Springtime at Stoneywell

Joe Thompson, Gardener Joe Thompson Gardener
Stoneywell garden in spring

With an array of herbaceous plants and over 150 species of rhododendron, Stoneywell's four acres of garden are worth a visit throughout the year. But they come into a world of their own in spring - Stoneywell's gardener Joe tells us more.

When asked to write about the gardens of Stoneywell in spring and to pick out some highlights, I imagine (and I have to) that it's not too dissimilar to being told to pick your favourite child - a pretty tricky (but maybe not impossible task). For Stoneywell is not shy, nor in some respects subtle, at offering up its delights in the coming months.

For one, not only does Stoneywell offer an architecturally important Arts and Crafts gem in the shape of the cottage but we also took custody of a significant rhododendron collection sympathetically nestled, much like the cottage, in the existing landscape.

From the time of their moving in in 1953, Donald and Anne Gimson created much of the garden we see today, with the intention of creating colour all year round. This is almost achieved through rhododendrons alone with something in flower, often, from November to September. However when it comes to rhododendrons of course it is springtime that the majority of the 150 or so species and varieties are at their colourful best (shades recommended!).

An apricot Rhododendron flowering in May
An orange rhododendron flowering in May
An apricot Rhododendron flowering in May

While difficult to ignore, if rhododendrons just aren't your bag then the delights do not stop there, and I'd be foolish not to mention the sweeping meadows of largely native daffodils greeting April's visitor, followed by a carpet of bluebells in May, not only in our four acres of gardens but also in the eleven acres of designated oak woodland. Whether they be set against the young leaves of the copper beech or joined by the young vivid green bracken shoots - a photographer's dream.

Take a stroll through the SSSI woodland at Stoneywell
A path through the woodland at Stoneywell
Take a stroll through the SSSI woodland at Stoneywell

Add to that an impressive flowering wisteria rambling up the rugged cottage wall, an emerging prehistoric looking gunnera in our almost prehistoric ditch, two eye-catching Chilean flame bushes fully ablaze in May... And I nearly forgot the magnolias! If something doesn't leave you smiling I'm not sure what will!?

A white magnolia in flower when in bloom
A white magnolia in flower in May
A white magnolia in flower when in bloom

And then there are the simple and more subtle features of spring that I can't take for granted after a long grey winter... greenery. Surely there's no better back drop for the show-offs to do their thing than against a woodland of freshly emerging oak leaves or lush bilberry on the heath. And to finish off the tapestry a gentle display of soft herbaceous planting, growing by the year in the reinstated beds. If a plant can possibly be more natural looking than another then the winner would surely be the delicate and beautifully-formed Dicentra formosa f. alba - at a push my "favourite child", and one I don't have to do anything for!

Oak leaves amidst the covering of Stoneywell Woods

As for us gardeners we're always a season or two ahead, as we begin to prune the summer flowering shrubs of which we still have many to keep your interest up. But before we start wishing the year away I would encourage all to enjoy the fruits of our summer, autumn and winter labour - though if any garden had the mark of Mother Nature doing the hard work I'd like to think it would be Stoneywell. Ernest Gimson I'm sure would approve and I know you will too!