Musings on a visit to Barnsdale Gardens. 2013


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.

A Bronze Memorial of Geoff Hamilton created by his Son Chris.

A Bronze Memorial of Geoff Hamilton created by his Son Chris.

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. 

A wonderful archway of scented roses.

A wonderful archway of scented roses.

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.

The Artisan's Cottage Garden

The Gentleman’s Cottage Garden

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.

A Small but productive plot.

A Small but productive plot.

Beehive Compost Bin.

Beehive Compost Bin.

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.

The Artisans Cottage Garden.

The Artisans Cottage Garden.

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.

View across the planted areas.

View across the planted areas.

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.

Hemerocallis 'Cream Drop'

Hemerocallis ‘Cream Drop’

There were several plants of note planted within the garden, the above Hemerocallis I thought was particularly lovely.

Homemade Obelisk

Homemade Obelisk

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.

Planted coffee table

Planted coffee table

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.

Plant Theatre.

Plant Theatre.

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.

Plants spilling over.

Plants spilling over.

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.

6 Bees.? 7 Bees.?

6 Bees.? 7 Bees.?

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.

Planted up borders.

Planted up borders.

Some areas had unimposing sculptures added, and I thought they were great fun.

A focal point.

A focal point.

The Ornamental Kitchen Garden.

The Parterre Garden.

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.

Planted with Flowers and Veg.

Planted with Flowers and Veg.

On closer inspection….

Marrows.!

Marrows.!

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.

Mystery Puss cat.

Mystery Puss cat.

The last feature garden that I walked through before leaving is a relatively new addition to Barnsdale, called the Mediterranean Garden.

Mediterranean Garden.

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.

A Peacock Butterfly.

A Peacock Butterfly.

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.

Geoff-Hamilton-1

Geoff Hamilton
August 1936 – August 1996

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19 thoughts on “Musings on a visit to Barnsdale Gardens. 2013

  1. Nobody thought there would be greater tv gardener than Percy Thrower but when Geoff came along he filled the bill! The greatest tv gardener ever, a lovely person and a dedicated REAL gardener. I have hardly watched Gardener’s World since Geoff died. He loved to work in HIS garden at Barnsdale. I once read it took him more than a day to do his edging

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  2. Wonderfully detailed post! I love your picture of the Peacock butterfly. Was the beehive compost bin a success? Was it big enough, or is it only an amusing compost bin, with a much larger, more serious and less cute compost pile somewhere else?

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  3. I’m so glad the gardens are still in such good condition; it is easy when a gardener leaves (for whatever reason) that the atmosphere of the place is lost. I admired Geoff’s style and commitment to gardening. The gardens you showed look the same as they did when I visited in 1998 or 9. Thanks for reminding me about a truely wonderful person

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  4. I should love to visit Barnsdale. His ‘Cottage Gardens’ is one of my favourite gardening books and I once built the rose arch featured above in the Artisan’s garden. (I then sold the house and the new owners took it down. Good to see that Geoff’s, at least, is still standing). Dave

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  5. It’s good to see views of Barnsdale at a slightly different time of year, having seem them this year just last week and also in June. It might have been around August the first time I went as the hemerocallis were in full spate. As well as seeing the planting at a different stage, you have shown me some bits that I missed so thank you for that! I really like Barnsdale, and like you it’s not to far for a visit, particularly now I have realised that my RHS card gets me in for free!

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  6. Pingback: End of Year Review : 2013 | The Cynical Gardener

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