“ City: Woore „
Without any shadow of a doubt, I am not a gardener. I do try to take a healthy interest though, and I've picked up a little bit of stuff over the years and I know when to nod sagely when green stuff is discussed. Oh, and I know a bit about composting. But as far as knowing what plants, apart from rhododendrons, benefit from being in ericaceous soil and how to take a softwood cutting, I'm a non-starter. I leave that department to my beloved, who really does know her alliums. But then again, she wouldn't have a clue how to bowl an off-break, so there's a trend towards equilibrium there.
We do though, share an appreciation of the visual side of gardening; one day, our little patch WILL look nice instead of being a collection of pots gradually moving around the garden as a new bit gets done. Until the day we can sit back and just admire our handiwork, we'll have to make do with admiring someone else's. A few weeks ago in late April, we happened upon a little local gem, hidden away alongside the A51 in north Shropshire. We'd driven past the sign for the Dorothy Clive Gardens many times before but never been in. Then a friend went and told us we must go. We certainly didn't regret it.
The garden grew out of one man's desire to give his ailing wife a change of scenery. Colonel Harry Clive, local dignitary and businessman, started to clear the disused quarry above his house in 1940. Around half a mile of paths were eventually hacked out through the brambles between the stands of oaks, birch and scots pine now colonising the redundant sandstone workings. With the help of knowledgeable friends, the quarry was gradually planted up. Its sheltered and shady aspect was ideal for rhododendrons and azaleas, many of which survive to this day. Sadly, in April 1942 Dorothy Clive died although she did l eave a legacy in that she planted some of the early small plants now forming the quarry groundcover.
That was the genesis of what is now a magnificent year-round spectacle. In 1958, development of the area below the quarry garden was begun. This would become the hillside garden. Over the years, further additional tracts of land have been acquired alongside the two main gardens and other features developed. The gardens now cover several acres.
The day we chose to visit was bright, sunny and pleasantly warm; just right for visiting a garden. Payment is at the entrance to the very elegant and tidy car park; adults £3.80 with all the usual, although unpublished, concessions applicable. Children though, are included in these concessionary prices; which does beg the question whether they are actually particularly welcome. I would hope so as the sound of children enjoying their surroundings is one of life's delights. I must admit though, I can't remember seeing many there.
Sharon, my other half, has some mobility problems. She walks, albeit slowly and doesn't handle hills too well and as the gardens are quite sloping, we worried about finding a decent car park space. These worries proved to be unfounded as the car park extends almost to the middle section of the gardens and I was able to drive there and deposit her at a good start point. Indeed the top section is a disabled car park for blue badge holders. There are two sets of disabled toilets, too; one at the lower car park and one at the tea rooms in the middle of the gardens.
You can purchase a guide book at the car park; in fact I would advise you to buy it there and quickly turn it over as, by reading the map on the reverse, this will be the only time that you will be able to take advantage of the recommended walk which starts from the lower car park. Although this walk is entirely uphill so ma ybe it doesn't matter much! The guidebook is not totally comprehensive although it takes you along the main walks and points out a few of the main features as well as giving a good history. I would urge you to buy one though as the website only gives a taster. I think they were in the region of £1.50 - £2. Apologies for not being more accurate on that score
There are three walks; an uphill walk, downhill one and the quarry walk. It goes without saying that the uphill one is not suitable for wheelchairs (unless going about it in reverse as we did!). The downhill one will require judicious use of brakes in places and certain areas, such as the scree area would be out of bounds. There are plenty of viewpoints though for the chair-bound to appreciate the scenery. As we were proxy bound to start in the middle, we headed off toward the quarry gardens, studiously disobeying the recommended 'red' route in the guidebook!
What an apt time to visit this area. Walking along the path that runs around the rim of the old worked-out quarry, one gazes down onto a quite stunning vista of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and numerous other assorted shrubs. I am no expert on plant names so please excuse their absence here, there are far too many to remember but most are actually signed in the garden anyway, a welcome feature. Paths drop down into and emerge from, this wonderful melee and provide for the stroller an ever-changing cocktail of colour and form. The trees were not yet in full leaf so the canopy still let in plenty of light. The quarry is deep enough though that when viewing from the highest part of the path, one can look down upon the canopy provided by some of the smaller trees. The centrepiece of the quarry garden (centrepiece is not quite the right word as it's actually top left) is the waterfall. There is no natural watercourse so one has been created using re-circulated water. I t was built in 1990 and in the ensuing 14 years, the high humidity along its 20' staged drop has provided an ideal habitat for many plants. These include (and here I'm going to have to resort to the book, so please excuse me) Bowles' golden sedge and Corydalis flexuosa 'China Blue'. We did spot some rather nice looking hostas, which pleased Sharon greatly. (Nice to see that even theirs can get eaten, too!)
Atop the waterfall is a newish feature; a life-size bronze stag by Ben Panting (also responsible for a 10' - and in his case, very much larger than life - statue of Denis Law at the Stretford End of Old Trafford). Although striking and well executed I'm not convinced by it as I think it's out of place here. The most wonderful feature of the quarry garden I thought, was its capacity to absorb all sound except birdsong. Although there were people all about, they were seldom heard and often hidden amongst the shrubs; the natural bowl with the surrounding windbreaks means even wind noise is kept to a minimum. It is surprisingly tranquil for a tourist attraction.
From the quarry we entered the secret garden (again, from the wrong way) and found a bog garden, full of tadpoles and surrounded by rushes and irises. The pool was not an intended feature, appearing unexpectedly during the earth moving operations to create the secret garden area. It has since been very well incorporated into the landscaping. Here one will also find many exotic plantings including a gingko biloba, a name probably more familiar from its association with beauty products. From there we passed through a tunnel partially roofed with what, at first glance, appeared to be wisteria but what may actually have been something called +Laburnocytisus adamii, a graft hybrid of common laburnum and purple broom; rare and unusual. We emerged from the tunnel onto a me adow area. There is a gazebo here from which, on a good day, one can see Snowdonia, some 70 miles away.
At the northernmost tip of the gardens and the end of the meadow walk, some 150 yards from the gazebo and the highest part of the garden, is the belvedere, constructed in 1999. Roughly meaning 'beautiful view', it is not to be confused with the town in Kent where I lived for 18 years; the beautiful view from the highest point of which being,er... Fords of Dagenham. Visitors can sit in the shelter here and gaze out over the rolling Shropshire downland before heading off down the gentle slope, past the coppice woodland (on our visit carpeted with sweet-scented bluebells) towards the tearoom for a welcome break. On a warm spring or summer's day the tearoom will be doing a thriving trade and there may be a bit of a wait to be served. There are a few inside tables but most are set out on the adjacent lawn and shaded by parasols. Bag one and send someone else in for the victuals. As I didn't buy our refreshments, I can't say much on the prices but there were some very unfavourable comments made about the price of the homemade cake at £1.60 a slice. As these slices were of varying sizes, the moans were maybe justified.
Leaving the tearoom behind, we headed off down the slope towards the pool at the bottom. This area is mainly herbaceous borders, shrubs and trees so was not quite up to speed as far as colour is concerned. It promises much though and judging by the pictures in the guide book, will look stunning come late spring, summer and even through to autumn. The slope also affords some quite stunning panoramas across the local countryside as well as the gardens. I don't think I've ever been in a public garden with so many varied aspects; there really does seem to be something different around each corner.
At the very bottom of the garden is the large ornamental
pool. Again, as this was still early in the season, the marginals had only just started to develop. High summer should see dragon flies flitting in and out of the New Zealand flax and pampas grasses lining the pool. Even the gigantic gunnera was still only rhubarb size when we went . The lower gardens certainly do warrant further visits throughout the year in order to be appreciated. Turning and heading once more upward through the alpine scree garden, the dominance of the greens is broken by flashes of luminescent blue lithodora diffusa or 'Heavenly Blue' and the red of the New Zealand burr. As I said earlier, I am not a gardener and plant names are not my forte! A combination of the guidebook and google image searches however, has put names to many of the plants I remember, even though almost all specimens are tagged.
We spent a good two and a half hours strolling about the place and will do so again very soon. It's a wonderful oasis of calm; for instance it's difficult to believe that the pool is only a few yards above a busy main road. It was apparent that many people have taken advantage of the membership scheme as quite a few were seen just lazing on the many benches sited around the place, reading newspapers and enjoying a sandwich. As I mentioned earlier, its main quality, apart from cramming so many different garden 'rooms' into a relatively small area, is its ability to absorb many people comfortably; judicious use of hedging and subtle changes of directions of the many paths help to create this characteristic. The designated routes are cleverly designed so that even the wheelchair bound can appreciate the many beautiful aspects of this lovely place.
Take a look at the simple website at www.dorothyclivegarden.co.uk and the pictures below to see why we will be making visiting this place a regular event.
The gardens are alongside the A51 at Willoughbridge, just south of Woore. Leave the M6 at J15 onto the A53. They can be contacted on 01630 647237 or via the website. Alternatively, write to The Dorothy Clive Garden, Willoughbridge, Market Drayton, Shropshire TF9 4EU.
Oh, yes! And I finally realised a long forgotten childhood ambition - I got to touch a monkey puzzle tree! Little things?
Please note - Although the garden's address is Shropshire, the website insists it's in North Staffs. I'm none the wiser! What's a line on a map?