I approached the garden via the attractive village of Garsington, then on through Wheatly to Waterperry. The countryside is lovely, and it is difficult to believe that the City of Oxford is just down the road. Approaching the garden there is a nice shrub-lined lane, and you soon see the overflow car park space on the right.. This is a nice place to park, as it faces onto a lovely lawned area edged with attractive mature trees. The entrance area immediately offers a choice of interesting locations for those who can resist the lure of the gardens themselves. You can wander around the museum, plant centre, art gallery, outdoor living area and garden shop before you pay the very reasonable entrance fee to the gardens. This is a distraction from my visit, but nevertheless very worthwhile!
I was impressed by the lovely plant centre, and spent a few minutes in the delightful little
museum of old agricultural and gardening tools before moving on to the garden itself. And what a joy it turned out to be, even though it was early in the season, around mid-May. I couldn't believe all the plants that were flowering so early. The guide is useful, as you can follow the features of the garden in numerical order, so I started walking along the outside wall with a wooded area on one side. Already there were many shrubs and herbaceous plants in full bloom, and I noticed a particularly magnificent Choisya. The contrasting foliage colours were impressive.
Out in the rock garden the Helianthemeum was lovely; I suddenly realised that this was probably an area with soil on the alkaline side, a fact supported by absence of acid loving plants like Rhododendron.
The Sebbs Garden blends seamlessly with the rock garden, and displays some nice Euphorbias and Geraniums. The garden guide is good value, and helps to identify plants with it's list of species. Then on past the magnificent herbaceous border, originally planted by Beatrix Havergal and her students back in the 1930's. The high wall at the back supports Wisteria (currently in full bloom), Clematis and Roses amongst others, and the yellow Lupins make a superb contrast with the purple Alliums. I can see that (and the guide confirms it) there are numerous plantings of later perennials to provide colour throughout the season. This must demand a visit later in the Summer, and the pictures in the guide confirm this.
By the time I get to the Island beds (designed by Adrian Bloom) set in the lawn, I am already convinced that this is one of the most delightful gardens I have ever visited. The alpine garden is edged on one side by trees, and the other sides have a tightly clipped yew hedge. A wide range of plants and flowers thrive on the raised rocky beds.
The far end of the garden culminates with the 'canal', an attractive pool with water lilies, and beyond that a neat flower bed bordered with an arc of clipped hedging. The red tulips still look good, even though it is now late in the season for them. I glance across the lawns to see the beds of dwarf conifers and heathers in a range of contrasting styles and colours. Other attractive beds and borders are everywhere, with a superb selection of small trees and shrubs. A fantastic, huge, sweet chestnut tree catches my eye, it is covered with pink blossom.
I make a brief detour out of the edge of the formal gardens and into the meadow area. Wild flowers abound, and the mown paths are edged with head high 'cow parsley'. There is a nice selection of broad-leaf trees and more recent plantings of conifers. The beautiful local countryside provides a lovely backdrop.
The herbaceous nursery has rows of neat plants of many kinds, some already flowering. The Cranbe Maritime, Astrantia and Irises look good. It is a pity that many of the comprehensive labels have lost their lettering, so it is difficult to identify many plants. There are many unusual varieties of common plants that make me wish I had more of them in my own garden. Past the beds and I am entering the formal garden.
I enter through an ornamental gate with the vista of the garden beyond. It is enclosed by another beautifully maintained yew hedge. The Wistaria arch runs along one side of the garden, and is covered with flowers. One end is light blue, the middle is white, and the other end is dark blue. The centre of the garden is filled with the most superb knot garden, in which Buxus and Berberis intertwine their contrasting colours. It is all complimented by beds of herbs and culinary plants, and small clipped conifers. I cannot really do it justice in such few words.
After this wonderful formality I stroll along the avenues of cordon fruit trees that promise much for later in the year. Back again via several 'rooms' bordered with tall yew hedges, I make my way into the national collection of Kabschia Saxifrages. This is most interesting, the raised beds consisting of layers of rock tufa, planted with a wide range of miniature and delicate saxifrages. Look closely, or you will miss some! The notices tell me that the tufa is obtained in Wales, and is porous. It is soft in the middle, and the roots of the plants can penetrate to access the water stored in the pores. Apparently, feeding the plants slowly kills them off. My visit has been too short, and I vow to return. I only have the briefest of time to wander round the art gallery, the outdoor living centre, the garden shop, the plant centre and the museum.
Location: West Oxfordshire OX33 1JZ
Map: SP 628064
Geology: Mudstone with sandstone nearby
Refreshments and toilets: yes
Opening: see web site, open most days, but check. Phone: 01844 339226
Dogs: probably not, but please check