Wildegoose Nursery would like you to get lost. Behind its beautiful brick walls, its creators would like you to immerse yourself in the sound of insects, to wander along paths as perennials tower above you, and glimpse, over hedges, other corners that burnish with late-summer colours, or tumble with vegetables. Then there’s a slice of cake and a cup of tea at a table tucked among the flowers.
Laura and Jack Willgoss represent a new breed of growers who are turning their nurseries into destinations, with plot-to‑plate cafes, courses and workshops, inspirational test gardens and a selection of plants to go home with. Twenty minutes outside Ludlow, the nursery is hidden within a beautiful walled garden on the Millichope Park estate. When the couple first arrived, the walled garden hadn’t been in productive use since the 1960s. It was home to the huge Bouts viola collection – hardy and scented violas, many varieties spanning back to Victorian times – which they inherited when they bought the nursery. A 19th-century, curvilinear glasshouse was just a metal framework with trees growing through it; and as for the rest of the garden, there was none of the original layout left, just two acres of wilderness. Laura and Jack, who met as horticultural students at RHS Wisley, had long held a dream of restoring a walled garden, and here it was: a blank canvas.
The glasshouse has been restored to its full glory and now grows fruit and vegetables for the cafe – from tomatoes and chillies to cucumbers and other fruits – as well as acting as a workshop space for courses. But the pair decided against a traditional restoration for the rest of the garden. “At the beginning we could see all four corners and we knew we needed to break up the design,” says Laura. The space is now a series of interlocking “rooms” divided by hedges. “There are intentional glimpses here and there into the next area to entice you, while also truly surrounding you by plants.” The result is a garden in which you feel utterly immersed, protected by high walls but with tantalising glimpses of the Shropshire countryside beyond.
There is a wild floral meadow, a jungle of tall perennials – including the North American sunflower relative, Silphium perfoliatum – and narrow winding paths that weave you down into the hot garden, full of fantastic scarlets, tawny oranges and searing yellows. “It’s wild, full of all those hot late-summer colours we love so much,” says Laura.
From here you enter into the central circle, which – instead of a traditional walled-garden design, with a dipping pond at its centre – has a circular space enclosed by a hedge, with a giant metal sculpture of an eryngium surrounded by the acid yellow umbels of Bupleurum falcatum and the purple spikes of Verbena officinalis var. grandiflora ‘Bampton’. This leads up to a new double border that frames the greenhouse.
“We wanted to create a border that reflects something of a meadow, in the way that certain grasses will dominate and then intermingle,” she says. So there’s a backbone of Stipa gigantea woven through with the slender, arched stems of Melica ciliata and Anemanthele lessoniana, growing between a succession of hardy perennials and annuals, biennials and tender perennials.
Every year, the couple trial annual and other shorter-lived plants, to find the best. “I think annual and tender perennials are wonderful, as they allow you to create a new garden every year, and that can be very freeing, particularly if you are working in a small garden,” says Laura. This year their test beds are looking at Cosmos; next year it will be Nigella and Scabious.
It’s a wonderful mix of sculptural hedges and informal, naturalistic plantings, full of movement, energy and joy. “It’s important to me that this space has enough for everyone,” says Laura. “It’s a haven for wildlife – there’s the odd mole, and a resident rabbit. It’s full of butterflies and bees. And it’s wonderful when people have an emotional response to it – I like to think we’ve created something spiritually fulfilling.”
Wildegoose’s favourite late-summer colours
Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’ A short-lived, bushy perennial, with cheery, daisy-like flowers with dusky orange petal tips and yellow and dark brown centres. Flowers its head off from summer into autumn.
Chard ‘Charlotte’ A wonderful ornamental vegetable with fantastic bright red stems; it looks wonderful with Tagetes ‘Burning Embers’.
Helichrysum bracteatum ‘Scarlet’ An annual everlasting flower in brilliant red that looks great with red orach (Atriplex hortensis var. rubra).
Patrinia monandra Wonderful big, flat heads of acid-green flowers, it grows 120cm tall and then seeds about a lot. Looks wonderful contrasted with other late flowers such as helenium.
Lythrum virgatum ‘Dropmore Purple’ The wand loosestrife is loved by insects. It is tall, never needs staking, and holds itself very elegantly, with such vibrant flowers.
Molinia caerulea ‘Fontane’ A lovely statement grass that looks good dotted through monarda and persicaria, and turns the most wonderful buttery yellow in autumn.
Origanum laevigatum ‘Herrenhausen’ The best of the ornamental marjorams, it looks wonderful at the front of the border, with its pink flowers.
• Wildegoose Nursery is open 10am-4.30pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday to 13 October.
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