Visits with interesting plants

May in the Malvern Hills

After a surprisingly busy couple of months, I’m finally catching up with some blogs about garden visits I’ve made this year! Back in the middle of May I spent a week in the Malvern Hills to do some walking and see a bit more of this lovely area that I have been to a couple of times before. The gardens I visited will look a little different at the moment as it is now very definitely summer, but I know, because I’ve been to both of them before in July, that they are just as much of a delight to visit in the summer as they were back in May.

Picton Garden, Old Court Nursery

This is a small garden, but it’s cleverly laid out so that it seems much larger. The path meanders through the different areas which are planted for sun and shade and in slightly different styles. This isn’t a garden of rooms, though, more a seamless wander through collections of beautiful, unusual and interesting plants that like similar conditions. Of course, Old Court Nursery is best known for asters (or Symphyotrichum as many are now called), but the collection of these was nowhere near ready to view in May. Which didn’t matter at all when there were tulips still out, and finds like one of my favourite epimediums, ‘Rhubarb and Custard’ in the picture below, as well as this gorgeous Anemone obtusiloba and, I’m reliably informed via Instagram, Anemone obtusiloba ‘Pradesh’ – although I’ve grown both spring and summer flowering anemones this is not one I knew before and now I’d love to grow it.

In one of the shadier parts of the garden there is a collection of acers that were really eye catching. I’ve often thought the spring colour of many acers is at least as good as their autumn colour even though you don’t hear as much about it. Also, it can be more reliable, given that autumn colour depends on the weather to look its best. It’s worth bearing in mind if you’re ever looking to buy one. I didn’t buy one, but I couldn’t leave the nursery empty handed, so bought a couple of succulents to remind me of my visit.

Little Malvern Court

This garden is a real gem. The garden map gives some of the history and explains that it was re-designed and re-planted back in the 1980s. It was clearly done by someone who knew a lot about plants, and who loved trees. It is beautifully located with views of the Herefordshire countryside and has as a backdrop the sort glorious, historic architecture in the house and adjacent church that I suspect you have to inherit to be able to own.

Water plays a big part in this garden. A series of ponds that feed into each other run through the centre reaching a large pond at the bottom, and on the calm, still day we were there the reflections were perfect.

Despite the prominent role of the ponds, it’s the trees that the garden seems built around, and I soon found myself searching my memory for names I learnt on courses years ago. My memory is rather unreliable as it turns out, but luckily the map includes many of the tree names, so a lot of the work was done for me. Pterocarya fraxinifolia (or Wingnut), several sorbus species; S. hupehensis, S. aucuparia, S. mitchellii and S. torminalis, Toona sinensis, Quercus frainetto, some of these names were far more familiar than others!

Before we got to the garden I had been wondering whether it would look as good in the dull, chilly spring we were experiencing as it had when we last visited in summer. In fact in many ways it actually looked better, with several cherries in full bloom, acers again showing off their spring colours and a fresh green haze of new leaves all around. The grass was left uncut in large areas, so cow parsley, buttercups and camassias, amongst others, were having a field day.

There was so much here to enjoy, but I’d have to say the topiary yew hedge was one of the most memorable features. It’s very long and must take hours to cut, but it’s gorgeous and adds a massive amount of charm to a garden that already seems to be overflowing with that element.

The head gardener, who I didn’t meet as he was deep in conversation with some other visitors when I saw him, deserves an enormous amount of credit for how well this garden is kept and for its natural yet sophisticated style. Everywhere you look something catches your eye, every pot and bench is well placed, there is even a group of small stone pigs circling a standard wisteria on the patio near the rose garden – a rose garden that I haven’t included in the photographs as it was still a bit too early in the year for that to be looking its best.

And they also sell great cake.

Haslington House

This is the house we stayed in. Not the whole house, we were staying in the flat in what must have been the servants quarters right at the top which is rented out to holiday makers. It has huge bedrooms, views to die for and these include what must be one of the best views from a loo that I’ve ever come across. It’s a fabulous Victorian pile sitting right on the side of the hill, with a steep, terraced garden that offered plenty of plants right on our doorstep.

Lastly, I had to include something about the area because, much as I love gardens there was so much more to see in this beautiful part of the country. I’d been hoping to see some blubells so had been looking around for a garden where they had them, but I needn’t have bothered because we came across a spectacular display of bluebells at their peak quite by chance when we were walking towards British Camp and the Herefordshire Beacon. This sight was literally stopping traffic on the road below.

And I couldn’t resist adding some pictures of the views we enjoyed as we walked along the top of the ridge. No need for a weather forecast when you can see the rain clouds heading your way with this kind of clarity.

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