Rebecca Smith - Garden design & consultancy

Trentham Gardens, Stoke-on-Trent

I find it hard to simply drive from one part of the country to another without stopping. On Sunday, with a car loaded with cricket kit, food, and bedding, I drove my oldest child to Manchester where he will be starting his second year studying Chemical Engineering. We had a lovely evening, including a quick visit to see the planting by Sarah Price at the Whitworth Gallery, before an early dinner. The next morning I set off back to Hampshire with the empty car and decided to stop to explore Trentham Gardens which a client had recommended.

Purple Planting at the Entrance to Trentham

Trentham Gardens is, quite frankly, an amazing place. I was not sure what to expect and I certainly did not have nearly enough time to see most of the larger landscape. I spent hours looking at the two areas planted by Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith which meant I did not have time to walk the mile-long lake designed by Capability Brown. Something for next time. 

I started in the Floral Labyrinth which was planted by Piet Oudolf and features thirty beds of perennials set against a backdrop of  ancient trees. I felt like Alice in Wonderland here, the plants are towering above head-height and the effect is stunning! Very helpfully there are signs up which identify the hightlight plants, great for those who are not good at telling their grasses from their helleniums. 

Floral beds by Piet Oudolf, Trentham Gardens

It was fabulous to see these beds from the two raised viewing areas, the colours weave together and fade from blue to purple to gold and yesterday there was a good stiff breeze which kept it all rippling beautifully. Tall plants like Eupatorium maculatum (Joe Pye Weed) stand high above the grasses with their lovely mop-heads of mauve blossoms contrasting with the gold seedheads of the stipa gigantea. 

Piet Oudolf planting, Trentham Gardens

 The flowing paths are hidden by the tall planting and blocks of colour are repeated at different intervals along these pathways. Great blocks of deep orange Hellenium Moorheim Beauty contrast with the dark pink of the persicaria and the soft haze of the Joe Pye Weed towering above it all adds softness. 

Piet Oudolf planting, Trentham Gardens

Piet Oudolf planting, Trentham Gardens

Piet Oudolf planting, Trentham Gardens

If anyone can tell me the name of the crazy tall allium in the planting above I would be very grateful! The soft purple tones perfectly with the fading seed heads of the grasses.

Piet Oudolf planting, Trentham Gardens

Divided from the Floral Labyrinth by the Trellis Walk and the David Austin Rose Border, The Italian Garden was planted by Tom Stuart-Smith using no less than 80,000 plants. He uses a similar plant palette to Piet Oudolf , here it is done within the outline of a formal Italianate parterre garden. This works brilliantly, the formal water features echo the tall planting and the hard landscaping is given a modern edge through the perennials.

Tom Stuart-Smith planting, Trentham Gardens


Purple Planting by Tom Stuart-Smith, Trentham Gardens

Sedum Matrona, echinacea and eupatorium in tones of rose, mauve and green carry the eye through the planting.

Echinacea purpurea

Planting by Tom Stuart-Smith at Trentham Gardens

Yellow planting by Tom Stuart-Smith at Trentham

The planting grows warmer in tones as it moves away from the Capability Brown lake, with large blocks of  rudbekias taking centre stage at this time of year. 

Planting by Tom Stuart-Smith at Trentham Gardens

I found the planting at Trentham to be so inspirational and I regret that I did not have more time to spend exploring the gardens. I have also learned that I need to take my 'real' camera with me on the road as I never know where I may end up. 

Next week, I return to Hauser & Wirth with gardener Philippa Burrough of Ulting Wick garden in Essex for our annual day out. It will be my third visit to Hauser & Wirth and I am keen so see how the focus of the Piet Oudolf designed planting has changed since I was last there in June. 



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