You can’t go far in the Cotswolds without seeing a flock of sheep penned in by low stonewalls, usually on high ground in a field full of stony soil. There’ll be a chill in the air too, even in summer, so most of the gardens in the Cotswolds are found on the edges of the scarp where the soil is slightly richer and the weather kinder. It’s never a trial though, driving through the Cotswolds, because the small towns and villages are full of stone houses that could come straight out of Miss Marple or Midsomer Murders.
Great gardens to visit
You’re in spitting distance of three major gardens Kiftsgate and two National Trust gardens – Hidcote Manor and Snowshill. However I suggest you head towards Moreton-in-Marsh on the A44 towards Batsford Arboretum, it’s a little bit of the Orient tucked away on a sunny slope. There’s plenty of parking, a Bird of Prey Centre, a tasteful Plant Centre and one of the best, most reasonable eateries in the Cotswolds. Everything is cooked before your eyes!
The 56 acre site was originally landscaped by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford (Bertie), later the 1st Lord Redesdale. He was the grandfather of the infamous Mitford sisters, who lived at Batsford when young. Bertie worked for the foreign office in Russia, Japan and China during the 1860’s and fell in love with the oriental landscape and recreated it at Batsford. There is a Chinese bridge, a Japanese rest house and bronze sculptures of a sika deer, a foo dog and a Buddha. The rocky landscape on the western edge surrounds a tumbling stream, created from pumped spring water, and Bertie was one of the first to plant bamboos. Some still survive.
Lots more rare trees were added by the next owners, the 1st and 2nd Lord Dulverton. The arboretum is clearly a plantsman’s paradise, but it’s also a place to stroll, where dogs are welcome, and it’s worth visiting at any time of year because the arboretum always has something to offer. Highlights include magnolias and Japanese cherries in spring and Japanese maples in autumn. Sezincote, more Indian than Oriental, is opposite and open on certain days.
The Dulvertons of Batsford were members of the Wills tobacco family and Misarden Park near Stroud is also associated with this family, who bought the estate in 1913. It’s not far from Birdlip, a highpoint in Gloucestershire said to experience four seasons in one day, but this is an advantage. The Misarden borders start three to four weeks later than most, so the garden looks fresh in August when others are flagging. Set your satnav for Miserden with an ‘e’, because the spelling of the village is different to the garden.
Misarden, a 17th century grand house, was improved by Lutyens and there are large gables and a magnificent open loggia with stone columns. The garden has fine bones, laid out by Lutyens, so there’s lots of topiary and long, straight yew hedges. Other Lutyens features include grass steps and pergolas, so this is an interesting garden historically.
The present owner, Major M T N H Wills, has developed the old rose garden into two enormous double borders planted in prairie style whilst preserving the key elements.
Misarden is like stepping back in time and definitely the garden to head for if you want peace and tranquility. The house overlooks the Golden Valley, a completely unspoilt part of Gloucestershire, and the last time I was there the only sound I could here was a woodpecker drilling in the woods. You won’t find tea and the gardeners often collect the admission money, but tea can be had at the local pub, The Carpenter’s Arms. The food is excellent with local ingredients and homegrown vegetables.
Misarden is open from April to the end of October on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and the display begins with spring bulbs, moves into roses and then into prairie style planting. The nursery next to the garden is excellent and is open six days a week – except Mondays.
Littlefield Garden, Hawling, Cheltenham
You’ll need to head back towards Stow-on -the Wold to see this small private garden which opens for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday 13th and Sunday 20th July between 11am-5pm. There are homemade teas and plants for sale and most of the garden is accessible by wheelchair.
The owners Federica and George Wilk moved in roughly fifteen years ago and the garden was laid out by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall. It’s a traditional English garden with yew, wisteria, roses and lupins, in swirling beds separated by gravel paths. Federica added an Italian touch, with a central pool and fountain, but the garden also pays homage to its setting on top of the Cotswolds plateau. There are wild flower areas and a pond in this beautifully kept garden. The teas come highly recommended, or you could carry on to another five miles to Winchcombe and call in at Sudeley Castle.
About the author
Val Bourne is an award-winning garden writer, photographer and lecturer and she gardens on the wind-swept Cotswolds at Spring Cottage – high above Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire. Val writes for The Daily Telegraph, Saga Magazine and many others. She is also the gardening correspondent of The Oxford Times. Val also judges the perennial and dahlia trials at RHS Wisley.