Ilkley Open Gardens

Ilkley Gardens Celebrate 60th Birthday of the HPS

Worrisome morning temperatures, humidity and grey clouds foretelling thunderstorms did not eventuate on June 17th, rather the opposite, with a scorching hot afternoon under clear blue skies which meant visitors to 5 Ilkley open gardens were very glad of shade and a cool drink. And cake. (My half slice – family please note! – of coffee cake was the best I’ve had for some time.)

The 5 gardens were open to celebrate the Hardy Plant Society’s 60th Anniversary ( The Society was founded in 1957 by 4 eminent gardeners with a love of gardening, in particular perennially ‘hardy’ plants. Gardeners across the UK and abroad, all keen on perennial plants that continue year after year, find a common home at HPS. The opportunity to visit others’ gardens is always eagerly anticipated and the Ilkley gardens were a treasure trove of different sites, styles and plantings.

Sue Gray’s garden has an open sunny site and was abuzz with busy bees and plantaholics.

Anemone rivularis were flowering across the garden while an eyecatching yellow potentilla was perfect.

The plant stall was buzzing too,  and sales over the day added substantially to the £260 going to each of the 3 charities being supported – Martin House Children’s Hospice, Alzheimers Research and East African Famine Relief.

In complete contrast Vivien Dixon’s streamside garden was a cool, shady retreat with a secret path taking you down a short, steep bank to the stream, from where you could look up at ferns, spring stars like pulmonaria and epimediums, and a gorgeous pink wheelbarrow.

There was a strikingly tall tree with gnarly bark that had visitors discussing its variety.

David Barnes’ is well-known in HPS circles as a gardener with an eye for treasure and his June garden did not disappoint. With its myriad narrow paths winding over the entire site there are more plants than you can take in on one visit. Many local people took the opportunity to come into David’s garden to find out more, having walked past his road-side ‘cottage-garden’ long border on a daily basis.

There was a stunning shrub in flower and most commented on it. Unfortunately its name was lost so if anyone knows what it is, please let us know. Iris, ligularia, peonies, geraniums, euphorbia, cistus, baptisia, thalictrum, roses were just a few of the blooms on display.

One of the stunners was a pineapple broom, Argyrocytisus battandieri, whose fragrance on such a hot day was truly sensational.

A short walk up the hill was a garden with a far shorter gestation but nonetheless of great interest. Christine Varah took on the plot almost 3 years ago and she and her husband are developing the garden after 27 years of gardening in Cambridgeshire/N Herts, so feel they are on a steep learning curve in this strongly sloping garden.

On entering the garden your eye is drawn to both the yellow rose at the top of the stairs and the superb outlook across the Wharfe Valley to Middleton. Around the house the view into the garden is wide. Christine says the garden was full of shrubs so they have set about creating new beds and filling them with perennials.

The fifth garden was a secret dingly-dell of well-chosen trees, shrubs, climbers and herbaceous plants all mingling in a casual, stylish array.

Janice Thomson and her husband are obviously a perfect gardening team – planting combinations and garden structures are all perfectly harmonised to create a garden that invites you to sit and linger.

A wildlife pond is fringed with iris and then further away a climbing rose (‘Phyllis Bide’?) in full bloom catches the eye.

In the front dell, white barked birches set the tone in this Ilkley woodland.

Thanks must be given to the many local HPS members who helped contribute to this success and to Sue Gray who coordinated the event. It was a garden visiting fiesta that truly honoured the Hardy Plant Society’s 60th anniversary with a variety of garden styles, breadth of planting, and imagination and hard work put in by the 5 sets of garden owners. If you get the chance to visit any of these gardens, jump at it.