On Saturday 14th May 2016. it was a glorious day of sunshine but with a cool breeze when 33 Members and Guests made the journey to Arley Hall.
After some confusion as to where the coach would park we made our way down the Pleached Lime Avenue to the Gift Shop, where we were greeted by the Head Gardener, Gordon Baillie.
He then took us on a tour of the Gardens, starting at the Cruck Barn, the oldest building on the Estate. He explained that, unlike many large gardens, the Arley Estate was still run by the Ashbrook family, with Lord and Lady Ashbrook having their own specific preferences. The great passion of Lord Ashbrook is Rhododendrons and he showed us some magnificent specimens with glorious flowers on the Furlong Walk. (Apparently the wood is very good for burning on a wood burning fire and so Gordon looks forward to pruning time as it keeps him stocked up for the winter)
We then visited the Herbaceous Borders, where he explained the history of the Borders and the curiously sculptured hedges in it: Probably the first Border of its kind planted in England. On one side is a large yew hedge and the other side is a brick wall that, in the past, was heated by fires on the far side of it to keep the plants warm. On our visit the sun was blazing and, protected from the wind, we had no need for fires.
This then led to the Quercus Ilex Columns, another avenue lined with these huge, clipped trees/bushes that take a day and a half each to clip; fortunately only once a year. We were given an amusing insight into how these structures, and other aspects of the Gardens, were dealt with in the past and in the present day.
A stroll through the Fish Garden, where there are no fish, through to the Cottage Garden, where Lady Ashbrook has more of an influence led us to the Walled Garden with its water feature (Again no fish). We finally arrived at the Kitchen Gardens with four beds for rotation of crops and a more formal exhibition area.
We were then escorted into the Nursery area, where the public do not normally have access, and were shown the huge greenhouse where they propagate 40,000-50,000 plants a year. There is an original melon pit, which is a listed structure and not currently in use and a poly tunnel used for Dahlias.
Everyone was then issued with a Laurentia plug plant to grow on for the August Show, with a chance to win the President's Shield.
Throughout the visit Gordon was a mine of information and amusing anecdotes regarding the workings of the Estate over the years, including the wartime, when the Walled Garden was ploughed up to grow potatoes and the whole garden was generally neglected due to lack of manpower.
After two fascinating hours which seemed to pass too quickly we returned to the Gift Shop area where we were served with a well needed tea or coffee and biscuits.
Then it was time to return home to our own little gardens with our brains buzzing with facts and ideas to improve our own Stately Homes.