In mid-May, I spent an enjoyable day visiting the Dorothy Clive Garden in Wiloughbridge, Staffordshire. Set on a hillside the 12 acres of garden are well worth a visit and will provide a leisurely work-out as you meander up and down the hillside exploring the pathways. Run by a charitable trust the gardens aims are to maintain and develop the gardens in the memory of the late Dorothy Clive and to promote horticultural education.
The original gardens were developed by Dorothy's husband to provide her with somewhere interesting and beautiful to walk: walking and exercise were the 1940s prescription for Parkinson sufferers.
There are many more areas to explore including a waterfall, pool, gravel garden and two new developments include an edible forest garden and winter garden. Anyone fancy Shuttlecock fern shoots and Dahlia tuber mash for supper? Both areas are on my list for a re-visit later in the year.
Although the garden is large, it has lots of smaller areas and is full of ideas to take home. It shows just how important it is to create surprise and a sense of journey within a garden - whatever the size. Meandering paths and strategic placing of shrubs leads you on to explore and prevents you seeing everything in one quick glance. A lot of the paths are generous, wide swathes of grass - we often forget that grass can be used this way and doesn't always have to be the traditional lawn.
The final praise must go to the tea room which serves scones to die for- freshly baked and delicious. This has to be the perfect destination for National Cream Tea Day (yes there really is one) on the 26th June- yum yum....
The highlights in spring include an amazing array of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias in every colour available. They all sit within the woodland garden, created within an old quarry and with its own gentle micro-climate thanks to the canopy of mature trees. These shrubs are not my favourites for small domestic gardens, as to me they seem dull and 'heavy' for the majority of the year but even I had to admit that the blaze of colour was fabulous. They really come into their own in a large garden and the woodland setting provides them with the perfect backdrop. I did fall in love with this delicious Magnolia 'Lemon Drop'.
We were given an excellent guided tour of the garden highlights by knowledgeable gardener Zdenek Valkoun-Walker, who also looks after the bee hives in the gardens orchard. Zdenek is in charge of the beautiful seasonal borders and garden areas which tumble down the hillside. Although the tulips were beginning to turn they still provided a colourful display hovering above a forget-me-not sea. This type of bedding scheme would be very labour intensive at home but incorporating some later flowering perennials to take over after the spring flowers have finished would prolong the display. Forget-me-nots will seed quite happily everywhere, so make sure you really do like them before you bring them into your garden.
Another seasonal highlight is the Laburnum Arch, which was just starting to come into flower when we visited. This is a great way to grow this cheerful tree and it will provide you with a stunning display each spring. The seed pods are poisonous but then so are many other plants so don't cross it off your plant list too hastily. The arch is underplanted with box balls which create a sense of rhythm and draw the eye along the path. Intermingled are alliums, about to burst into flower and contrast beautifully with the sunshine yellow of the Laburnums. On our visit there were just hints of yellow and the arch created a cool, green retreat on a very sunny day.