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Garden Visits and other Excursions Spring 2024

June 22, 2024
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I would like to catch up with some of the other trips we have made this year, in between the shows.

Welford Park

Back at the beginning of February, Helen and I visited Welford Park west of Newbury.  It is somewhere I have wanted to go for a long time, but I never seem to get my act in gear this early in the year.  This year, we saw a weather forecast for a rare bright sunny day, and made a spur of the moment decision to set off the next morning.

Welford Park will be familiar to millions of BBC viewers as the home of the Bake-Off marquee, but in early spring it is transformed.

Galanthus nivalis

The beech woodlands alongside the twining channels of the river Lambourn are carpeted with snowdrops, in places forming a solid sheet of white.

Returning along the river from the main snowdrop walk, there are hazel catkins swinging from the bushes, and high overhead, great balls of mistletoe.

Eranthis hiemalis

Approaching the house, the lawns glow with a flood of spring aconites.  Simply glorious in the spring sunshine.

Viburnum x bodnantense

The gardens near the house hold a small collection of snowdrop cultivars, and a number of winter-flowering shrubs including this Viburnum.

Salix gracilistyla (?)

At this time of year, it is the courtyard near the house which is home to a marquee.  Here you can sit out of the wind, and enjoy an excellent lunch, before returning up the drive to the carpark.  On one side of the drive this lovely willow was just coming out.

On the other side of the drive, snowdrops mingled with aconites, serving a reminder of the glories of the park.


February, March and most of April went past in a daze of shows.  But towards the end of April we made the long trip to visit Keith Wiley at Wildside.  We had intended to go earlier, but torrential rain postponed our trip, and when we did go, the rain came too.

Acer palmatum ‘Corallinum’

At least wet conditions bring out the colour in the leaves, and Acer palmatum ‘Corallinum’ looked magnificent in the gentle drizzle.

Claytonia perfoliata

Underneath the magnolias and maples, the ground was pink with Claytonia perfoliata.  This is an attractive edible annual from the American North-west, mingling with the blue of bluebells and forget-me-nots.  But it is becoming an invasive weed in parts of Dartmoor.

Orchis mascula

This is a time of year when I have never visited the garden before.  I was delighted to find spikes of Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) in the orchard, together with a few late Erythroniums.

Water garden

The bank rolling down to the water garden was ablaze with pink azaleas; beneath, a striking clump of the South African Gladiolus tristis.  The waterside vegetation had been cut down neatly over winter, and was just starting to sprout again.

Magnolia ‘Lois’

Overhead on the far side of the pools, I photographed the lovely yellow flowers of Magnolia ‘Lois’.

Acer shirasawanum

As usual, we walked back along the stream, past the overhanging Malus transitoria, and Acer shirasawanum underplanted with a matching golden Hosta.

Deutzia purpurascens hybrid

Back up in the courtyard garden, several shrubs were flowering, including this Deutzia, an incandescent orange Azalea mollis, and the beautiful Magnolia laevifolia ‘Gails Favourite’.  Whenever I photograph the Magnolia, other visitors remark to me on the scent, but somehow this is one of the plants I cannot smell.


Underneath the shrubs, the little jewels of Epimedium flowers sparkled in the rain.

Ros Wiley tribute garden

The newest area of the garden, still under development, is a tribute to Keith’s late wife and our dear friend Ros Wiley.  Keith has created an abandoned quarry, complete with stream and waterfall.

South African bulbs

In the sand beds at the bottom of the quarry, Keith has planted all manner of South African bulbs, including a striking Gladiolus tristis hybrid, and a Moraea from the Homeria group (possibly Homeria ochroleuca).

Euphorbia x martinii

Also here, I found a very striking Euphorbia, which I think might be Euphorbia x martinii.  But the rain was getting heavier, and it was time to retire for tea.

Dancing Ledge

The following day, on our return from Wildside, we decided to stop off at Dancing Ledge on the Isle of Purbeck.  We were hoping to have outrun the rain which was enveloping the South West.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

The path from the car park down to the sea was bordered with a Blackthorn hedge, smothered in flower. Strangely this is something I have never photographed.

We crossed the meadows, past the windswept trees, down to the slopes overlooking the sea.

Ophrys sphegodes

Here we found what we were looking for.  These sunny limestone slopes are home to thousands of Early Spider Orchids.  With the early season this year, these had been in flower for nearly a month; it was getting tricky to find specimens in perfect condition.

Anacamptis morio

Among the spider orchids, we found occasional spikes of Green-veined Orchids.

Primula veris

Other flowers included patches of cowslips, and chalk milkwort (Polygala calcarea).

Sheringham Park

Before long, in early May, we were staying with our son Robin in Norwich, preparing to go to the East Anglia show.  Normally, we would make a visit to the lovely Old Vicarage garden at East Ruston; this time, on a hot day, we chose the cooler woodland walks of Sheringham Park.  The new leaves on the trees were lovely and fresh, and the azaleas were in full flower.

Rhododendron ramparts

As we penetrated further into the wood, it became wilder, with vast banks of Rhododendron.  Lookouts perched high in the canopy.  It was rather sinister, reminding me of the woods of Gramarye in Dornford Yates’ Anthony Lyveden, which become a dangerous obsession for the hero.

Davidia involucrata

As we proceeded, we found more exotic trees and shrubs; first Menziesia (now Rhododendron), and then a Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata).

Halesia carolina

Nearby, I marvelled at a huge and magnificent Snowdrop Tree (Halesia carolina).

The new foliage of the native woodland trees, beeches and horse chestnuts, was just as beautiful in the late spring sunshine.

Eventually, we reached a viewpoint where we could see the sea – the north coast of Norfolk.

Walking back up a different path, our route passed ancient oak trees.

Beneath the oaks, rhododendrons in all colours lined the path.

Dorothy Clive Garden

At the end of May, on the way to the East Cheshire show, we stopped at the Dorothy Clive Garden in Shropshire.  There are two main areas to the garden – a abandoned quarry created in the 1930s, and planted as a woodland garden under mature oaks, and a lower area planted with roses and herbaceous perennials.

Quarry Garden

Foxgloves guarded the entrance to the quarry garden.

Crinodendron hookerianum

Sadly, the rhododendrons and azaleas were well past their best, but we did find a big Crinodendron absolutely covered in flowers.


On one side of the quarry, there is an attractive waterfall feature, built in 1990 to commemorate fifty years of garden development.

At the top of the waterfall, a bronze stag lurks under the maples.

All around the garden, whenever a tree has been felled, the stump has been carved.  Here are an owl, and a badger.

Claytonia perfoliata

Underfoot, the woodland is pink with the Claytonia we saw at Wildside.

From the top of the bank behind the quarry, there are views back into the garden, and out into the surrounding landscape.

Sun Lovers

Returning down the garden, the banks surrounding the tea room were full of colour, mainly plants which love a hot sunny position: Cistus, Phlomis, tree lupins, rock roses, Euphorbia, and in one corner Tropaeolum polyphyllum.


Below the tea room, the herbaceous borders start, rich and fertile, full of roses, peonies and much more.


Always a temptation to the photographer.

Tall bearded irises were flourishing.

Shrubs provided an accent at the back of the borders – often big rose bushes, but also a deep red Magnolia, and a Kalmia covered in bright red buds.

From the top of the alpine scree, there is a view down across the main pool.

Alpine Scree

Sadly, this was the one area of the garden which was disappointing.  It seemed to have gone to seed, with few plants of interest.  I found myself photographing foxgloves, Buphthalmum salicifolium, and an ericaceous shrub which might have been a Pieris.

By a seat, there was a carefully trimmed cotoneaster ball.

Geranium maderense

In the new glasshouse the Geranium maderense were large and spectacular.

Iris sibirica

At this point we walked back up the old drive for another cup of tea.  Herbaceous borders lay on both sides of the drive.  There were magnificent clumps of Iris sibirica :

  • a very pale cultivar
  • then one which looks very like Flight of Butterflies, but is much taller than I would expect for that
  • and finally a fabulous white cultivar which might be White Swirl.

Silene fimbriata

As we followed the drive, we saw big clumps of Silene fimbriata, Thalictrum aquilegifolium, and a Euphorbia which I think was E. lathyris.

Amsonia orientalis

I was particularly pleased to see Amsonia orientalis here; it is a plant I have always enjoyed, but have lost now.

That brings me up to the East Cheshire show.  We have made some more outings since, but I might not have time to post those before I go away.

Image of Jon Evans Jon Evans

Jon lives and gardens on the north side of the Hogsback on the border between Hampshire and Surrey, on a heavy clay soil. He is a long standing member of the AGS and has been treasurer of the local group in Woking for many years. He is interested in bulbs of all sorts, particularly those from South Africa, and has recently won his Gold Medal at AGS shows after about twenty years.

However, he is best known within the AGS as an enthusiastic amateur photographer. For about 10 years he was responsible for organising the artistic and photographic section of the AGS shows around the country, and also for organising the show photography. During this period, he set up and ran the AGS Digital Image Library. He still visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors, and is actively involved in other plant photography, both in gardens both public and private, and on outings to view and photograph wild flowers in the UK.

If you have any comments or queries for Jon, you can contact him direct at