The garden visiting season is well under way and I decided to get my ‘looking for new ideas’ head on and take a look at Sandywell Barn House just a couple of miles from home but, remarkably for such a wealthy town, the one and only private garden which opens for the National Gardens Scheme charity in Cheltenham.
This two and a half acre walled garden is the former kitchen garden of Sandywell Park, a grand country house built in 1704 by Henry Brett, an army colonel, Tory politician and ‘man about town’. The Estate was broken up in the 1980’s and the house turned into posh flats. The barn was bought in 1985 by Shirley & Gordon Sills who set about a complete restoration of the garden once their children had grown up and left home. The remarkable transformation from asparagus beds and apple trees to a fully landscaped country garden is a testament to their hard work and dedication over the last fifteen years.
Shirley kindly showed us her photograph album charting their progress and it is hard to understand where they found the time, energy and money for such an endeavour in what is, in gardening terms, a relatively short period of time. Shirley is largely self taught although she did attend local gardening courses which helped her understanding of design principles. She is now Assistant County Organiser for the NGS in Gloucestershire and obviously knows a thing or two about how to prepare a garden for opening.
This is not a review of their garden, more a collection of my thoughts on how and why people like them open their garden for charity, what it takes to do so and a record of the things which made me stop and look and photograph. Despite it being 23 June, gardens are generally a month behind schedule in Cheltenham this year and this one was a further 3 weeks behind that, being 750 feet above the town and very exposed to the elements.
Shirley must have a thing for the ‘Barlow’ series of aquilegias because they were the predominant variety and in all their colours. They certainly seem to stand well in the weather with strong upright stems and durable flowers. I was particularly drawn to the dark red which I believe is called ‘Bordeaux’ and the white form as below.
I am not known for my diplomacy skills (!) and am openly critical of gardens I feel are not worthy of opening but this one had me from the moment I went through the gates. Everything was right. The sign boards were timely and well placed, the parking adequate and clearly signed, we were warmly welcomed by the owners and £4 seemed good value compared to some we have been to recently. It was an hour well spent, inspirational and educational, and an example of what can be achieved by an excellent, passionate plantswoman. I have put together a gallery of other photographs which amply demonstrate her skill.
A lovely garden, well planned, well executed and well maintained. Good ideas for plant combinations and new plants to try. I couldn’t ask for more.