I approached this garden from the lovely village of Pangbourne, past the walled sides of the Estate. The little village of Englefield lies on the short lane to the entrance of the gardens. Immediately I am struck by the superb trees as I drive up the twisting drive to the garden. Past the sizeable estate church looking very tidy next to the drive, and suddenly there is a glimpse of the house through the trees. Beautiful lawned areas are a foil for huge conifers and broad-leaf trees. Smaller, more recent plantings compliment the scene. The car park is round the back of the house and there is plenty of space. As soon as I am inside the garden I get a 'feel' for the layout. The house is set on level ground part the way up the side of a hill, so that from virtually everywhere you can see the distant countryside.
There is a choice of routes by which I can wander around, with little of the garden apparently unavailable. I choose to follow a winding mowed grass path up through a delightful selection of trees of varying ages, some of them clearly very old. I am lucky to find that there are many Rhododendrons and Azaleas flowering, perhaps quite early, in late May. Cascades of colour pour from gaps between the trees and look very attractive.
On through the canopy, and I discover a little pond with a small stream feeding it. Beside the stream are some candelabra Primulas of various colours, blue and yellow Irises, ferns and other foliage plants.
Part of the way up the stream a set of steps with daisies growing out of the crevices, and a small wooden bridge, creates a great atmosphere. The steps are lined with Phormiums and pink and orange Azaleas, and lead on to a fine tree at the end of a grassed path. Everywhere the juxtaposition of differing foliage colours produces wonderful contrast.
Back down the sloping path, and I am walking round the side of the superb terraced gardens. There are little hedged circles, an archway through into a lovely lawned area edged with golden Euonymous, and suddenly I am looking along a wide, straight, gravelled drive. It stretches right across the front of the house, and is bordered with a wide range of shrubs and trees. On my left, another lawn area where selective mowing is encouraging wild flowers, leads to a wall with central steps leading up to the next level of the terrace. The herbaceous borders already look good, and each side of the steps there is a wonderful array of white Zantedeschia looking crisp and fresh.
A small water feature is fed by a little stepped waterfall. From the unmown area some delightful blue flowers sprout, I think they are Amsonia. I continue along the gravelled drive, past the front of the house, gazing out across the wide expanse of the estate. I noticed the face of a man peering out from an ivy surround. Of course, it turns out that the man is actually on a stone plinth, but the inscription has been hidden by the growth of the ivy. It looks fascinating. There is a green valley surrounded by trees with a lake in the middle. Delightful! The front of the house is embellished with a row of pyramid shaped trees. There are so many features of this garden I can't include all of them here.
Now back across the main lawn edged with shrubs and trees, back up the steps to the next level. Some glorious red Geums dazzle, and the stone built arched gazebo protects some ferns. There is a nice area with small gravel paths and formal beds in front of it. And everywhere the contrasting foliage,together with an early clematis in full flower on a tree stump.
Back up the side of the slope I find another of those lovely curving paths that lead me to the top of the hill. Huge trees abound....here a London plane, there a chestnut, here a huge sycamore, there a young oak...and so on. At the top of the path there is a neatly clipped hedge leading to the edge of the garden, and I am pleased to see numerous young trees, establishing this lovely place for the long term. There is a glorious dark red Acer, then I notice the trunk of (I think!) a Red Oak with it's huge leaves. One side of the trunk is covered with an orange lichen of some kind, making it look just as though someone has painted the side. I arrive back at the entrance too soon, and can't resist another walk round!
There is a small play area for children.
On the way back down the lane I stop off at the garden centre. There is a nice selection of plants at reasonable prices. It is only on the way out that I spot the information that it is managed by a charity called The Affinity Trust, an organisation empowering people with disabilities. There are pictures of guests working in the nursery. I am very impressed with this, and it is a great reason not to miss the centre.
Location: West Berkshire RG7 5DU
Map: SU 622719
Altitude: 60 to 90m
Geology: Sand and gravel/sandstone
Refreshments : no
Toilets: At garden centre
Opening: see web site
or phone 0118-9302504