"Charis and Charismatic"

Members travelled by coach to Herefordshire to visit the gardens of Charis Ward at Abbey Dore Court and Sir Roy Strong's The Laskett, two wonderfully contrasting gardens in lovely countryside south of Hereford.

We arrived first at the plant lovers' garden at Abbey Dore Court, featured in recent years on "Country House Rescue", where the garden, lovingly created over the past 47 years is still run by 84 year old Charis Ward.

Although the sun refused to come out during the morning and with the poor spring weather making gardens everywhere three or four weeks behind, the huge variety of plants, including collections of allium, geranium, hellebore, paeony, pulmonaria and bamboo were admired. Charis was in demand answering questions when more information about a plant was needed.

The six acres of formal and wild gardens and the riverside walk to the littlemeadow arboretum over the bridge, gave an indication of more to come during the summer.  It would be lovely to go back later in the year when the herbaceous perennials will be at their best.

The sun came out during the short drive through the lanes to the village of Much Birch, where the group was met by the charismatic former Victoria and Albert Museum director, historian and landscape designer Sir Roy Strong.  He spoke to the group for a while about the history of his unique 4 acre garden, developed since 1973 by himself and his late wife, the designer Lady Julia Trevelyan Oman.

The Laskett was strongly influenced by other gardens they admired, including certain Italian gardens, gardens of friends and the renowed gardens at Hidcote Manor.  The garden has 21 separate "garden rooms" all divided by well tended hedging and topiary of mainly box and yew and connected by a labyrinth of pathways, with monuments and decorative features commemorating highlights in the careers of Sir Roy and his wife.

The gardens are looked after by two gardeners four days a week and they were helpfully on hand to answer questions.  The group soon set out to explore and could easily have enjoyed more time there, such were the delights around every corner.

Both gardens had a good selection of plants for sale and some lovely souvenirs are now planted in Wyre Forest gardens.  Both gardens were loved for different reasons; Abbey Dore Court natural and full of lovely plants and The Laskett very personal, formal, full of architecture and fun to explore. 

A return visit is very much looked forward to.

John Payne.

6th June 2013