Headley Horticultural Society

Following on from last month, which hopefully, brought back some lovely memories of past garden visits, this time I am revisiting some of the gardens that rewarded us with, either a lovely sunny day or vibrant planting. This is probably because I am writing this on a very dark and wet and windy day when the temperature has again dropped back to wrong side of chilly and the forecast is for more of the same.

We have visited Wisley quite regularly but there are other RHS gardens further afield and one of our coach trips took us all the way to Essex to visit Hyde Hall. The garden here was created by Dr and Mrs Robinson in 1955 on land that was previously a working farm on a hilltop surrounded by arable land; in the 1960s further farmland to the west of the site was added and the garden is now a total of 360 acres. This site is part of the attraction of this garden as the views all around are lovely and you really do feel that you are in the middle of the countryside. The garden was donated to the RHS in 1993. A guided tour had been organised for us and we were told of the main features of the garden and the plans for future development, then we were then able to explore as much of the garden as we wanted. One area was full of plants from Australia and New Zealand and the Global Growth Vegetable Garden showcased fruit and vegetable from all over the world. The traditionally-styled Hilltop Garden with lush lawns, ponds and roses also included a Mediterranean Dry garden featuring drought-tolerant plants. As usual the restaurant received plenty of custom from us and the coach boot was filled with plants from the plant shop.

Also in this part of the country is Beth Chatto’s garden, which were lucky enough to visit a few years ago. Famed for her “dry garden”, Beth’s mantra was “right plant in the right place”. A seven-acre garden, the site is on land that was previously part of the family’s fruit farm, which had not been farmed as it was too dry in some places and too wet in others. Taking her cue from the conditions Beth used plants that nature has developed to survive the difficulty each area presented her with. The Gravel Garden began in 1992 as an experiment to replace sun-scorched grass with a living garden of drought-tolerant plants and is now a world-renowned example of this type of planting.

The Sussex Prairie Garden was an amazing garden to visit; opened to the public in 2009 just one year after planting, this six-acre site boasts 30,000 plants of 600 different varieties. Set out in a naturalistic style it includes a vast number of ornamental grasses and unusual varieties of herbaceous perennials such as Veronicas, Thalictrum, Kniphofias and Hemerocallis all set out in semi-circular beds that we were able walk between. The plants and their seeds are left overwinter for the birds until the end of February when the borders are set on fire and the plants start into growth again. The garden also featured some unusual sculptures (a bit too unusual for some, I remember).

Another place that we visited on more than one occasion was a garden centre in East Sussex. One might not expect a garden centre to be that special to warrant an HHS outing but Merriments was the exception. Attached to the commercial premises is a beautiful garden. Now an RHS partner garden the 4-acre site is full of imaginative planting, with a long season of colour and many unusual plants. The staff at the nursery were particularly knowledgeable and helpful and not only did they stock many of the plants showcased in the garden but were usually able to produce just the plant you were looking for but could not find anywhere else.

Unfortunately, there will not be any outings again in 2021 and we can only hope that in 2022 we shall be able to explore yet more of the wonderful gardens our country has to offer. 

Jennifer Mitchell