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Winterbourne House and Kiftsgate Court Garden

We organised two social ‘get togethers’ for members this summer.

The first in June was to Winterbourne House, one of the last surviving examples of an Edwardian Arts and Crafts suburban villa and garden in Birmingham. The garden was lovingly created by the homeowners, Margaret and John Nettlefold, the industrialist of GKN fame. They used the books of Gertrude Jekyll as their inspiration.

The garden was extended and developed by a subsequent owner, John Nicolson. An avid gardener he bought such features as the Japanese bridge and scree garden to Winterbourne, adding to the botanical garden with its plants from all over the world. One exciting feature pointed out to us by our guide Leanne, was the carnivorous glasshouse, containing dozens of mainly fly and bug eating plants! The restored wall garden complete with crinkle crankle wall was a riot of rainbow shades and the woodland walk beyond the original sandstone rock garden through gunnera and rhododendrons was shady delight.

We had lunch in the old potting shed before been given free rein around the house. Designed to be cutting edge with all modern conveniences such as electric lighting and hot running water, the rooms were light and airy many with views over the gardens. Whilst little was known of how the interiors might have looked in the Nettlefold’s day, I think the consensus of our party was that the University of Birmingham (the current owners) had done an excellent job recreating a period feel, with William Morris print wallpapers and furnishings from the early 1920s.

Our July visit was to Kiftsgate Court gardens. And how lucky it was we beat Monty Don and the BBC’s Gardeners World team to it, because I went back the other day and it was packed.

Created by Heather Muir in the 1920s and carried on by two women gardeners, Diany Binny and now Anne Chamber, Kiftsgate is a wonderful example of a garden with a distinctive feminine feel: a garden that has developed organically rather than everything planned.

We were lucky to be given a short talk by the present owner explaining a little about the garden and its history. We numbered thirty four and most went on an impromptu guided tour with Christabel Watson (and huge thanks to Christabel for undertaking this role which was hugely enjoyed by this majority who followed her) while others just wandered through the various gardens within the garden – the wild garden, the four square and terrace, the wide border, the white sunk garden, the water garden….. . The eponymous rose was out, enveloping three trees – a wonderful sight of white flowers cascading to the ground.

Lunch was waiting for us, well deserved by those who had ventured to the lower garden via the steep bank.

Our plans for 2020 have yet to be finalised, so if you have a suggestion of a garden, a house or any place that you think might be of interest to fellow members, do please let us know!