Hill Close Gardens today
The restored gardens at Hill Close, Warwick, offer an extremely rare opportunity to visit sixteen hedged Victorian pleasure gardens, reconstructed to capture the planting and personality of their original owners.
The plots are very varied and individual, as would have been the case more than a hundred years ago. Generally there is a mixture of flowers, fruit – such as apples, pears, plums and soft fruit – a grassed area and a wide range of vegetables. Many of these are old varieties seldom seen nowadays. In one garden there are chickens, and occasionally there are pigs in the pigsty on another plot. Artists experiment with different materials to represent the Victorian era in yet another plot.
The new Victorian-styled glass house is used to raise plants for the garden and for selling in the nursery. In the summer there is a display of exotic plants such as hedychiums, eucomis and pelargoniums. An auricula theatre was erected in 2009 to display these lovely plants. It is then used to display other unusual plants throughout the year.
Changes with the seasons …
Hill Close Gardens offers a changing face throughout the year. There are snowdrops in February … fruit tree blossom and Victorian daffodils in spring … annuals, sweet peas and roses follow in the summer … and the many varieties of asters and chrysanthemums give a late burst of colour in the autumn. Flowers take the highground earlier in the year, but vegetables and fruit come to the fore in many gardens later in the year.
Plants reflect the Victorian heritage …
Victorian plants are to be found in one plot and pre 1900 snowdrops in another. The garden tended by Plant Heritage (formerly NCCPG) has garden cultivars which were at risk of disappearing from commercial cultivation or even faced extinction. Many are excellent plants which have just fallen out of fashion.
The apples and pears are a special feature of Hill Close. Most of the 63 different varieties were found when the rampant brambles and ivy were cleared away. Apple Day in October is a highlight of the year, when there is the opportunity to taste some of the more rare types, receive advice about the cultivation of apples and take part in other activities.
The Threatened Plants Project (TPP)
Plant Heritage, formerly known as the National Council for the Conservation of Plants & Gardens (NCCPG), has set up this project with the aim of identifying all known cultivars in British and Irish horticulture, starting with data in the 1987 Plant Finder; then to establish those which have become rare or threatened. The TPP is for hardy and tender plants, trees, ferns, fruits and seeds which come true to name. Hill Close Gardens has an extremely wide range of horticulture with many rare and ‘at risk’ plants, particularly in Plot 17 and the glass house.
Every year, at least eighty different cultivars are offered under Plant Heritage plant exchange scheme for ‘at risk’ plants. Many of these are beautiful plants, and only a few are not garden worthy. It is understandable that they are no longer grown or offered by nurserymen.
Nine HCG plants, including four heliotropes which are grown here, are now recorded as threatened in cultivation. Three plants have not been recorded anywhere else and six others are known to be grown in only one or two sites in the UK. It was indicated that some of our chrysanthemums are of interest to TPP but as yet the search has not been completed.
This project contributes to the UK’s obligations under the Aichi Biodiversity 13 for conserving plant diversity of cultural and economic value. Involvement in TPP is a national recognition of the valuable contribution Hill Close Gardens makes to the rich and varied horticulture of this country.
Something for everybody …
Local historians are fascinated by the information on families who once occupied the gardens. People can check out the records to see if their relations once gardened there. Children of different ages can follow special trails and find out about the biodiversity in the gardens. Gardeners discover interesting and rare plants and fruit, and an inspirational mix of kitchen and decorative plantings. Others simply find peace and tranquillity as they explore the gardens and summerhouses.
In addition, there is a new green visitor centre which is environmentally friendly in design and structure. This houses the Hill Close cafe which sells drinks and locally produced cakes, as well as a large Function Room ( Lammas Room). As an added bonus, there is the opportunity to buy plants, seasonal produce and fruit grown in the Plant Nursery.
The Lammas Room
“Lammas” is derived from Old English hlaf-mæsse, meaning ‘loaf-mass’ and is celebrated on August 1st (the Feast of St Peter and St Vincula in the Roman Calendar). The early English church observed it as a harvest festival at which loaves of bread made from flour from the first ripe corn were consecrated.
Lammas lands, or Lammas fields, were areas of arable land which became common pasture from the time crops were harvested to the following spring, enabling local people to graze their animals there over winter. The area of land lying under the north side of Warwick Racecourse and Warwick Golf Course was Lammas land (or Lammas field). The remains of ridge and furrow ploughing can still be seen if you look carefully.
The Lammas & District Residents Association, who played an important role in the preservation of Hill Close Gardens, recognise the Lammas land in their title. In 2007 Hill Close Gardens Trust decided to call the main room in the Centre the Lammas Room.
Celebrating Lammas Day in the Visitor Centre
In the Summer of 2010, on Sunday 1 August, the practice of baking the Lammas loaf was reinstated. Freshly baked bread, using traditionally milled grain from Charlecote Mill, was available in the Lammas Room, enabling visitors to enjoy a slice of history! To complete the picture, a Harvest Festival Sheaf Loaf was specially baked for the centrepiece.