Waterperry Gardens was established in 1932 by Beatrix Havergal as the Waterperry School of Horticulture, a residential horticultural college for women which existed until 1971.
Only a 10 minute drive from the M40, the approach to the gardens is through the delightful village of Waterperry. Parking is directly beside the plant centre which you have to go through in order to access the garden. As a first time visitor I found negotiating the shop and plant centre slightly confusing; it was unclear where to pay for the entry ticket and it was a bit of a trek going through the plant centre and circumnavigating a gift shop before finally arriving at the entrance to the garden itself.
The 8 acre gardens consist of a Formal Garden, the Mary Rose Garden, a Waterlily Canal and the famous Long Herbaceous Border as well as a small arboretum in the meadow area beyond the formal gardens. Waterperry is mainly famed for its late-summer opulence and a winter visit is more about enjoying the grounds and of course the snowdrops of which there are approximately 60 varieties.
Snowdrops line the path leading to the main garden, each variety neatly labelled. A bark path leads to the water meadow arboretum where thousands of snowdrops have naturalised and visitors are encouraged to wander over the little white bridge and across the meadow to inspect the carpet of white.
Elsewhere, the bones of the garden are revealed with yew hedging, topiary and the skeletal forms of meticulously trained apple trees giving structure in the winter months. The gardens produce their own apple juice from these trees in addition to the 5 acres of orchards on-site; the juice is available to buy in the shop. The beds that froth so luxuriantly in the summer months are dormant, save for the snowdrops and a purple scattering of crocuses.
The formal garden, enclosed within the protective arms of yew hedging, is designed to look good throughout the year with structured topiary cones and a knot garden giving shape for summer colour to complement.
The National Collection of Kabschia Saxifrages is contained at Waterperry. Displayed in raised beds amongst Canadian stone, this extensive collection of delicate little alpine cushions attracts Saxifrage fanatics from across the country. Adrian Young, the curator of the collection organises a Saxifrage event each March when the plants are flowering and looking their best. Saxifrages originate from mountainous areas and adapt well to the British climate although Adrian reports that they do require a little protection at certain times of year. This year’s Saxifraga event is on 24th March.
I particularly enjoyed browsing around the small but perfect Museum of Rural Life which is housed in an 18th-century granary building. The amazing display of antique garden and agricultural tools, implements and photographs could potentially be a visit in itself, so interesting was the collection, presided over by collector Gordon Dempster who enthusiastically guided us around his exhibits which also included brewing equipment and horseshoes.
Dogs are only permitted in the plant shop area and sadly we did not have time to sample the tea-room which is housed in a former classroom. Waterperry Gardens is open every day from 10am to 5pm (5.30pm between 1st May-31st October). The Waterperry snowdrop weekends are 17th and 18th and 24th/25th February 2018.