are members of our new Herefordshire (& The Marches) Horticultural Hub which was formed by Tamsin Westhorpe who is pretty amazing as Editor of The English Garden magazine but who has also tipped up back in her home county of Herefordshire and seemingly effortlessly sprinkled around her ancient house an authentic cottage garden that looks as though it was planted by the first occupant five hundred years ago.
Though Tamsin’s garden isn’t open to the public her family garden, Stockton Bury, has been for many years and is possibly the most beautifully maintained garden I know. Raymond and Gordon who live and garden there have the most enviable soil in the area. (You know when you are really into gardening when you envy someone’s soil) Most of us round here are getting sticky with clay on a daily basis whilst they, thanks to years and years of being part of a working farm, have improved the soil so much it looks like it’s just been emptied out of a compost bag. Walking around their garden delights and depresses me in equal measure as I know I will never ever manage to achieve such excellence. To be honest I mostly keep going because they serve the most delicious lunches in the barn which is a comfort after another brutal realisation of my limitations.
On an Arctic April day I first saw Whimble Garden out in the wild borderlands. I had previously sent a shopping list of small spring plants to nursery owners in the Hub. I thought this was a neat idea and I hope it will catch on. I had a great response and on this day the owner Elizabeth Taylor (no, obviously not that one) had some cardamine for me which is incredibly sweet and I hope will spread happily in our spring garden. Whimble was beguiling in its wintery spring clothes – lots of hints of what might follow and I can’t wait to go back and see how it grows up. In the middle of the garden is an iron structure in the form of an old church. It is obviously smothered with some climbing beauty during the summer and this is one thing I’m especially looking forward to seeing - there’s even an alter inside. The whole garden is full of quirky bits and pieces like this.
On a slightly warmer day with the sun shining we revisited Moors Meadow, somewhere we have known for some time but now through the Hub we have got to know Ros who gardens there with her mother and part-time help from youngsters keen to soak up their knowledge of plants. Another member of the Hub, Joshua de Lisle, is based here following on a tradition for ironwork in the garden started by Ros’s husband. Even with interesting art pieces scattered about Moors Meadow is such a natural looking garden that you hardly feel you are in a garden at all – it all feels unplanned - and this is what makes Ros one of my new gardening heroes. She has done precisely what I am trying to achieve here and I came away thinking my garden was too ‘gardenny’.
However, a visit to Aulden Farm showed us that there is a way of combining the two. Their enchanting spring garden looks so natural and pretty with skilful planting of drifts of honesty and heucheras, solomon’s seal, forget-me-nots and a little pink chickweedy thing that I’ve forgotten the name of…. In the rest of the garden we found neat lawns and borders poised for the season ahead with, amongst many other things, clump after clump of the iris we had come to buy. Alun and Jill have the national collection of Iris Siberica and many other beautifully cared for plants besides in their nursery which in itself is the prettiest I’ve seen. Of course we came away with far more than just the iris. But Spring is the time for plant buying so that’s OK – we won’t do so much in the summer ….er probably…
Over the last few weeks we and other gardeners have been complaining about nothing flowering – everything being so late. Walking around Aulden Farm made me feel that we really just haven’t been trying hard enough! And this is why they too are my new gardening heroes.
All four of these gardens have nurseries and I wonder if that is the sign of a really good garden with heroic gardeners. They really know their stuff – their plants. And as an amateur isn’t it nice to be able to see something in a garden setting, then be able to chat to someone who is actually growing it, buy the same plants and copy – er emulate – these professionals? To me it’s a gentler way to start a garden rather than being faced with the brashness of a garden centre and its confusing row upon row of plants. I would recommend beginners start this way.
I now fully expect to find more and more local gardening heroes as I visit all the gardens and nurseries on the Hub website. This area I think must be very blessed with so many horticultural businesses, so if you are planning a visit do take a look - we have gardens, nurseries and places to stay, photographers, blacksmiths and complementary products like the nicest plant supports you can buy. My garden is full of lovely rusty metal plant supports – they truly are the secret behind good gardens which makes Colin and Tina who make them gardening heroes too.
I will introduce you to some more of the Hub members in future blogs. In the meantime you can meet them yourself at www.hortihub.co.uk