Nation’s Favourite National Garden Scheme Gardens Announced!
Over the summer thousands of you voted for your favourite gardens that open for the National Garden Scheme. Now we can reveal the winners of 2021’s Nation’s Favourite Gardens competition, run by The English Garden magazine supported by Agriframes and Sisley Garden Tours.
There are six regional winners, one overall champion and a winning Public Garden that usually opens to the public but donates takings from a particular day (or days) to the Scheme.
And the winners are:
St Timothee, Berkshire
Overall Winner & Regional Winner: South East
It’s not so long ago that the view from Sarah and Sal Pajwani’s 1930s house in Pinkneys Green took in dilapidated outbuildings and a field-like lawn dotted with clumps of 1970s-planted pampas grass. Luckily, there were also lovely mature trees and lots of scope to create a garden that was closer to Sarah’s vision. The house sits in the centre of the plot, with views of the garden from all the windows, so the planting had to look good all year round. In spring, inherited wisterias cloak the house walls with their luxurious purple flowers, while Sarah’s displays of tulips bring fresh colour below boughs of apple blossom and the goblets of a magnificent Magnolia x soulangeana.
Then, come summer, the interest shifts to swaying grasses and perennial flowers, in a layout of borders, paths and seating areas that was drawn up by designers Acres Wild. The pampas grass clumps were relocated and now stand out for all the right reasons in borders next to other ornamental grasses and perennials such as geraniums, echinacea and eryngium. A tranquil wildlife pond is now edged with kingcups, rushes and flag irises and is home to frogs and mallards.
There’s more formality in the shape of a box parterre that’s filled with colour co-ordinated tulips in spring, but overall this is a garden with a wonderfully relaxed feel. “I hear people talk about stamping your personality on your garden, but that’s not what I want to do,” explains Sarah. “Ours is a partnership, not a dictatorship.” Visitors to St Timothee clearly enjoy the atmosphere she’s created, voting it not only the regional winner of the South East but also our overall champion – congratulations to the Nation’s Favourite Garden!
Ulting Wick, Essex
Regional Winner: East
Ulting Wick, Philippa Burrough’s garden in Essex, has become a familiar name to those who love to visit good gardens. Whether it’s in spring, when the old farm yard is filled with tulips, or later in the year when the planting changes to a high-octane, heat-seeking display, visitors don’t leave disappointed. Philippa and her husband Brian moved here in 1995 and, over the years, Philippa has developed the garden from a handful of old-fashioned island beds, to a packed and imaginatively planted garden that regularly garners critical acclaim. In this dry county, Philippa says she has learnt to play to the garden’s strengths. “While we might occasionally have a bad winter, it is generally mild and the combination of our black barns and gravel means everything heats up quickly and plants get going swiftly,” she says. Her annual displays are testimony to that.
Stretton Old Hall, Cheshire
Regional Winner: North
Given that Stretton Old Hall dates back to the 17th century, you might expect it to be festooned with old roses and surrounded by traditional gardens. There are formal elements that borrow from the past – a Long Border and topiary, for example – but this garden is also full of crisp, contemporary design. Owners Ken Roscoe and partner David Bradley have backgrounds in design and architecture, and their garden is an expression of their personalities: artfully constructed with attention to fine detail.
There are theatrical set pieces like the Top Terrace, with larger-than-life potted olives; the Rill Garden with its impeccable planting set around cascading Corten steel water troughs; and a walled Kitchen Garden with an intricate pattern of raised beds. It’s hard to believe the garden was a blank canvas less than ten years ago. “I had to get my head around the scale of it,” explains Ken, “but dividing the plot up, meant each area was suddenly proportioned on more domestic lines. I couldn’t wait to add more trees and start putting in hedges. People often plant lots of different species or unusual cultivars to add interest, but we have to use a bigger paintbrush here, often setting quite common or garden plants in large drifts for dramatic effect.”
Head gardener Stephen Gore, who has been caring for the garden for around five years, expands on this: “We rely on common self-seeders such as Verbena bonariensis, Alchemilla mollis, Stipa tenuissima, fennel and angelica.” Common or not, this is an accomplished garden that looks absolutely beautiful, and its visitors clearly agree, voting it the winner in the National Garden Scheme’s northern region.
Little Ash Bungalow, Devon
Regional Winner: South West
Plantswoman Helen Brown has been gardening at Little Ash, her home near Honiton, Devon, since 2000. “My aim is to create a wildlife haven without compromising on our own requirements of the garden,” she explains. For Helen, that means having plenty of room to accommodate her passion for plants: favourites include purple-leaved plants such as Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ and Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, tactile grasses and long-flowering perennials. Close to the house are treasures that need more cosseting than those plants further out in the garden, such as an expanding collection of salvias, hedychium and delicate alpines in a raised bed.
The garden slopes towards the River Otter, the eye drawn down the gentle sweep of lawn by a group of three granite rollers. At the bottom, a natural stream keeps the Alder Grove damp enough for moisture-loving arisaema, podophyllum, primulas and trillium to thrive, while in summer, mini meadow areas are full of wildflowers such as bird’s foot trefoil, wild carrot, orchids and yellow rattle, to the benefit of bees and butterflies. The overall effect is naturalistic, with densely planted borders of intermingling plants combined to great effect “I always ask my visitors to look closely, or they might miss something special!” says Helen.
Regional Winner: Wales & The Marches
The warm welcome with which Michael O’Leary and his team of helpers greet National Garden Scheme visitors is renowned. Hillcrest, in Cefn Fforest, Caerphilly, is a series of secluded gardens offering interest throughout the seasons. Spring brings tulips and vibrant red flowers on the Chilean fire bushes (Embothrium coccineum), but it’s in autumn that the garden’s collection of interesting trees come into their own: variegated Liriodendron tulipifera; the katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum; the red oak Quercus rubra; and Cornus kousa all contribute to the colourful show. In all, the garden covers 1½ acres, with tucked-away seating areas for visitors to relax and take in the leafy display. “Mike is immensely hospitable and loves having visitors to his garden, which he most generously opens every Sunday until the end of September,” says Gwent County organiser Cathy Davies.
Pear Tree Cottage, Worcester
Regional Winner: Midlands
Pear Tree Cottage in Wichenford is surrounded by green and bucolic Worcestershire countryside. In the distance, over a view of cider apple orchards, rises the distinctive clock tower of Abberley Hall School. The cottage itself – Grade II-listed and black-and-white-timbered – is equally idyllic. It was the perfect spot for Pam and Alistair Thompson to create a new garden, which they set about doing as soon as they moved here in 2004. The garden they inherited was quite unkempt. Overgrown hedges along the boundaries encroached on the space, shrubs were crowded and congested, the pond leaked and beds were riddled with bindweed, but the couple fell in love with both the cottage and the garden. Together with gardener Chris Pugh, who works here on Saturdays, they’ve transformed the space, clearing and defining the boundaries (and rabbit-proofing them), thinning out the borders, replacing the greenhouse, terracing the slope at the top of the garden, and reinstating the cottage’s original 50-foot well and working pump. For the past nine years, the couple have opened for the National Garden Scheme (Pam is also the publicity officer for the scheme’s Worcestershire team), their ‘garden by twilight’ evenings in the summer proving especially popular. Hundreds of candles and nightlights create a magical atmosphere for visitors, who can listen to owls and watch the bats.
The couple are passionate recyclers, and many of the garden’s features have been made from repurposed materials. From sculptures of foxes crafted from an old metal oil tank to the cobbles and tiles in the paths and paving, this is a garden where nothing goes to waste. The couple have even transformed an unwanted shed, which was on the brink of being burnt by its previous owners. After being delivered to their driveway in large and heavy pieces and being re-sized, it became the Pear Hut, a peaceful hideaway complete with a writing desk at the bottom of a meadow.
Burrow Farm Gardens, Devon
Public Gardens Winner
The winner of our new category for gardens that are usually open to the public, but choose to donate their takings from a particular day (or days) to the National Garden Scheme, is Burrow Farm Gardens in Devon. Located between Axminster and Honiton, this garden has been lovingly developed by Mary Benger on land surrounding Burrow Farm, where her husband John used to keep a dairy herd. The couple moved here in 1959 and Mary immediately set about transforming parts of the land into garden, starting with an old Roman clay quarry that couldn’t be farmed. The brambles colonising it were cleared and it is now the Woodland Garden, carpeted by bluebells in spring. Slowly the garden increased in size, and by the mid-1970s it comprised four acres, this being the point at which it first opened for the National Garden Scheme.
After John retired from dairy farming in the 1980s, the expansion continued: courtyard and terrace gardens were created around a new house that replaced the farm’s original bungalow; a pergola walk was added; and the Millennium Garden was planted up. Now stretching across 13 acres, and including diverse areas such as the Azalea Glade, the Anniversary Garden (planted with naturalistic perennials and grasses in 2010 to celebrate Mary and John’s 50 years at the farm), and wildflower meadows, the garden nonetheless retains an intimate, family feel. Mary’s son Tony Benger now runs his landscaping business from Burrow Farm, and grandson Michael helps in the garden.
This content appears in the December issue of The English Garden magazine and is reproduced with their kind permission.
To enjoy more beautiful gardens throughout the year why not explore our special subscription offer for The English Garden with great savings on the regular price. Click here for the special offer.