A look into a classically English Shropshire garden
In winter, Wollerton Garden is a subdued mix of greens, oranges and browns, holding its own with a collection of sleek, neatly clipped and well-tended yew topiary, russet hornbeam hedges and an alley of mature limes. Vertical new summer growth on the limes turns bright red in winter, shining in the seasonal sunshine. These expertly trimmed stalwart trees stand sentinel, guarding the beds of evergreen foliage, seed heads and grass stems, left in place until a new wave of early spring growth from snowdrops bursts forth.
The garden isn’t open in winter – just between April and September – but to see its wintry nooks and crannies is an insight into what can be done to keep your garden alive at this time of year. It was a chance occurrence in the early 1980s that led Lesley Jenkins to reignite her love for Wollerton, a 16th century house with adjoining sloping garden. That is, her parents lived there for a short while years before, her mother being a keen gardener. When Lesley was teaching nearby, a country lane diversion meant she had to make an unexpected trip past the house, where she noticed a ‘for sale’ sign. “It was pure serendipity,” says Lesley. “I’d always loved the place and felt drawn back. What greeted us when we moved in wasn’t the prettiest of pictures, though.”
The garden was a wild and overgrown spot, a large field that had gone to seed. It evenhad cows grazing at the end of it! A real task was ahead of Lesley and her husband John in transforming its fortunes, but one they took on with relish. “Both our mothers were wonderful gardeners, so we picked up some knowledge and enthusiasm from them. We’re not formally trained in gardening, though,” says Lesley.
It’s encouragement to us all that the Jenkins are amateurs, and yet the blank canvas they bought has been moulded by them over the years into a gleaming example of a beautiful, classic, yet forward thinking English garden. “We’re both rather passionate plants people really, and also have a bit of an eye for design, so that helps,” she says. After a short period of small island beds and lawn areas for their children’s cricket games, they set to work on how they really wanted their garden to be. Armed with baler twine, they measured out wall and bed space, and the formal garden nearest the house was born.
The wider garden is a contrasting feast of more informal planting and less strict structure, which is a treat to amble around. They were advised to open the garden for charity, then eventually as a business some years ago, which has thrived since. “The site is really lovely, and has a wonderful spirit to it, which I wanted to adhere to from the start by bringing back some of its magic,” says Lesley. Her background in theatre design led to a theatrical element being brought in – hot beds of summer perennials such as dahlias, heleniums and crocosmia with roses and fuchsias, set among banana trees. She is a fan of perennial plants, whereas John loves shrubs and trees, so he went to town with a mini arboretum of, among others, rowan, euonymus and a black walnut tree that looms large now.
“He was like a child in a sweet shop! That area needs a good sort out as it has too many overly large trees,” she says. In fact, Lesley prefers the ‘less is more’ ethos these days. Her tastes have changed and she has a clear idea of what she wants, all helped along by head gardener Phil Smith. “We’re not afraid of chopping and changing, taking walls out or adding new plants, which keeps everything fresh and evolving,” says Lesley.
There are some classic areas like the rose and sundial garden, the old garden and yew walk – not sparse but all bustling with colour and life. Novel twists among the precisely-clipped formal bushes are long areas of grass left for buzzing bees, a shady, fern-clad spot among the trees, a woodland croft walk and a riot of reds and oranges from achillea, dahlias and crocosmia, all among lime grasses in the Lanhydrock garden. Muted minimal areas soften the journey as you walk through greenery and grasses. While Lesley loves using colour as an art form in the garden, she is aware of the need for simplistic beauty. In fact, one of her favourite plants is Primula vulgaris, our native creamy-yellow common-or garden primrose, for its quiet spring charms. She has banks of them, which have self-seeded over 30 years to create a sea of scented blooms each year.