We are spoilt for choice when it comes to gardens here in South Shropshire. Stockton Bury and Hampton Court Gardens are two fine examples and should you want to ramble around two in one day, they are within easy driving distance of each other from Ludlow.
They are contrasts in beauty, where Hampton Court is large and expansive; Stockton is small and intimate.
The very best gardens are sanctuaries. Find a bench and get lost in reverie or find inspiration whether expert gardener or novice.
It is easy to find wonder in nature’s own literary form of colour, structure and scent. Plus, strolling around gardens is therapeutic.
Here are our top 4 reasons to love Stockton Bury and Hampton Court.
1. A place to lean and loaf
Gardens can make you hungry. Is it because the garden is a feast for the eyes and the soul, which then manifests itself as hunger?
Whatever the answer, cafes in estate gardens are obligatory. When done right, they often feel like an extension of their kitchen gardens. Personally, I like to know that some of the items on a menu are from produce of same garden I’ve just strolled around. Of course, that requirement only suits if there's a vegetable garden in situ.
Anyway, a good cafe can make or break a visit. Thankfully, the cafes at Stockton and Hampton are both cosy spots taking advantage of their lovely settings with great menus. Both have outside seating and at Hampton Court you can easily picnic if you choose.
2. Perfect garden landscapes
Aspirational. The gardens on show are perfectly designed. Gardeners get to show off their talent. But their showcase is your learning opportunity. To see things differently, what the experts would do, a visual tutorial, if you will.
It's easy to find a number of little touches that are adaptable at home, such as: creating a focal point, bold colour combinations, water features or even where to place a bench (shaded recess seems best).
Stockton Bury is a much smaller garden, but it really packs a punch in four acres and this is why its among our favourites.
There are so many things to admire. It’s home to a medieval pigeon house, a kitchen garden, beautiful water gardens, a mini maze and a greenhouse, yet it still manages to feel spacious. It’s got a bit of a Victorian feel with its elegance and tucked away nooks but it’s not stately or grandiose. Stockton Bury's perfection still feels attainable.
If you are a fan of clean, straight lines in gardens, the vegetable garden is positively militaristic and a must-see. All the vegetables like broad beans, lettuce, chives were all regimented in tidiest rows this writer has ever seen.
A royal splash
Hampton Court is equally lovely but as you can imagine to a different tempo and scale. It’s like Stockton Bury is the wild child and Hampton Court its more elegant and refined sister.
It has bigger open spaces to explore with luxurious garden areas like their kitchen garden.
There is a Wisteria Arch and Sunken Garden. You can relax and have a coffee surrounded by ancient Yews.
The kids can also get lost in the maze until you're ready to find them. A favourite area is the hidden pond garden, which is seriously verdant and lush.
3. Garden events
Gardens are at their busiest in the Spring when you have tours, talks and classes. Hampton Court is open from 31 March into Autumn when it closes in October.
Stockton Bury is open on 1 April and some delights on offer include a tour of the four-acre garden and a talk with Tamsin Westhorpe, who was a deputy editor of Amateur Gardening magazine and editor of The English Garden magazine.
The event on Wednesday 25th April (10-11.45am) begins with an illustrated talk before heading out for practical gardening techniques and to pick out plants of the season.
For other events and courses view here.
Hampton Court is running its first annual Photography Competition from the 29 Mar - 16 Sept 2018 looking for the best photo of the garden and grounds.
During the school holidays it's Easter-themed activities at Hampton Court along with circus skills and animal adventures with Trevor Hill.
7-8 April from 12:30-2:30 pm entertain your kids with an interactive, circus skills workshops followed by a circus comedy show.
4. Children and gardens
Formal gardens may be captivated to some adults but children just want to run around in them.
Stockton Bury is a manageable size for children.
At Hampton Court Gardens on a sunny afternoon you can have a picnic and relax while the kids explore.
A top tip if children are distracted or bored is to get them exploring on their own and have them take photos of (or draw) the most colourful or interesting things they see.
5. Garden plea?
Finally a plea for all gardens: please help a novice.
There is joy in looking at plants and rambling around gardens even if you're not an expert. It would be lovely if gardens could engage those of us with limited plant-based knowledge and add a name tag or too.
While it's fantastic that there are events aimed at amateur gardeners such as that held at Stockton Bury, for the majority some key information about plants on display would certainly be appreciated.
It could also encourage the young if they didn't have to stretch too far to find out what they're looking at. We are not in short supply when it comes to gardens in this part of the country but educating us is one way to keep us coming back for more!