A Wild Weather Joyful Garden Visit

by Judi Barton

 

As the 2022 snowdrop season draws to a close it is wonderful to have photos from my NGS Snowdrop Open Day visit to ‘The Poplars’, in Sutton-on-Trent. Located 7 miles north of Newark, the garden has been developed over 45 years by Sue and Graham Goodwin-King. The weather was unpredictable but at just over an hour’s drive I chanced it, and what a joy it was.

A most elegant repurposing of an old metal bathtub, landscaped to mimic a woodland scene. The snowdrop cultivars illustrated different forms such as the Trym type at the rear (outers that flare out, each with a green basal mark) at the right front a snowdrop with green inner and outer petals. All of the snowdrops and many other plants in the garden are meticulously labelled, a boon for those ‘who need to know what it is’!

The garden entrance lures you via displays of potted snowdrops, towards a covered sales area from where you turn into two courtyard areas overlooked by the rear conservatory. The path guides you round to a large lawned area opening out from the original front door of the house, past a small secluded alley that has been turned into a beautiful fernery, full of spring beauties including snowdrops of course.

In this shady alleyway along one side of the house a naturalistic shade border has been created and filled with beautiful plants. The wall climbers no doubt look fabulous as the year progresses.

The rectangular lawn is bounded with beds of roses and on one side there is an imposing columned walkway with pergola that must be a marvellous sight when the climbing roses are at their peak.

The formal main lawn with colonnaded walk to the left. The clipped cubes are a great companion to the winter display of snowdrops (above photo at left) and then in summer to the riot of colourful plants seen below left. Below right is a tall clump, Galanthus elwesii hybrid ‘Reverend Hailstone’, which is growing in the left hand border. The jungle hut roof is visible above the far hedge.

 

From here you move into a secluded seating area in a shady area of ferns and hellebores, guarded by an owl sculpture. The garden is full of sculpture, all beautifully placed as are the many pots of feature plants that are scattered throughout.

Above is the black and white garden, with guardian owl, just out of shot on the right. The seating area is very meditative.

A productive vegetable garden proves too good to ignore – isn’t it great to nose your way through someone else’s vege plot to work out what they do the same and differently to you? Next is an amazing mini woodland walk, entrancing with mature daphnes, clumps and swathes of snowdrops, arums, ferns and other plants that were tantalisingly just emerging. The photo below left shows one of many beautifully marked arums, while the photo at right is a striking black and white conjunction on the edge of the woodland area.

 

Contrary to garden lore, Graham says the daphnes are really strong growers in their garden. As well as collecting daphne cultivars he has grown many from cuttings over the years. The specimens were certainly impressive and even on a windy February day the fragrance was evident.

Behind this charming bird is a variegated daphne; other specimens in the garden were much bigger and all were dispersing perfume that was evident despite the wind.

Moving back towards the house you spy a quirky ‘jungle hut’ cunningly built into a mature tree. Adjacent to this is a really beautifully styled Japanese gravel garden (photo below). With a pond and interesting pine specimens this area entices you to stop and sit to take in all the features. Even in showery February!

Then back to the courtyard areas – two distinctive themed areas, the larger centred round what Graham called a bottle well (to do with the shape of the brickwork) they had discovered and restored (photo below – you can just see the flowering Acacia dealbata on the left against the sky and, at right, the tetrapanax topped with furry brown buds). Running water and a gentle wind chime provides charming background music.

This is the summer exotics garden (pictured above), filled with cannas and bananas for summer enjoyment. Catching the eye in February (photo below) was a mimosa (Acacia dealbata) that looked beautiful with fresh leaves and tiny yellow pompom flowers – but was less of a favourite with Sue and Graham as it has proved over-vigorous, suckering around the area, which seemed amazing. Another sight to behold was the tetrapanax with its brown furry knobbly buds at the top of tall thin fissured trunks.

The smaller courtyard area had a different feel altogether with a dining table surrounded by beautifully placed pots of galanthus contrasting with exotic flowering Correa reflexa ‘Marian’s Marvel’ while an exquisite camellia flower (Camellia japonica ‘Adelina Patti’ confirms Graham) adorned the house wall.

The Correa reflexa ‘Marian’s Marvel’ covered in flower at right in full view from the outdoor dining table.

 

This is Camellia japonica ‘Adelina Patti’ with perfect bud and flower, growing on the house wall.

The Yellow Book description of Sue and Graham’s garden says it is: ‘a mature ½ acre garden on the site of a Victorian flower nursery with charming sitting places and over 400 snowdrop varieties in early spring for the galanthophiles. The snowdrops are planted out around the garden and flower from November into early April. In February they will be joined by many kinds of spring bulbs and winter-flowering shrubs. Companion plantings include primulas, arums, dwarf iris and over 100 varieties of fern. There will also be displays of snowdrops in pots and troughs, showing the very wide range of flower shapes and colours as well as differences in foliage. Nine species are represented plus numerous hybrid forms.

Galanthus nivalis ‘Warei’

Galanthus plicatus ‘Diggory’.

 

Via the HPS Galanthus Group talk by Lyn Miles we heard that Graham and Sue’s displays of snowdrops were meticulously labelled. I was particularly keen to see this in the hopes that it would increase my knowledge of the details that differentiate the snowdrop species. I was not disappointed! The labelling system in both pots and the garden is really impressive with species and hybrid name plus evidence of the Goodwin-King’s own numbering system. What organisation!

The snowdrops in the rose garden and woodland walk areas in particular struck me as quite tall in plump clumps. Perhaps because of their more southerly location compared to my home turf of Yorkshire? Or perhaps because they are well established and grown in fertile soil? Admirably beautiful, whatever the reason.

This enclosed seating area is between the Japanese-style garden and the woodland walk garden. I found it a good spot to take a breather after viewing the many different snowdrops in the woodland area.

 

The photo below shows one small part of the woodland garden, with various winter treasures.

A final thought about this garden. It is impressive because, in spite of the many years that the Goodwin-King’s have gardened here, they have continually re-developed it. And even though they have amassed a huge snowdrop collection, snowdrops are not their only gardening passion. With an expansive collection of natives and exotics, it is obvious that they have boundless enthusiasm for plants and the skills to make them at home in their marvellous garden.

Images courtesy of Judi Barton

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