Two very special gardens belonging to Shropshire's stately homes are opening this weekend in aid of the Shropshire Historic Churches Trust (July 8th & 9th).
Bitterley Court sits on the side of Clee Hill with beautiful views towards Ludlow and up to Titterstone Clee. This weekend brings a rare chance to tour the eight-acre garden with its many specimen trees, topiary, woodland walk and developing fernery.
The spectacular and historic kitchen garden, dating back in earliest records to 1766, flourishes today, growing an array of heritage vegetables, fruit and cut flowers.
The house itself is tucked away by the small rural village of Bitterley with beautiful views of the surrounding Shropshire Hills. In 1780 the grade II* listed house was 'Georgianised' by the renowned architect Thomas Pritchard who designed the world’s first iron bridge. Although the house is not open on the day, visitors can enjoy tours of neighbouring 12th century St Mary’s Church, accessed through the garden gate, which boasts the best surviving Decorative Period churchyard cross in Shropshire, thought to have been erected in the reign of Edward II.
Today the house is owned by Katharine and James Wheeler whose family have lived at Bitterley Court for over 100 years following the Walcots. Mrs Wheeler took over the gardening mantle from her mother-in-law in 2004 and as a horticulturist has lovingly continued to maintain and develop the garden ever since.
The eight-acre garden surrounds the house, opening out from topiary to lawns with specimen trees, from ancient to new, all carefully labelled and listed for visitors to enjoy. Many are planted in commemoration, such as a large Bramley apple tree planted after the WWII in the dig for victory campaign or the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipfera) celebrating Mr Wheeler’s father’s 40th birthday in 1980.
Among more unusual trees is the Ulmus x Wingham, an elm hybrid bred for resistance to Dutch Elm Disease and to attract the rare White-letter Hairstreak butterfly and an old Ginkgo Biloba. They can live for 3,000 years and as Ginkgo Biloba age; they thrive and show no sign of deterioration.
“Recently we have planted a number of single-flowered Japanese ornamental cherry trees weaving them in and out of existing trees. Perhaps one day I will be able to have my own hanami at Bitterley,” says Mrs Wheeler.
“Gardening is an unlimited subject and if you are passionate about it, like I am, you will never tire of it. The thing I love most about the open day is talking to other gardeners, giving advice where I can and hearing about their gardens and love of plants.” - Katharine Wheeler
The kitchen garden has remained largely unchanged for 300 years and today grow heritage vegetables, fruit and cut flowers. A large glasshouse against the south-facing wall was renovated in the 90s. The owners retained, however, the old Victorian fig tree trained against the wall in poor stony soil, restricting the roots which encourages fruit. Today’s glasshouse crops include aubergines, chillies, tomatoes, cucumbers and the more exotic bananas and cannas. A beautiful shocking pink pelargonium called Surcouf covers the end wall and flowers all-year-round.
The thousands of annual vegetables and flowers for the kitchen garden are raised from seed in the glasshouse every year. “It would be too expensive to buy in all the plants and we also raise from seed to avoid pest and disease such as brassica clubroot,” Mrs Wheeler adds.
In the summer, dotted around the kitchen garden, is a collection of citrus trees including lemons, oranges and grapefruit. The trees are displayed in beautiful Italian pots from Impruneta where the local clay, called galestro, is fired at high temperatures making it uniquely strong with unrivalled frost resistance.
In the beds bordering the front of the glasshouse inspired by a visit to Chelsea Flower Show in 2017, is a stunning collection of the painterly Cedric Morris bearded iris from the artist-plantsman’s former home, Benton End, in Suffolk. On the west facing wall is the long border affectionately known as the Beaujolais bed due to the largely magenta wine colour palette of herbaceous perennials. In the three facing perennial beds is an emerging collection of old roses including Kathleen Ferrier.
“There are so many flowers in one spray, it’s like a bunch of flowers on a single stem,” says Mrs Wheeler.
Toms Yard will also be at Bitterly Court and selling lovely garden tools, pots and gardenalia……..another reason to bring a shopping bag!
Bitterley Court Garden Open Day July 8th - 11am to 5pm, SY8 3HL (near Ludlow).
Some parts of the garden are suitable for wheelchairs. Teas and light lunches/WC available. Plants and fresh produce stalls. No Dogs. Entry: £6 cash please.
Sambrook Manor and Garden Trail
Deep colourful, well planted borders offset by sweeping lawns surrounding an early C18 Manor House ( not open). Wide ranging herbaceous planting with Roses to enjoy. The waterfall and Japanese garden are now linked to the rill. The Arboretum below the garden, with views across the river has been further extended with new trees.
There are more gardens to enjoy in the village, varying in sizes and styles and surrounding the delightful church in the centre of the village.
Some parts of some of the gardens are suitable for wheelchairs. Teas at Sambrook Manor. Plants. WC. Dogs welcome. Entry £6 cash please.
- Sambrook Manor & Garden Trail - Open on Sunday 9th July, 12noon - 5pm - Sambrook, Newport. TF10 8AL
- Between Newport and Ternhill 1 mile off A4 in the village of Sambrook. Parking in the centre in small field.