The Home and Workplace of the late Geoff Hamilton.
Many of us of a ‘certain age’ may remember when Geoff Hamilton presented Gardeners World on the BBC, which to date, is still the BBC’s flagship Gardening Program. Geoff presented the show from his own gardens, called Barnsdale which is located in Britain’s smallest county of Rutland.
Geoff’s son Nick took over the running of Barnsdale after Geoff’s death and opened up the 8 Acres to the public. The site consists of 38 individual gardens in different styles and planting schemes. I’ve visited Barnsdale a few times before at different times of the year, I only live 40 mins drive away and always try to visit at least once a year. My most recent visit was on a sunny Saturday in early August. Arriving just after opening, I set off to explore and see what I could find. A couple of years ago when I visited Barnsdale I took part in a guided tour of the site, where the tour leader told us that Geoff’s planting and design style was very much with the ‘ordinary’ gardener in mind. In that in many of his 38 gardens throughout the site we would find a secluded area with a seat, a compost bin, and you wouldn’t be able to see all the garden from one aspect.
During this blog I’ve focused on only a few of my favourite Feature Gardens.
I almost got to meet Geoff personally in June 1996, which was only a few months before he died, I was helping a past employer set up a stand at Gardeners World Live at the N.E.C in Birmingham, when I saw Geoff striding purposely nearby, a friend I was with shouted over towards Geoff “OY, Geoff, Alright.?” and waved feverishly whilst I stood frozen with embarrassment, as Geoff looked towards us, he looked puzzled for a moment, then gave us both a big smile and hearty wave and walked past.
I found my way into the Gentleman’s Cottage Garden, which was built for the TV series Geoff Hamilton’s Cottage Gardens. The garden was built to show the luxuries available befitting a Gentleman, and to show how to deal with a garden which is much wider than long. The garden was divided into 3 sections, the picture above shows the middle section with a nice brick paved path, an alcove seating area, and slightly raised beds with an informal cottage garden style planting where the plants are allowed to ramble and find its own best growing position. The section to the right, through a wooden arch way led to a small area where some edible crops were grown, several small raised beds were planted up with Courgettes, Beetroot, Climbing Beans, Lettuce, Kohl Rabbi and Celeriac, which were interspersed with English Marigolds and Tagetes. There were also pots with some herbs in and a small bed planted up with Black Currants, Rhubarb and Red Currants, also a lovely wooden Hexagonal Greenhouse with Tomatoes growing in.
I really liked this garden, although it was fairly small it had a lot of plants packed in and some lovely features. It felt like a very secret garden but with an elegant formal style.
I moved on to another nearby garden, it was called the Artisans Cottage Garden and had a much more informal style.
Originally created for the TV series ‘Geoff Hamilton’s Cottage Gardens’, but built on a low-budget so that the features could easily be copied and built by an enthusiastic DIY amateur.
The garden was shaped as a large square with 4 slightly raised beds planted with a mixture of Cottage Garden favorites and there were 3 long narrow beds each along the boundary fence in which climbers were planted to make use of the fence.
The information sign at the entrance stated that the garden reflected Geoff’s own approach, with the plants packed in and allowed to do their own thing, and find their own niche.
There were several plants of note planted within the garden, the above Hemerocallis I thought was particularly lovely.
One of the homemade features within this garden that Geoff was noted for were his home-made Obelisks, which he built to add structure to an area and to provide a means for plants to climb up. He built several wooden obelisks and topped them off with the ball cock from a water cistern and then painted the entire structure a pale blue. I found them quite amusing and very effective, but as yet, I’ve not been tempted to make my own.
Another feature that Geoff made for the Artisans Cottage Garden is a planted coffee table, he also built a small bench, seen in the picture above to go with the table. The table has 4 pieces of stone incorporated within it, this is to put your coffee cup or wine glass on a stable surface, and the stone is inter-planted with thyme species be low growing, and to give off a nice aroma when touched.
Geoff also built a wall mounted shelving unit in order to display some of the plants growing in pots as they seasonally looked good, he painted all his hand-made features the same shade of pale blue, and I really think they added to the over all design of the feature garden.
I could see that every inch of soil was being used, plants were allowed to spill over the border edges on the paths, I found this informality gave quite a homely feel, there were lots of Butterflies and Bees enjoying the plants.
There was a large Echinops situated in one of the beds and it was packed with bees foraging, and was fascinating to watch.
Moving away from this garden I had a wander about some of the other feature gardens, I noted that the individual feature gardens were linked with grass paths and some nicely planted borders, the effect was that you were walking around a large garden with smaller gardens situated within it.
Some areas had unimposing sculptures added, and I thought they were great fun.
I came across another of my favourite feature Gardens, it was called the Ornamental Kitchen Garden and was another subject for a TV series of the same name which aired in 1990.
The idea for this garden is to show how ornamental plants can be grown alongside Vegetables and fruit plants and still achieve a pleasing garden design. With edible crops being harvested regularly, it has shown how with succession planting a garden can always be full of plants, be pleasing on the eye and be productive.
On closer inspection….
There were beans growing up alongside Clematis, Peach Trees trained on the fences, and purple podded pea plants growing throughout the garden, the site attracted bees, butterflies and a mystery pussy cat who was very friendly.
The last feature garden that I walked through before leaving is a relatively new addition to Barnsdale, called the Mediterranean Garden.
The borders are built up fairly high with lots of grit added as the soil in this region is heavy clay. There is a lovely mix of fragrant plants such as Lavenders planted along side Eucomis, Ballota pseudocramnus, an interesting Eryngium planum ‘jade frost’, also some vibrant Escholzia ‘Californica’ .
The path was designed to look like a dry river bed running through the garden.
And I was delighted to be ‘buzzed’ by so much Wildlife.
I thoroughly enjoyed my walk around the gardens, and paid a visit to the adjoining plant nursery on the site where I purchased Penstemon ‘Geoff Hamilton’ as a souvenir of my visit.
I think the highlight of my visit was seeing that many of the gardens that Geoff created and designed for the relevant tie-in TV series were still just exactly how he left them, the plants and features as shown in the accompanying books and TV series where still very much in evidence.
I have many of Geoff Hamilton’s Books, and I think his style of gardening, where he shows how you can maintain a full and pleasing garden, that can fit into any size or shape, which can be achieved by gardeners of all ability’s and means, and a garden that can be full of wildlife is just as relevant to today’s gardeners as it was 20 years ago.