Members’ Open Garden – The Abbots House

On a bright afternoon last Sunday a small group of Herts HPS members gathered to visit Sue and Peter Tomson’s garden at The Abbot’s House in Abbot’s Langley. It was a real treat to explore the large garden, with myriad paths leading to many different areas, each with their own distinct character and atmosphere. Tall trees shelter the garden from cutting winds and appear to have created a kind of microclimate. It was noticeable that a lot of the plants were advanced compared to those in our own gardens, and several borderline-hardy specimens seemed to be entirely untouched by frost damage; three large Abutilon ‘Suntense’ shrubs were smothered in large, papery, soft-lilac blooms and the stems of an exuberant Grevillea rosemarinifolia were adorned with bunches of exotic, claw-like, rich red flowers. The borders contained many unusual plants and both Sue and Peter were put to the test as visitors asked for names of rare and interesting subjects.

Mown paths led visitors through areas left to grow as wild meadow, filled with Queen Anne’s Lace, bluebells, buttercups and dusky-pink sorrel. Beyond a long Rosa rugosa hedge was an area arranged with specimen shrubs and trees, the grass between them studded with masses of nodding cowslips. Cornus kousa displayed its large white flowers with aplomb; the layers of Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’, the Wedding Cake Tree, were enhanced by its flat, horizontal, greenish-white flowerheads, and the exquisite, pale pink flowers of a small quince tree held the promise of a bumper harvest to come.

There were lessons to be learned in shade planting from the Tomsons’ garden. Under the superb Snowdrop Tree (in full flower), grew a small thicket of Smilacina racemosa, its frothy white flowers pumping out scent all around, and a chirpy outcrop of bright blue Omphalodes cappavocica ‘Cherry Ingram’. Nearby, under a shady brick wall where the soil was dry, a mauve-blue Iris confusa was blooming like mad.

At the bottom of the garden, in another area left to grow as wild meadow, stood the beehives. The bees were lively that afternoon, and one breakaway swarm had grouped in a nearby tree, clinging to one another and creating a sort of ‘beard’ hanging from the branches. As we watched, the beard suddenly split and fell into two parts. Quite an extraordinary thing to witness. Apparently, swarming like this implies that the hive has a robust colony. In moving out, the queen is looking for new accommodation and back in the hive a new queen will be chosen. It is vital that the breakaway swarm is captured and rehoused in a hive as soon as possible. Peter went off to phone the bee keeper.

Tea, cake and biscuits were served near the house, where the Tomsons’ conservatory boasted a beautiful Mandevilla boliviensis, its velvety red trumpets strongly contrasted against glossy green foliage. It was a lovely afternoon for all who attended, and our thanks go to the Tomsons for their warm hospitality and remarkable memory for plant names!

Marion Jay

The next Herts HPS Members’ Open Garden event will be held at the Deacons’ in Old Knebworth on 7th June.  If you plan to attend, please email as we would like to have an idea of numbers beforehand.

Click on the photos to enlarge them, point your mouse to see the captions.

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