Set among the rolling hills that lie between the northern Welsh borders and the Peak District, dotted with picturesque villages with half-timbered black and white houses, are some of the finest gardens in England. Traditional gardens have been lovingly restored, while exciting new gardens take the art of English garden-making into the 21st century.
Foremost of these are the gardens at Trentham, comprising a formal Italian garden set within a ‘Capability’ Brown landscape, which have undergone a contemporary revival under some of the best-known garden designers currently working in the UK and abroad to achieve what is generally regarded as the finest garden in England. The expansive Italian garden, enclosed with David Austin roses, has been replanted under the direction of Tom Stuart Smith, who has won numerous gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, including Best in Show on three occasions. Tom’s distinctive style of clipped forms with naturalistic groupings of soft grasses and flowers, often planted to retain winter interest from seed heads, perfectly complements the original 19th-century structure implemented by Charles Barry. Adjacent to this are the Rivers of Grass and Floral Labyrinth designed by acclaimed Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf (responsible for the High Line in New York) while the most recent addition to the gardens is the meadow created by Nigel Dunnett, the designer behind the Olympic Park plantings.
Since 1984, Lesley and John Jenkins have been creating one of the most beautiful new English gardens of the 20th and 21st centuries around the 16th-century timber-framed Wollerton Old Hall. With strong structure and rich planting, it is a modern garden of rooms in the Arts and Crafts tradition, set against the architecture of the hall. A number of north-south and east-west axes divide the 4-acre garden into contrasting spaces exploring scale, formality and colour, from the simple greens of the Lime Allee and Font Garden to the controlled exuberance of the hot garden.
The Royal Horticultural Society’s Tatton Park Flower Show, now in its 18th year, is firmly established as the top garden show in the north. The sumptuous floral marquee showcases some of the best growers in the country, featuring summer plants not seen at other shows, while Show Gardens, small Back to Back Gardens and Future Gardens provide inspiration from young and upcoming garden designers. Many of the gardens will be seen by special arrangement.
Wollerton, Hodnet, Chester. The coach leaves from Stoke-on-Trent Railway Station at 1.00pm for Wollerton Old Hall, a small Arts & Crafts-inspired garden set around an attractive 16th-century, half-timbered house. Nearby Hodnet Hall’s 1920s English landscape garden enjoys a lakeside setting and lovely planting beside the stream that feeds it. First of three nights in Chester.
Abbeywood, Peover, Adlington. Abbeywood’s ornamental area of experimental prairie planting is particularly lovely thanks to its wonderful backdrop of the rolling Cheshire countryside. Peover Hall’s charming Arts & Crafts garden, created in the 1890s, has a succession of colour-themed garden rooms and an unusual enclosed garden theatre. Adlington’s half-timbered Great Hall (built between 1480 and 1505) is surrounded by a sunken garden, rose garden and 17th-century landscape garden that follows the stream through a designed wilderness.
Arley. Arley Hall gardens were mainly laid out in the late 18th century by Roland and Mary Egerton-Warburton. The beautiful walled garden leads to the first double herbaceous border created in England, with its backdrop of buttressed formal hedging and yew topiary. After lunch at The Gardener’s Kitchen, return to Chester for some free time.
Tatton Park, Rookery Hall. Today is dedicated to the Tatton Park Flower Show. After the show drive to Rookery Hall Hotel for the first of two nights.
Biddulph, Henbury. Biddulph Grange is the life’s work of Victorian plant collector James Bateman. He arranged his collection according to the geographical region from which they originated, and embellished them with architectural features. Henbury Hall is an extraordinary private house modelled on Palladio’s La Rotonda. The gardens include a small but beautiful formal walled garden, a new large walled garden and a water garden with ‘Capability’ Brown-inspired lakes with walks, bridges and woodland planting.
While Trentham Hall was demolished in the 1930s, the structure of its expansive Italian garden, originally laid out in the 19th century, adjoining the ‘Capability’ Brown lake, remained intact. In an inspired move, Trentham Estates commissioned leading garden designer, Tom Stuart Smith, to replant the Italian garden to reflect contemporary planting ideas, resulting in one of the largest and most exciting new plantings in Europe. The garden also features a David Austin rose border as well as ‘rivers of grass’ and perennial plantings by renowned Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. Finish at Stoke-on-Trent Railway Station at c. 2.00pm.
Freelance garden designer, writer, broadcaster and artist. A member of the Society of Garden Designers and member of the Garden Media Guild, she has created Show Gardens at Chelsea and Hampton Court and has designed over 100 gardens. She lectures to garden societies and is a regular broadcaster on BBC Somerset. Her particular interest is in 20th-century and contemporary garden design.
Price per person
Two sharing: £1,970. Single occupancy: £2,350.
Included: travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 2 lunches and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions, private openings, tours; all tips; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
The Chester Grosvenor: 5-star elegant hotel in an attractive timber, Grade II-listed building, located in the heart of Chester. Rooms are well proportioned. Rookery Hall Hotel & Spa: 4-star country house hotel in the Cheshire countryside. Our rooms are in the Old Hall which retains some period charm. Rooms are spacious.
There is a lot of walking. Coaches can rarely park near the houses; many of the gardens are extensive with uneven ground or steps to reach different levels. Average coach travel per day: c. 56 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.