09:00 Sunday 12 May 2013

Notes from a gardener

Written byMichael Walker

Michael Walker, Head of Trentham Garden and Estate, takes a look at Staffordshire’s gardens — a horticultural odyssey. 

I was hoping the early Easter would combine with a beautiful spring — it didn’t — and so we must be mindful that we are still not out of the woods yet.

That said, we have many, many beautiful gardens and parks in and around Staffordshire to explore which I often feel are one of our county’s least appreciated assets.
If Trentham were the hub of a huge horticultural wheel, its spokes would stretch to a network of horticultural treasures including the  great gardens of Staffordshire, the Distinctive Gardens of Cheshire, and those of the peak district and Shropshire – all within an easy jaunt through beautiful scenery.
On our doorstep we have Biddulph Grange and Hawkstone Park Follies — both wonderful places for families to explore the many secrets to be discovered, and of course Dorothy Clive with its wonderful spring planting.
There are also a further host of less well known but immensely interesting gardens open occasionally under the National Gardens Scheme (NGS – see their yellow leaflet or visit their website.
The NGS gardens give nosey parkers and keen gardeners alike an often rare chance to visit some privately owned treasures ranging from those on a domestic scale to grand places.
Indeed, one or two other gardens have very limited opening of their own such as those belonging to the Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall – search the web for special charity openings. An odyssey of gardens so special that you won’t believe have been kept cloaked from your radar all this time. There are often homemade cakes and scones to enjoy too – yum yum yum.
A little further afield to Shropshire we have the superbly designed and rich plantings at Wollerton Old Hall, as well as those of Arley Hall and Dunham Massey in Cheshire, with two great botanic gardens — Birmingham Botanic Gardens and those of Ness Botanic Gardens on the Wirral.
Across the border into the Peak District you will find the very romantic garden of Haddon Hall – do time a visit when the climbing roses are in flower (late June I imagine), the stately gardens and iconic fountain and cascade of Chatsworth or the historic gardens, herbs and hall of Hardwick.
For those looking to study professional gardening there are opportunities to study at Reaseheath and Rodbaston Colleges or to take a working placement opportunity with the Historic and Botanic Garden Bursary scheme www.hbgbs.org.uk, or other placement providers such as the National Trust or Professional Gardeners Guild.
Each garden offers something different for each season of the year and of course will appeal differently to different audiences.
Families may favour Trentham, Biddulph and Hawkstone Park Follies whilst those looking for a more romantic outing may favour Haddon or Chatsworth. I have never adopted any set favourites – neither the gardens I have worked in or those I have visited – I just love the diversity that gardens offer and the fact that the same garden can provide an entirely different experience on different occasions.
Of course we’d love you to visit Trentham.
For those that return to get naked from the knees down, the reopening of the barefoot walk will be well received, particularly as we have softened up some of the more extreme materials with more gentle, tactile materials such as rubber crumb, water and bark, however we have not made any changes to the mud trench other than add some new mud! Enjoy the first sniff of spring.
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