The second day of April, and the last day of our Presteigne cottage holiday, we set off to nearby Hergest Croft Gardens. The 70 acre gardens, part of the Hergest Estate, lie on the England-Wales border in Herefordshire, not far from Kington. From the first moment you set foot in the place you know it will be a gardener’s treat at every turn. And how could it not be? Not only does it hold the national collections of maple and birch trees, it is also six gardens in one, created from the late 19th century, and home to over 5,000 rare trees and shrubs; every specimen mindfully placed and nurtured over the years by members of the Banks family, a dynasty of local lawyers-bankers-plants-men-and-women.
We’d hoped for sunshine, but the weather forecast lied. The day of our visit was overcast and, while the profusion of daffodils and magnolia cascades through the trees said ‘spring’, to this human it felt more like winter, the Arctic edge to the breeze lingering on and on, fingering into every exposed cranny. I was glad of my quilt-lined waterproof and woolly hat.
Here and there were signs of winter hanging on. In fact most of the deciduous shrubs and trees seemed to think so too; there was a general air of arboreal slumber, their hint-of-green looks (on closer inspection) often down to profuse colonies of lichens, which tells you something about the quality of the clear, fresh air up on Hergest Ridge.
In the end it didn’t matter if spring was slow to happen. The gardens were beautiful, and it somehow added to the pleasure of small finds: a clump of violets, some snake’s fritillaries, primroses, more daffodil and magnolia vistas, a maple just unfurling:
Of course all such visits to English gardens must include a tea room, and Hergest Croft has a very fine one with a suitably gracious terrace overlooking the lawns and parkland. The cakes were so delicious I forgot to take their photo (apologies cake lovers). I was anyway distracted by a burst of sunshine. That didn’t last long either.
But by four o’clock even pots of tea and slabs of coffee and lemon cakes could not fend off the gathering chill, and there was one final spot to visit before heading back to the car and the warmth of our Presteigne cottage.
The kitchen garden.
At first sight it was definitely still in winter mode, although the rhubarb was putting on a good spurt, the terracotta covers set out for forcing.
Then we found the orchard, an avenue of ancient apple trees, and beneath them an exuberant (if slightly mad) planting of bulbs and hellebores. I forgot about shivering and laughed. We’d been looking in the wrong place. Who said it wasn’t spring yet?