My series of posts last fall about our magical Irish adventures got interrupted, not unlike the way our trip to Ireland veered off across the Irish Sea to Staffordshire.
The taxi driver who collected us from the ferry in Holyhead, Wales, laughed out loud when we told him we’d come over from Dublin to visit Stoke-on-Trent. I get it, even if I don’t share his low opinion of Stoke. The Potteries aren’t exactly one of Britain’s hot tourist destinations, but they have their own charms—particularly for me. Apart from being where my friend Jacqui lives and generations of my motherline ancestors lived, Stoke-on-Trent is near a Piet Oudolf garden, at Trentham Estate.
If you click on the link to Trentham Estate, straightaway you’ll see a garden. This one. (Click the photo to boost the “wow” factor.)
Trentham’s Italian Garden, designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, is fantastic. As Stuart-Smith describes, “the living material of the planting seems to burst through the constraining geometry of the beds.” Other gardeners have called it mind-blowing, and I’d have to agree. But it isn’t the garden I’ve Dutch-dreamed of visiting for years.
My wild gardener’s heart belongs to Oudolf. His garden at Trentham, just the other side of the David Austin Rose Border from this one, is what I paid my £12 to see. And even though we were there at the end of the season, on October 18, 2018, Oudolf designs for five seasons, so I wasn’t disappointed—except by my photography skills.
The October sun was brilliant, and I was using my new iPod Touch. I’ll win no awards for my technical prowess. I hadn’t even figured out yet I could adjust the brightness on the viewing screen so I could actually see what I was snapping. The result of shooting blind was that many of my photos were in shadow.
Jessica, who documents her own extreme gardening and ancient-cottage repair at the top-rated UK blog rusty duck, kindly let me use the photos she took when she visited Trentham a couple of weeks before we were there. Jessica experienced slightly more colour in the Floral Labyrinth than we saw, but what she captured is close to what my iPod tried and failed to express. The next three photos are Jessica’s; the rest are mine. Click for a bigger view.
Most of the perennials had peaked and turned brown—one of Oudolf’s favourite flower colours—the day we were there. The grasses carried the show with ease, assisted by an incredible variety of trees.
Something I hadn’t realized before about Oudolf is the key role trees play in his designs. Most of the ones at Trentham clearly were there before Oudolf designed and made this garden in 2004. The way his design amplifies their impact and enjoyment testifies to his genius.
LW and Jacqui enjoyed their first tour around the labyrinth. Then they waited patiently for me as I wandered for hours. How wide, how deep are the drifts of plants Oudolf uses? was one of a hundred questions I hadn’t been able to fully answer by looking at pictures in books.
Nor had books prepared me for how it would feel to be inside the garden.
I made mental notes for when I got home: Plant more asters. A lot more asters.
Plant some amazing trees.
Don’t underestimate brown.
Something we couldn’t help but notice as we walked along the Trentham Lake trail was the faeries—they were everywhere.
Designed by Robin Wight of Fantasy Wire, the faeries are meant to encourage children to explore the gardens.
Several faeries hold giant dandelion heads, poised to scatter seeds across the lake. Believe in magic, the faeries insist. Make a wish and I’ll grant it.
I made mine years ago and I can affirm: Wishes do come true.
Now, which Oudolf garden will I wish to visit next?