Blog Posts

Blooming deadly

Lady Auriol Linlithgow and gardener Andrea Atherton in the poison garden

Gardener Andrea Atherton takes a break from tending a large, beautiful Angels Trumpet shrub. She says she is particularly susceptible to the sweet aroma from the bold white trumpets which makes her feel ‘a bit strange’ after a while.

Some cultures have used Brugmansia (Angels Trumpet’s Latin name) as a treatment for unruly children. It has also been used to drug wives and slaves before burying them alive with their dead lord.

The intoxicating plant is just one of 76 different species of potentially dangerous plants in the Poison Garden at Bryngwyn Hall, in Llanfyllin, 12 miles from Oswestry. The deceptively beautiful but potentially deadly fenced-off garden is a project that forms part of Bryngwyn Hall’s picturesque nine acres of garden, set in 60 acres of oak-studded parkland.

The gardens have been developed by Lady Linlithgow, who inherited the derelict house and gardens in 1989; it had previously lain empty for six decades.

“A lot of the gardening was initially done by digger,” laughs Lady L, as she is known by all her staff and volunteers.

Catmint-Lupin-and-Poison-Ivy

Catmint, Lupin and Poison Ivy

Lady L and gardener Andrea have worked together over the past four years to gradually develop the gardens. The most recent addition is the Poison Garden which opened this year.The idea apparently came about when Lady Linlithgow got a bit cavalier in her approach to foraging and almost poisoned herself and guests in the process.

“After a foraging course, I was tempted to pop some delicious smelling tomato leaves into a salad. Instinct stopped me at the last minute and I looked them up to find that tomato was one of the Solanaceae family which Deadly Nightshade is also part of. Potato, aubergine and peppers share the same toxins too.”

The nine-acre garden also has an abundance of ricin, a beautiful but highly toxic plant.

“For many years we’ve grown ricin in the herbaceous border. I think it was my son who first remarked how many poisonous plants we had,” says Lady L. “His comment inspired me to create a dedicated Poison Garden including Ricin, Deadly Nightshade, Poison Ivy and many less obvious suspects.”

Angels-Trumpet

Angels Trumpet

With a backdrop of twisted juniper branches and a skull and cross bones at the entrance gate, first impressions give the garden an air of witchcraft and fear. But Andrea and Lady L laugh and insist that witches are barred.

“At the entrance, we have planted pots with box hedge which folklore says deters witches,” says Lady L.

Both women have clearly spent much time growing plants from seed and researching the science, myths and legends behind their flowers, berries and bulbs. Andrea is particularly interested in the fact that many of the poisonous plants also have healing properties if taken in the right quantities. For example, Aristolochia, or Birthwort, a carcinogen and kidney toxin, was once used to ease the pain of childbirth.

Many of the plants are common in your average cottage garden, such as foxgloves, lupin, rhubarb, peony and daffodils.

“Most of the common garden plants are only dangerous if you consume a significant amount,” says Andrea.

Growing dangerous plants means that the duo have had to be careful, not just for their own and visitor safety, but also about raising suspicious with authorities: “We have had to justify our purchases of ricin seeds to officials and we are not allowed to grow controlled substances such as marijuanas,” says Andrea.

In keeping with the rest of the gardens, the Poison Garden has resting places to sit and admire the peace, tranquility and beauty of the lethal flora. Surrounded by such natural beauty, you couldn’t feel further from harm.

The garden and house are open for tours, charity open days, events and residential weekends by appointment. Email enquiries@bryngwyn.com or telephone 07967 821191.

Golden boy

Darren Hawkes in his garden designed for Chelsea Flower Show

Darren Hawkes is at Shrewsbury Flower Show talking about the heritage garden he created for Chelsea Flower Show in May.

Dressed in smart jacket and waistcoat, he is stylish with a relaxed and likeable manner. He smiles naturally when talking about the Brewin Dolphin garden and its success in winning a prestigious Gold Medal.

Inspired by the Cornish countryside he now lives in, the plot became home to more than 40,000 pieces of hand cut slate, along with granite walls, the garden was filled with mature English Elms and familiar hedgerow plants.

The garden also featured an underground stream glimpsed through well openings. The layers of history in the garden and modern approach were designed to draw parallels with Brewin Dolphin’s history and heritage and its forward-thinking approach to business.

The gold-winning collaboration between the talented landscaper and UK wealth management company put the Brewin Dolphin garden up there with perennial Gold winners such as the Laurent Perrier and Telegraph gardens. It was one of only seven gardens awarded the elusive Gold.

“I was very happy with the end result and would have been genuinely delighted whatever the outcome,” say Darren. “But as judging day grew nearer there became a real buzz about the garden. People were talking about it and everyone was excited. We started to realise we had created something special.”

However, success didn’t come without some fraught moments, explains Darren.

“The water pump that powered the underground stream broke an hour before judging. It had worked perfectly up until then. We managed to get it up and running minutes just before judging.”

Creating a Chelsea garden is a completely different process to a real-life garden, says Darren. It’s a space that has to be perfect for the exact moment the judges enter with their clipboards.

“I consider it to be more like flower arranging than gardening,” he smiles.Darren

“There is absolutely no room for error. We ordered in 600 foxgloves to ensure we had 50 to 60 perfect ones, in exactly the right height and ideal shade of dark pink for 19 May.”

“Obviously, it’s very different to a real garden which you use all year around, not just for that one perfect day.”

Despite being a temporary garden, the Brewin Dolphin legacy continues on opposite sides of the UK. The slate is being placed in a park in Penzance while the Elms have found a new home in a children’s hospice in Stirling, Scotland.

Darren’s green-fingered career has come a long way since he started through ‘digging holes’, in what was meant to be a temporary job after college.

“I started working as a labourer in London with a landscaping company and loved it.

“I found it fascinating and was forever asking questions about everything; ‘What’s the name of the plant and this?’ Luckily the guy I worked for had lots of patience.

“After five years of developing the skills and understanding of gardening and building projects, I was handed my own project.”

Darren has gone on to create gardens across the UK, especially London and near his home in Cornwall.

Each project throws up new challenges whether it’s a 10m squared plot or offers acres of room to play with. Darren has to bear in mind what the client wants, what he thinks will work and what is logistically possible.

“In a garden the real work begins before you even start the project. It is 60% planning and design.

“In that time I can be very stressed and anxious. Once we start the digging I can relax.

“We’ve had to manage gardens with no vehicle access whatsoever and gardens that edge right up to the sea.”

Darren confesses that his own Cornish garden is far from perfect.

“My garden at home is a completely different story,” he laughs.

“I have two young daughters and the lawn is trashed from all their cartwheeling.”

For those planning their own garden project, Darren offers two main tips. Firstly, think what you want to use your garden for and work backwards from there. Secondly, make your own rules.

“It’s your space and should fit in with what you and your family want from it. Consider whether it’s a garden for relaxation or entertainment, for adventure or play.”

“Do you need a terrace area for eating out and sitting with friends? Or do you want a more serene space where tranquil colours and scents important?”

“Once you’ve decided what you need, then step outside your space and look at your garden from every angle; from the upstairs window, from the garden gate etc. Too many people design a garden purely from the view from the patio doors.

“Finally, Ignore the rules and don’t be frightened. Follow your instincts, pick up a spade and give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen? You might even create a truly special space of your own.”

Free gardening workshops

Meadowdale Nurseries in Telford has announced that it will be holding a series of gardening workshops – ranging from how to grow your own fruit and vegetables to how to create a beautiful hanging basket or container. The workshops will run throughout the year, with specific child-friendly workshops to take place during the school holidays.

editWorkshops-Mandy-Moreman-Sue-Hartwell

Mandy Moreman and Sue Hartwell

John Anderson, co-owner of the nurseries, said: “We have had a number of people come into the garden centre recently who have bought houses in the nearby Lawley development and have never had a garden before. It therefore gave us the idea of running the workshops, as we realised that there were a number of first-time buyers out there who would love to learn more about gardening.”

The garden centre say that they have also seen a significant increase in people buying seeds and plants to grow their own fruit and vegetables.

John said: “People are becoming more and more interested in self-sufficiency and we get lots of customers wanting help and advice on how to grow their own fruit and veg. The great thing is that you actually don’t need a lot of space and there’s lots of clever ways that you can ‘grow your own’ in the smallest of gardens.”

The workshops will be free, with just a small charge for any materials used. For more details, telephone 01952 502470 or visit www.meadowdale-nurseries.co.uk

Lemon Verbena, Rose Geranium & Thyme Posset

New gardening and recipe book One-pot Gourmet Gardener gives tips on how to grow your own ingredients from just one small pot to a single dish. You don’t need a veg patch or allotment, you don’t even need green fingers, promises author Cinead McTernan. All you require is a small patio, balcony, roof garden or windowsill pot.

Serves 4
Ingredients
Juice and zest of one lemon
150g/5oz caster sugar
2 leaves of lemon verbena
2 sprigs of lemon basil
2 leaves of scented geranium
1 long sprig of thyme
500ml/18 fl oz double cream
Handful of lavender florets

Method

Place the lemon juice and zest in a small pan with the sugar over a low heat and bring gradually to the boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the lemon verbena, lemon basil and scented geranium leaves and the leaves from the thyme sprig. Leave the mixture to infuse, covered, for an hour.

Pour the cream into a small heavy-bottomed pan and stir gently until it comes to the boil. Pour it into the scented syrup, stirring well to mix it, then pour the mixture through a sieve into a jug. Discard the leaves.

Divide the mixture between four 150ml glasses. Allow to cool completely, then refrigerate until set, usually two to three hours or overnight.

Sprinkle a few lavender florets and a young lemon verbena leaf over each posset just before serving them.

Courgette & Fennel Tart

New gardening and recipe book One-pot Gourmet Gardener gives tips on how to grow your own ingredients from just one small pot to a single dish. You don’t need a veg patch or allotment, you don’t even need green fingers, promises author Cinead McTernan. All you require is a small patio, balcony, roof garden or windowsill pot.

The book presents 25 recipes, from soups to salads, pickles and dips, to picnic food, suppers, drinks and desserts. All are made using your home-grown ingredients.

Serves 4
Ingredients
3 courgettes, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, the hard core removed, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
Splash of olive oil
Salt and pepper
Small handful of chopped parsley
500g/18oz pack of puff pastry
100g/3.5oz mature cheddar
1 handful marigold petals

Method
Preheat the oven to 200 deg C/400 deg F/gas mark 6

Put the courgettes, fennel, onion, oil, salt and pepper in a roasting tin and toss until evenly coated. Cover with aluminium foil and roast for 30 minutes. Remove and leave to cool.

Drain excess juice from the vegetables and mix in the parsley.

Roll out the puff pastry to about 20cm x 30cm/8 x 12 inches and lay on a baking sheet.

Score a line about 2.5cm/1 inch from the edge without cutting all the way through.

Scatter the roasted vegetables over the pastry and cover with cheese.Bake for 20 minutes until the pastry has risen and browned.

Remove and serve hot or cold. Scatter the marigold petals over the dish for a splash of home-grown colour.

One-pot Gourmet Gardener is by Cinead McTernan, photography by Jason Ingram. Published by Frances Lincoln Publishers in hardback, £16.99.

Dig, sow, plant & grow

SixoftheBestMay1. Emsa Garden Bird House from cuckooland.com, £25
Developed in collaboration with ornithologists, the funky bird house will attract small birds like blue tits, house sparrows and features a double bottom for good ventilation and drainage, and steps at the entrance to make it easier for birds to get in and out.

2. Thoughtful Gardener Garden Journal from Vinegar Hill, Shrewsbury, £15.99
Ideal companion for a green-fingered friend, the journal has handy file divided sections for each season and contains square, plain and lined papers for notes and sketches.

3. Burgon & Ball Shed Tidy from Silver Pear, Ludlow, £18.95
Tools, string and gardening bits and bobs can be kept tidy in this useful caddy which has divided sections and a carrying handle.

4. Floral Kneeler from Dobbies, £16.99
The stylish kneeler offers supportive cushioning for the knees and has a cotton polyurethane coating so the surface can easily be cleaned.

5. Bicycle Plant Holder from melodymaison.co.uk, £24.95
The vintage-style metal bicycle pot plant holder makes a decorative patio feature.

6. Garden Vegetable Signs from The British Ironworks Centre, Oswestry, £8.99 each
The traditional vegetable and herb garden signs have been cast in solid brass and have a midnight black finish.

Percy’s Shropshire legacy

Toby Buckland, local garden designer Lucy Walton with Margaret, Anne and Sue Thrower

Celebrity gardener Toby Buckland was joined by Percy Thrower’s daughters at the opening of the new Percy Thrower’s Wyevale Garden Centre in Shrewsbury.

The state-of-the-art redevelopment encompasses 100,000 square feet of garden and home inspiration and is just a stone’s throw away from the original site of Percy Thrower’s garden centre.

Percy Thrower’s daughter Margaret said: “During his life Dad inspired millions of people and he would be overjoyed to see so many people visiting the centre. My sisters and I have worked closely with Wyevale Garden Centres on the development of centre from the outset and we’re so pleased with the result. ”

Toby Buckland added: “Gardening is a fabulous activity and it’s a great pleasure to celebrate the opening of this new Wyevale Garden Centre, in honour of Percy. He was undoubtedly the UK’s first celebrity gardener and he has influenced me throughout my life and career as I followed in his footsteps.“

Percy lived in Shrewsbury for over 40 years, building his own house The Magnolias which subsequently became a frequent location for Gardener’s World. He opened the garden to the public in 1966 and this became an annual event to raise money for charity.

Local garden designer Lucy Walton has created a compact garden at the heart of the centre’s outdoor plant area. ‘Connecting threads’ is Lucy’s modern interpretation of Percy’s wish to inform and educate his local customers. The garden showcases traditional, contemporary, alpine and home planting schemes, linked using a mixture of hedging and local materials to merge past with present and contemporary with traditional.

Centre manager Chris Bridgeman, said: “We have been amazed by the phenomenal response from people locally as they have joined us to celebrate the memory of Percy, our local hero and gardening champion. Everyone really has come together to join us in our celebration as we open this new centre.”

The new centre will spark a love of gardens in all ages, combining shopping, leisure, dining and events where visitors can explore the store’s extensive range of plants, home and giftware, relax in one of two food and drink venues and be inspired to get their hands dirty in a new interactive learning space.

Staff at the opening of Percy Thrower’s Wyevale Garden Centre

Charity garden scheme kicks off

The National Gardens Scheme (NGS) in Shropshire gets underway in earnest this month with its army of volunteers getting ready to welcome visitors through their garden gates in aid of charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospices UK, The Carers’ Trust and Parkinson’s UK.

Local organisers have been busy distributing leaflets throughout the county and packing information packs for Shropshire’s garden owners, who very kindly volunteer to open their gardens during the year. This national scheme is run by a vast network of volunteers, which enables the charity to keep overhead costs to a minimum meaning that around 90p of every £1 raised goes directly to its beneficiaries.

“We had fantastic support in Shropshire last year”, explains Allison Walter, publicity officer for NGS in the county, “raising more thaNational-Gardens-Scheme-helpers-2015n £60,000 which contributed to a record-breaking £2.6million raised nationally. The National Gardens Scheme has been the biggest single donor to both Macmillan and Marie Curie for some years and is also now the biggest single donor to Hospices UK”.

The distribution of all the publicity materials needed to make the scheme work and encourage visitors is a mammoth task – over 1.5million leaflets are produced each year, plus production of the famous “Yellow Book” which is a major undertaking. The free Shropshire NGS leaflet is now available throughout the county at tourist centres, libraries, garden centres and many other outlets. Alternatively, please email: allison.walter2@btinternet.com for a copy.

“We do hope the people of Shropshire, and visitors to the county, will support us this year and continue the great tradition of fund raising for the National Gardens Scheme which benefits so many important causes,” says Allison.

The next opening of the National Gardens Scheme in Shropshire is at Moortown on Sunday 29 April, (2-5pm) (off the B5062 between High Ercall and Crudington); details of all NGS garden openings can be found at www.ngs.org.uk