We are spoilt for choice when it comes to gardens here in South Shropshire. Lucy and I picked just two: Stockton Bury and Hampton Court Gardens because they are easy driving distances between the two.
They are contrasts in beauty, where Hampton Court is large and expansive; Stockton is small and intimate.
The very best gardens are sanctuaries. Find a bench and get lost in reverie or find inspiration whether expert gardener or novice. I fall into the latter category but Lucy is a couple notches further up because she can identify quite a few flowers and plants.
I may not know all the plant names, but I can just as easily find wonder in nature’s own literary form of colour, structure and scent. I love strolling around gardens.
We set off to see what was on offer at Stockton and Hampton and here are our top 4 reasons to love them.
1. A place to lean and loaf
Gardens make me hungry. Is it because the garden is a feast for the eyes and the soul , which then manifests itself as hunger?
Whatever the answer cafes in Gardens are obligatory, if done right, they often feel like an extension of the garden. Personally, I like to indulge in the fantasy that what I am eating is the produce of the very same garden I’m strolling around in and I concede this happens somewhere.
Anyway a good cafe can make or break your visit. Thankfully the cafes at Stockton and Hampton are both cosy spots taking advantage of their lovely settings.
They also have plenty of outside seating and at Hampton Court you can easily picnic if you choose.
2. Perfect garden landscapes
Aspirational. The gardens I visit remind me of the possibilities of things I could achieve if I had time and money in abundance.
I have neither. I don’t want to replicate a garden I visit. Instead, its an opportunity to see things differently. How the experts would do it. A visual tutorial if you will.
I tend to translate some of the little touches that are easy to adapt at home, such as: creating a focal point, using bold colour combinations, using water features or even where to place a bench (shaded recess seems best).
Stockton Bury is a much smaller garden, but it really packs a punch in four acres and this is why its among my favourites.
There are so many things to admire. It’s got a medieval pigeon house, a kitchen garden, beautiful water gardens, a mini maze and a greenhouse to name a few things. All of that and it still manages to feel spacious.
It’s got this Victorian feel with its elegance and tucked away nooks. Yet it’s not stately or grandiose. It feels attainable. As if given enough time, I too could be an extraordinary gardener.
Another thing: I have never seen a more militaristic vegetable garden than what is on view at Stockton Bury. All the vegetables like broad beans, lettuce, chives were all regimented in tidy rows.
A royal splash
Hampton Court is equally lovely but as you can imagine to a different tempo and scale. It’s like Stockton Bury is the wild child and Hampton Court its more elegant and refined sister.
It’s bigger open spaces to explore with luxurious garden areas like their kitchen garden.
There is a Wisteria Arch, Sunken Garden and you can relax, have a coffee surrounded by ancient Yews.
The kids can get also lost in the maze. One of my favourite areas is the hidden pond garden, which is seriously verdant and lush.
3. Garden events
Garden are at their busiest in the Spring. Hampton Court is open throughout the summer and into Autumn when it closes in October.
Hampton Court has a range of events ongoing throughout the summer including a Midsummer Fair 24th and 25th June.
There is also a Flying Birds of Prey Spectacular 23 July.
4. Children and gardens – a wish list
When you have kids in the countryside you have to think laterally. Yes, you have your own garden they can lounge around in and plentiful walks in stunning locations.
But formal gardens are like 3D pictures and I want my daughter to participate in things I enjoy too.
I took my daughter to Stockton Bury, it’s less than 30 mins away from Ludlow and its a small enough size I knew she could handle.
I know I can take her to Hampton Court Gardens anytime to spend a sunny afternoon with a picnic and a book and she could explore as she felt.
However, at Stockton I discovered that while I was content to look at colour and flowers and admire their placement, my daughter was less so.
She was quickly bored until I asked her to create a portfolio of images using my phone camera. That got me a further 15 minute complaint-free window.
Also my limited knowledge was not helpful because my 12-year old wants to know the name of everything.
I wished more gardens (Hampton Court too) were willing to engage novices and young with either a flyer or an occasional name tag on various plants especially those that look unusual.
At Stockton we knew a monkey puzzle tree because we have seen it before, but what about the giant water lilies or a birch tree with a red trunk that peeled and why does it peel?
A Google visit later. We now know the red trunk to be a Chinese red birch and it peels to reveal the white trunk beneath.
As I said gardens are not in short supply in our part of the country and in the near future, we’ll be visiting Berrington Hall and Croft Castle both part of the National Trust and within 30 minutes driving distance of Ludlow.