Trentham Gardens

My kids and I spent last week at my parents’ house in Staffordshire. We had a really busy week and managed to fit in several brilliant day-trips, one of which was our (now annual) visit to Trentham Gardens near Stoke-on-Trent.

In recent years, the park and gardens have risen phoenix-like from several decades of neglect, after Trentham Hall was abandoned in the early 20th century. Boasting a serpentine lake designed by Capability Brown, and formal Italianate gardens originally laid out in the 1840s by architect Charles Barry, the regeneration has returned these important gardens to their former glory with help from the Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winners, Tom Stuart-Smith and Piet Oudolf.

Tom Stuart-Smith oversaw the transformation of the formal gardens. Within the framework of fountains, clipped box hedging and shaped yew trees are magnificent examples of naturalistic planting that combine perennials with ornamental grasses, lending a distinctly contemporary edge to this historic garden.

Piet Oudolf was responsible for the creation of the Floral Labyrinth and Rivers of Grass, both positioned alongside the River Trent, as well as the Long Borders adjacent to the formal gardens. The Dutch plantsman is renowned for his prairie-style of planting (known as ‘new perennial’) and his creations at Trentham are wonderful examples of his work. In the Floral Labyrinth, the paths meander past specimen trees and through drifts of blues and pinks flowers, which are punctuated by sensational hot yellows, reds, and acid greens. The Rivers of Grass meanwhile are more reflective with the muted colours and graceful movement of the planting creating a peaceful atmosphere.

On a smaller scale are the numerous show gardens which provide a heap of ideas for those of us without 300 acres to play with. I’ve always loved the potager, and based our vegetable garden at home on this, but I was also thrilled to see a new addition on this visit. ‘The Secret Garden’ by Reaseneath College was inspired by the book of the same name and has been recreated at Trentham after winning an award at the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park in 2011. It was such a delight to discover the gorgeous garden behind the rickety old door.

The kids were in their element too as the Barefoot Walk offers, more than anything, a bona fide chance to get muddy. The 1km trail takes you across a variety of textures ranging from mud to straw, via water, pebbles and logs. It was so good they went round twice.

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