It was about time I visited a group opening, so several Sundays ago I set out to see a collection of gardens opening their gates in the Leicestershire village of Willoughby Waterleys some 8 miles south of Leicester. Keen on following hounds, my daughter volunteered to accompany me not because she is a gardener but because she had only previously seen the countryside during the winter months.
We drove straight to our first garden, Willoughby Lodge Farm, situated down a track a little distance out of the village and where the family have lived for the past sixteen years. In the centre of the wide expanse of lawn was a formal pond and views across to the fields and hedges of the gentle rolling Leicestershire countryside.
Walls run along either side of the lawn with colourful mixed borders in front. The yew pyramids were inherited from the previous owner and give a maturity to what is essentially a young garden.
The artichoke asserts itself boldly in the border.
Below the lawn is a more wild area; we walk through the open wrought iron gate and follow the mown path through the long grass around the pond,
to what is described as a summerhouse, but in reality is more like a snug log cabin with a wood burner.
We re-enter the garden through the door in the wall, where a small and narrow, pear clad pergola underplanted with lavender leads us back on to the lawn.
Over on the other side is an enclosed brick area, previously some sort of building but now a quiet place to sit and enjoy the roses tumbling over the walls.
Driving back into the village we stopped in the Main Street to visit High Meadow. To the front of the house is a sunken lawn with a weeping willow and, walking up the short drive we enter the garden to the right of the house.
The sound of trickling water from a fountain greets us with a display of giant hostas and geranium at the base.
The reason the owners bought the house was for the views over the hedge. They had the garden professionally designed and, although it is quite compact there is plenty of space for a neat lawn,
a good sized shepherd hut with beautiful white agapanthus ‘Arctic Star’,
and opposite an ornamental vegetable garden.
The lovely clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ climbs over the trellis fencing; it has the added attraction of being resistant to clematis-wilt.
Before visiting our third garden, Kapalua, we find the field to park the car and it is obvious that we are not the only visitors today.
Kapalua, a holiday resort in Hawaii was the name given to the property by the previous owners. Entrance to this small garden is alongside the decking containing the hot tub, from where the owners can relax, dream of holidays and enjoy the fine view over the garden and the countryside beyond.
A decorative touch of recycling is hung in the hedge,
and striking blue vases rise up from a central flower bed.
The planting in the borders is also colourful, with lush pink monarda, purple cotinus and creamy phlox.
whilst close to the house are the more subtle tones of herbs.
Before the next garden we call in on the village hall, built originally as a National School in 1846. It is now a listed building serving the community. Today delicious teas are being served and we are delighted that Rosie the terrier seems very content to be amongst us.
A basket of begonia blooms greets us at the front of Orchard Road, the next and smallest of the gardens.
Slipping round the back we are taken by the glorious clematis with its deep purple flowers a few of which seem to pale at the top.
Well kept and tidy the garden has plenty of colour and greenery,
and the leaves of the hostas are spotless.
There is even a tiny fountain playing energetically.
Elmwood, Church Farm Lane is just a short distance away and we enter the garden down by the side of the house past runner beans and a cage of blueberries.
The shed at the bottom of the garden is partially screened by shrubs and a suitable place for patio with table and chairs.
The charming clematis Duchess of Albany scrambles over the fence.
A platform of decking stretches along the length of the bungalow and is decorated by pots of standard oleanders.
A pear tree laden with fruit grows against the neighbour’s fence, and this is the garden we go to next.
The sun has come out now and at 2 Church Farm Lane, the garden is busy with visitors.
We chat to the the garden owner, the former post mistress, and it is obvious that gardening fills her time now. At the bottom of the garden are the raised beds of vegetables,
and a delightful wigwam of sweet peas.
In the greenhouse perfect bunches of ‘Black Hamburg’ grapes are waiting to ripen.
A raised pond with a variety of plants connects the productive area with the lawn,
Where a little summer house is the perfect place to enjoy one’s retirement.
Further along Church Farm Lane is Farmway, with its front garden richly planted and full of interest.
To the right of the bungalow we follow the path edged with saxifrage that takes us into the garden behind.
Lavender and arches of roses fill a central pathway dividing the garden, so that vegetables are to the right,
and lawn with colourful borders to the left.
Planting is colour themed with the pinks of lavatera, dierama x clementii and monarda blending together.
and the yellows of achillea, echinacea and a choisya put on a fine show together.
The air is filled with the fragrance from these giant lilies.
Returning to our car we pop our heads into the Norman Church decorated with flowers, where is a short film is being shown about the local birdlife.
The final garden, John’s Wood is a little way out of the village. At the entrance we are informed that this is:
‘Definitely not a garden but a nature reserve for wild flowers, insects, mammals, reptiles and birds.’
And John wants to share his passion with us. In 2006 he was able to acquire the one and half acres, originally a wheat field, and planted a thousand native trees. Photographs show him amongst the saplings with his granddaughters.
He directs us down the side of the wood where a notice informs us that if the worst happens to the 300 Ash trees they will be replaced with hornbeam and birch.
The pond was installed in 2011 and it looks as though it has been there for ever.
In a clearing there is a hut which John jokingly calls ‘the visitor centre’. Six fruit trees have been planted and a raised platform, known as the pulpit which is supposed to give a view over the tree canopy, however the canopy has beaten us to it! The pink rose Blushing Lucy, the name of a granddaughter is planted to climb up against the steps.
John is keen to pass on his knowledge and notice boards inform us of the wildlife, fauna and flora. Tucked under the steps there is a touch of humour too.
Running along the edge of the wood a strip of perennial wild flowers is a haven for many varieties of butterflies.
Further along the delightful mix of annuals are in flower; yellow corn marigold, white corn camomile, red corn poppy, blue cornflower and pale purple corn cockle.
The insects and butterfly are loving it.
We could continue along the path running by the hawthorn hedge, but instead we cut back and take the shaded ‘curly wurly’ path through the centre of this precious wood. It is the result of one man’s dream and his passion to pass it on to the next generation.
John’s dedication to trees is expressed in the profound writings by Herman Hesse that are displayed on a board by the wood, it is perhaps easier to read here: http://www.naturalthinker.net/trl/texts/Hesse,Hermann/trees.html.
We have admired great variety from this group set in the Leicestershire countryside. The joy of a collection is that it allows for the inclusion of not only small gardens into the scheme but also the slightly unusual. It is a glimpse into a community brought together through a love of horticulture.