Creative Planting at Abbeywood Gardens

A hot, but mercifully overcast, afternoon in August provided a first opportunity to visit a public garden since the Covid-19 pandemic came along to disrupt all our lives. The Abbeywood Estate is a popular Cheshire wedding venue, and its 6 acres of formal and informal gardens are packed with interest and inspiration. A delicious lunch in the beautiful surroundings of the Rose Garden set the tone for an uplifting exploration of creative planting.

The garden is arranged into a number of linked but distinct areas, each with its own style and character. At the farthest end, with views to the Cheshire countryside beyond, is an area of ‘Prairie’ style planting. This naturalistic approach is formed of grasses and flowering perennials planted en masse. The beds are arranged in sweeping curves with large drifts of each species grouped together, delivering successive waves of interest.

Flowering in August was magenta Phlox complementing the purple spikes of Agastache, and vivid indigo of Eryngium. Alongside, providing contrast, were the tall yellow heads of Fennel, warm blocks of orange Helenium, and the distinctive ‘red-hot pokers’ of Kniphofia. Various cultivars of Echinacea in pinks, white and green appear throughout the scheme.

With layers of height, colour, form and texture the effect is one of a woven tapestry. Wide and sinuous grass paths allow the visitor to feel immersed in the sumptuous planting, with each border merging together across the eye line. With such a rich feast of nectar and pollen available the air was alive with the buzzing of bees and fluttering of butterflies.

Although on a larger scale than can be accommodated in many domestic gardens, the planting here demonstrates the dramatic impact that can be achieved by grouping plants together in blocks. It also serves to illustrate the way in which structure can be created in planting through the inclusion of grasses and flowering perennials with distinctive seed heads. These principles can be applied in any setting.

Leading the visitor back through into the central area of the garden is an avenue of Cypress trees along with a double border of yet more sumptuous planting. This gives way to an area of cottage garden style planting which itself backs onto a path covered by a long pergola. From here visitors may be drawn in several directions leading to hidden seating areas, and other nooks and crannies. Design elements include the use of focal points, such as a large container, to draw the eye through. An air of intrigue is created with paths, and small gaps in the hedging which give a partial glimpse of the next area.

Here a more formal arrangement is used around a long, rectangular pool over which a wooden bridge leads visitors through the space. Again large blocks of planting are used to good effect with long rows of Hylotelephium over which float tall stems of Verbena bonariensis. Arts & Crafts style features such as decorative paving and ornate ironwork can also be found.

In a small sheltered area nearest to the garden entrance via an orangery is a riot of exotic tropical planting. By enclosing the space and creating a microclimate the opportunity to grow plants such as large-leaved Banana and Canna, dramatic spikes of Echium and flamboyant varieties of Lobelia, even in deepest Cheshire, can be achieved. The same effect can be accomplished in a large container placed in a sheltered corner of a patio.

Visiting Abbeywood Gardens provides great inspiration. It is packed with different styles and interesting features, elements of which be could incorporated into your own home garden. The star of the show though is the planting. Rich and diverse with beautiful combinations of colour and form. Something for both people and wildlife to enjoy.

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