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Sunday, 26 June 2016

Two very different days at Easton Walled Gardens

Once upon a time, there was a large country house at Easton in Lincolnshire. Owned by the Cholmeley family since 1592, fourteen generations of Cholmeleys have lived here, but the estate has changed radically since the 1950's.

The gatehouse and stables are some of the very few buildings which survived.

The once productive and beautiful four hundred year old gardens had also suffered and by the time Lady Ursula Cholmeley and her husband Fred came to live here, the gardens were, to quote Ursula, "in freefall"

In a remarkable turn around, in 2001, Ursula began to revive the gardens and it's been fifteen years of hard and back breaking work. Easton Walled Gardens is now enjoying a renaissance which members of the public can see for themselves.

I've visited the gardens twice now in the last couple of weeks, and they've cast quite a spell over me.

I was here to record an edition of Down to Earth for BBC Radio Leicester , which is local radio's longest running gardening programme. Some programmes are like a Gardeners Question Time format where a panel of experts go to locations all over the county .Sometimes we have phone ins, and in the summer we go out and visit nearby gardens of interest both large and small.

For this edition,Derek Cox, a veteran nurseryman and garden landscaper, and Karen Gimson, a garden designer and I were taken on a personal tour of the gardens by Ursula, on the left of the photo below..

As you enter the walled garden, you're immediately seduced by the vivid colours in the Pickery, a cutting garden and intoxicated by the scent of the sweet pea collection. Ursula is growing over a hundred varieties .

We wandered through the Pickery into a series of small garden rooms, through the viburnum hedge and the yellow acquilegas which I haven't seen before . 

to charming little corners

and through to the alpine garden

But it's when you suddenly see the true scale of the mediaeval gardens, that there's a real "Wow" moment....three acres surrounded by the walls of the Tudor enclosures. Yew pyramids edge the steps leading you down to the bridge across the small river - it's such a glorious sight that for the first time I actually lost the power of speech for a few moments.

 All I could say was " Wow"

Ursula led us through the vegetable garden (such precision planting of lettuce by gardener Nick), with more sweet peas growing up hazel, past the asparagus bed and the runner beans

 to a lovely little spot for a ponder. And that's what I like too, the thoughtful positioning of seats and benches dotted around.

We wandered down the valley and looked at the eighty foot borders just past the river

before heading back up the hill to the proud turrets and what remains of the original house.

But there's still more to see...and although we didn't mention this on air, (we ran out of time) I was rather taken with the White Space garden

Karen Gimson, Derek Cox and I were most impressed by the gardens here...and it was a privilege to be there when the gardens were closed, to meander around so informally with Ursula Cholmeley and hear how her dream became reality.

Last week, we all returned to the gardens for a very different kind of day. Members of the Garden Media Guild were there in force for a Midsummer lunch and a tour. These were could tell by the size of their equipment. Huge lenses ....all the better to take the perfect photos with my dear. I hid my trusty I phone out of sight .Prosecco and chatting with like minded people who enjoy nothing better than being in a garden and talking about it was great fun.

After a delicious lunch in the courtyard, it was time to hear Ursula talk about her vision for the gardens and how she has transformed them.

Matthew Wilson was also there, a garden designer from Rutland, to talk of his Chelsea journey this year - he was awarded the People's Choice garden..Quite rightly so...

 We also heard about the exciting plans for Bridgewater, the new garden acquired by the Royal Horticultural Society, from Guy Barter, the society's Chief Horticultural Advisor. These gardens belonged to New Worsely Hall, a Victorian estate just seven miles from the city centre of Manchester, and like at Easton, the house was demolished after World War II. I 'd love to see this garden as it is now.

Another talk, this time from Laura Garnett who works for Perennial, the charity supporting people working in horticulture from gardeners, to groundsmen and tree surgeons. They help 1,200 people a year.

Once the talks were over, it was good to talk to two of the three gardeners. Stephen, the head gardener of the left has been working  here since the second season...he's been involved in years of  backbreaking work, but says it's remarkable what has been achieved.

All in all, a perfectly lovely day.

If you'd like to hear  Ursula Chomeley taking  Derek Cox, Karen Gimson and I on a tour of these wonderful gardens at Easton, then click here - the programme is available for the next three weeks.

And if you'd like to see Ursula  who's on the panel of a Quiz the Gardeners Event on 5 July in Fotheringhay then contact to say you are coming, or turn up on the door.

It's being held to raise money for the church in Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire, the birthplace of King Richard III. Bunny Guiness, gardener  designer and author  is also on the panel as well as writer and broadcaster Nigel Colborn. I'll be introducing them, and their quiz master Lord de Ramsey. It should be a really informative and fun evening. Tickets cost £12 to include a drink and a few canap√©s.It starts at 7pm. Why not join us?

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