Want to explore almost forty back gardens in a single day out? Then get yourself to Barnsdale Gardens in Rutland!
Barnsdale was the home of Gardeners’ World for most of the 1980s and early 90s, during Geoff Hamilton’s tenure at the helm (very much before my GW-watching time!) and evolved to become home to 38 individual gardens, all aiming to demonstrate or showcase a different type of outdoor space and the plants and techniques necessary to create something similar yourself.
I first discovered it last summer towards the end of the heatwave when it, like every other garden in the UK was suffering from a severe lack of water; although it clearly wasn’t at its best – which of us were last summer?! – there was something about it which really intrigued me and piqued my interest.
It’s impossible to do justice to in a short blog post so here are a few of my pics; I’d encourage you to visit and explore for yourself if you’re ever in Leicestershire and Rutland!
I arrived just before 10.30am and the garden was still infused with morning shadows, creating little pockets of interest in surprising places (the Modern Estate Garden, the Town Paradise Garden)…
Statuesque trees and quiet corners (the Plantsman’s Garden, the First Time Garden)…
One of the main things I’ve taken away from my time at Barnsdale is that it’s reinforced many of the things I already knew about what I liked in a garden: the kind of plants I like (hostas, ferns, alchemilla mollis, heucheras…) and the kind of garden structure and design I warm to (gardens with height and enclosed spaces, soft lines and fluid boundaries, curving paths and circular lawns, rills and ponds).
That said, one of my favourite gardens, the Formal Pool and Knot Garden is, as the name suggests, the complete opposite of everything I’ve just listed! But I suspect I like it because it’s all hard lines and formal planting, rather than a mixture of structure and softness; I think it’s the combination of hard and soft with which I sometimes struggle to engage.
The obligatory day out cream tea (bit short on jam and cream, as you can see!)…!
If I have one criticism of Barnsdale, it’s that there are some corners (and some terminology – note the ‘Plantsman’s Garden’ and the ‘Gentleman’s Garden’…) that feel a little dated and tired. The Garden Studio, which won gold for Adam Frost at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (there was no information about when that was) felt pretty underwhelming and unloved; some new planting and a bit of TLC would work wonders!
Although there is one garden that’s apparently being overhauled – nothing had been done to it between my previous visit and yesterday – you get the sense that there’s a slightly preserve in aspic approach to maintaining and developing the garden. I suspect that stems from a well-intentioned desire to celebrate all the work that Geoff Hamilton did during his time making gardening programmes there; however, given that I sense Hamilton was a bit of a pioneering spirit, it seems a shame that the gardens feel like they’ve lost something of that edge.
But I’ll certainly be going back, and would encourage anyone who’s trying to work out what they really like about gardens and gardening to pay Barnsdale a visit!