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Trentham Trek

I was looking forward to meeting a fellow Garden Design student in real life! We met at Trentham Gardens: A former grand estate of the 18th century. The house was dynamited and abandoned by its family in 1912.

Fig. 1 Ruin

The garden was restored in the 1990’s and 2000’s by designers Tom Stuart-Smith (Chelsea exhibitor), Piet Oudolf (designed the Manhattan High Line) and Nigel Dunnett (Olympic Park).

We were greeted first by the Rivers of Grass. I loved the pink Persicaria, the blue Iris and the white flower whose name I can’t remember (Astilbe?) I frequently asked Olivia, the plantswoman of the two of us, ‘What’s this called?’ I have a lot to learn!

Fig. 2 Rivers of grass

I struggled to identify the ‘river’ – perhaps it was the wrong time of year to fully appreciate the flow of grass.

The former Victorian Italianate gardens were updated by Stuart-Smith to contain naturalistic planting surrounded by low box hedges. The yew tree pillars were retained. They punctuated the scene adding height while harmonising with the distant verdant backdrop.

I really like this mixture of styles – too much naturalism just looks wild to me (lovely but not a garden).

Fig. 3 Italianate gardens

On the cusp of Spring/Summer I don’t think the garden was at its best: It felt as if I was waiting for the full symphony of flowers to crescendo. My favourite parts were the Wisteria-covered Trellis Walk and the adjoining flower border.

I loved these colour combinations and wondered if I could replicate them at home.

On the back of the Chelsea flower show it was interesting to see the tiny show gardens with their quirky sculptures.

Fig. 8 Show garden

There is plenty for the non-garden enthusiast eg. sculptures, children’s play area and the woodland walk around the lake.

I loved the dandelion sculptures swaying slightly in the breeze as we entered the woods with their spring bulbs and meadow planting, designed by Professor Nigel Dunnett. I would love to return and see the meadows in their full glory of planted curved ribbons of colour-themed mixes.

Fig. 9 Dandelion sculpture

The Waves sculpture fits perfectly alongside Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s (1780) serpentine lake. The sculpture is a legacy from John Warland’s World Vision Garden at the 2016 RHS Chelsea and Hampton Court Palace flower shows.

Fig. 10 Waves Sculpture

The Trentham estate also has a monkey forest, garden centre, outdoor shopping centre with independent shops and restaurants. There’s enough of interest to fill a couple of days and if you, like me, live some distance away, the Premier Inn is practically on the site. You don’t need to be a Garden Design student to enjoy it.

I found it interesting because the hands of well-known garden designers have contributed to the site. I also enjoyed meeting a fellow student for a different perspective and walking around with her. Olivia was less keen on the mix of formal and naturalistic planting but had a wealth of planting knowledge I could mine. I would definitely recommend meeting your fellow course students if at all possible. I look forward to meeting more Garden Design students on future visits.

For information about Trentham Gardens visit


Main image and figs 1-9 courtesy of the author.

Fig. 10 by Olivia Evans

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