It was perfect garden-visiting weather in late summer when my husband and I took advantage of the £10 Ralph Court Gardens token I won through OAPSchat. The clear blue sky was full of twittering swallows, and a light breeze meant it didn’t get too hot despite bright sunshine.
Wondeful bunches of grapes
Three acres of gardens surround the Victorian rectory of Ralph Court, which is on the B4214 between Bromyard and Tenbury Wells, Herefordshire.
The house itself isn’t open to the public, but there is plenty to see in its grounds. Cleverly designed as twelve interconnecting spaces, each with a different theme, the gardens feel far larger than advertised. There was a surprise around every corner, whether it was the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Mr Toad besieged by real, live chickens, a pirate galleon, or a dragon’s nest. The whole place is a real warren of wonder. At one point I became separated from my husband in the gunnera maze, an experience which made me wish I’d worn my pedometer!
One particularly clever trick is the way Ralph Court Gardens “borrows” the surrounding landscape by blurring its outer boundaries with thick, lush planting. You can’t see where the garden ends, and the countryside beyond it begins.
There was so much going on it’s difficult to choose a favourite spot. I particularly liked the Italian garden. Its big water feature is linked to a soundtrack of classical music, which makes the fountains dance. The Italian garden’s miniature campanile and well-trained grape vine (complete with bunches of fruit) were perfect.
Jack- in- the Green
Jack-in-the Green was another highlight of our visit, but be warned. This garden statue isn’t all he seems. Saying too much would spoil the surprise, but the giggling parents and grandparents lined up with cameras were having a whale of a time taking pictures of their children!
Ralph Court Gardens are wheelchair-friendly, although in a few places billowing plants make access a bit narrow. For walkers, the paths of either chopped bark or slip-free wood are comfortable underfoot. There are plenty of places to sit, with each perch carefully sited to give a good view, whether of plants, the gardens as a whole or the Malvern hills beyond.
There are lots of ideas here for gardeners, whether you have rolling acres or a windowbox. The close tropical planting of the African garden really gave the illusion of jungle. It made me keen to invest in some plants with bold foliage for my own garden. I loved, too, the big containers of coleus, sited beside the restaurant. The bright colours of this plant and its toothed leaves give it the common name of Flame Nettle.
Don’t worry, it’s no relation to the painful garden pest, and totally stingless.
The bold red and gold splashed leaves of the coleus on display at Ralph Court were like a painted bonfire. Coleus are easily grown from seed as a tender annual. Pinch the growing tips out regularly they’ll live happily in a 15cm (6”) pot on your windowsill.
We ended our visit to Ralph Court Gardens with tea and cake in the restaurant. Above us sat Phileas Fogg in his balloon basket, straight out of the pages of Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days.