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National Garden Society: Oxfordshire Gardens to Explore This Spring

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Gardeners around the county love exploring other peoples’ spaces to see how they have created stunning borders, interesting specialist areas and rewilded their outdoor areas. The National Garden Scheme (NGS) offer a wide variety of Oxfordshire gardens for you to visit during the year and we have chosen just four for you to visit, but there are plenty more which you can find online at  ngs.org.uk

Two neighbours living at  No 3 and 4 Halliday Lane, Oxford OX2 0FG will be opening their gardens on Sunday 28 April 2024 (2.00-5.00 pm). The adult entry ticket of £4 gives entry to both; children are free of charge. Home-made teas will be available along with plants for sale. 

No 3 Halliday Lane

Owned by John and Viccy Fleming, No 3 demonstrates how creative you can be with a modest sized town garden surrounding a house built some five years ago. The property has been built on the site of a former riding stables, and the outside was planned in 2020. Their front garden, which is 4 x 5 metres, has been designed as an intricate crevice garden constructed with five tonnes of Forest of Dean Pennant sandstone, planted with more than 400 different alpine plants. The rear garden has a patio with pots leading to an area of bulbs, shrubs and perennials.

“When we were putting our garden together,” John explains, “we wanted to ensure year-round interest because we see most of it from our windows, and small plants suit a small garden. We had been inspired by the Alpine Garden Society’s garden at Pershore so before we started the hard work of constructing the front garden, we built a 1:12 scale model using lasagne. As we have clay soil which alpines do not like, we set the stones vertically in about 20 cm of sharp sand and filled the crevices with a 50:50 mix of John Innes No 2 compost and horticultural grit. A layer of alpine grit was added around the plants to finish off the surface. In 2022, we won the local competition for the best overall front garden in the Botley in Bloom event. Our back garden has areas of shade from neighbouring trees, but the shrubs and perennials have also been carefully chosen to make sure the garden always has something worth looking at. We have even got a greenhouse for propagation and a vegetable garden.”

No 4 Halliday Lane

Owner Nathaniel Ward comments, “This is a new garden started in November 2019 when we bought the house. Our aim was to provide a family space with simple planting to encourage wildlife to come into the garden. The border leading to the front door has full sun at one end with deep shade at the other. Planting includes Japanese acers with a lower storey of yew which will be clipped into shape as it grows. A number of ferns and heucheras have been used to provide structure and all-year round interest. Pachysandra is used as ground cover. Our main garden is a combination of evergreen oak, climbing roses and hydrangeas with clematis used to cover the garden fence. We have added additional structures by planting silver birch trees. Three years ago, the law was seeded with wildflower meadow seeds, but this is an ongoing project to get the best out of it.”

Old Rectory at Albury, near Thame 

Suitable for small groups of up to 30 people and open from 7 February, The Old Rectory dates back to the 1820s/1830s. Sitting beside the parish church of St Helens’, it has five acres of gardens and woodland, with a lake walk for visitors to enjoy. Owned by Mr and Mrs Nowell-Smith, the couple have spent over 30 years creating this beautiful garden which includes extensive herbaceous borders, a rose avenue with a selection of English roses chosen for their scent and perpetual flowering, a kitchen and cutting gardens. The gardens have extensive drifts of snowdrops, followed by early Spring bulbs before the roses and perennials put on a fine show along with annual planting.

“For me, the part I love about our garden here at Albury is the setting,” explains Moo Nowell-Smith. “From the very first day we walked down the lane and were greeted by the wonderful towering Wellingtonia sequoia, the sweep of glebelands with is beautiful mature oaks, and the vista down to the lake, I just knew this was a place and setting I would never tire of. Our mission was to uncover any gems long overgrown from other eras and develop a garden that would complement and enhance the wonderful natural setting. Thirty years on, we now have a garden with long established herbaceous borders, lawns, a hornbeam walk, a rose pergola, extensive fruit orchards, a well-stocked kitchen garden and a hard-working greenhouse and poly tunnel.

Roses grow really well here. When we arrived, there were two old fashioned climbers remaining: Blush Noisette and Albertine. We have added and added, and Phyllis Bide has always been a personal favourite as I have grown up enjoying the way it changes colour throughout its flowering season. Such a pretty, delicate rose which looks exceptionally fine on the old, west facing brick walls we have.”

The Old Rectory is well placed for access to London, so it is a convenient location for film production companies; as a consequence, the gardens and the house have been featured in quite a few series and films. If anyone is interested in arranging a group tour, please email Moonowellsmith@gmail.com. 

On  Sunday 2 June, from 1.30 pm until 5.00 pm you can visit the bee friendly garden at the Tythe Barn, Guydens Hamlet, Oxford Road, Garsington OX44 9AZ

Belonging to apiarist Claire and Dave Parker, Guydens Farm dates back to the 1790s. In 2015 the farmhouse and outbuildings were converted into six properties, and Claire purchased the Tythe Barn which had only a tiny front and side garden. Fortunately, she was able to purchase a further three-acre field behind her property which has enabled her to use two and a half acres to create a wildflower meadow. As the land had been fallow without exposure to fertilisers for 23 years, having had the sheep devour the scrub, in 2018 Claire was able to sow a 50:50 mix of yellow rattle and Oxfordshire wildflower seeds across the area. In total over 2,000 trees and hedgerow plants have been planted; she uses no peat or pesticides and has created a beautiful, tranquil wildlife and bee friendly garden. The first beehive was erected in 2019 and since meeting and marrying her husband Dave (who is also a beekeeper) in 2022, they have a fenced in apiary with six hives, selling their own honey at their NGS open garden events. 

Their half acre of garden, designed by RHS Chelsea award-winner Sarah Naybour, has focused on creating a formal garden planted with bee-friendly native species of various shades of blue and purple, all looking spectacular in June. This part of the garden leads to a woodland area with silver birches, underplanted with a spectacular range of perennials, ferns and roses. A bespoke oak pergola, planted with roses, overlooks the wildlife pond with the grass left uncut over the summer between the fruit trees in the orchard. There is a meandering path cut through the wildflower meadow and a children’s wildlife quiz will be running on the open day to encourage young people to learn more about natural wildlife.

As Claire previously worked as an oncologist at the Churchill Hospital, before she retired in 2022, opening her garden for the NGS charities which includes Macmillan, is a lovely way to help support a charity from which many of her former colleagues benefited. Claire is also an amputee, so she has created a garden which is totally accessible for all, including those in wheelchairs. Tythe Barn also welcomes well-behaved dogs, on their lead. There will be home-made teas, honey and refreshments available, all in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. Further, paintings by their neighbour, abstract impressionist artist Su Goddard, will be on display and for sale in the Honey Barn. There are also six parking spaces outside the house for Blue Badge holders and for those dropping people off. The main carpark area is provided by Unipart and is 150m distance from the gardens (OX4 2PG). Entrance is £4.00 for adults and children are free. You can prebook online or pay on the day.

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