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Much Hadham is a plantman's paradise

PUBLISHED: 15:12 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:25 20 February 2013

Interest from foliage colour and shape

Interest from foliage colour and shape

The picturesque village of Much Hadham is home to Hopleys Plants, one of the finest perennial nurseries in the country. With an inspirational display garden as well, Philippa Pearson discovers the tempting range of plants

The picturesque village of Much Hadham is home to Hopleys Plants, one of the finest perennial nurseries in the country. With an inspirational display garden as well, Philippa Pearson discovers the tempting range of plants

SET back from the road, Hopleys is a large Victorian house in Much Hadham with four acres of garden set in rolling parkland and a nursery filled with row upon row of tempting plants. Hopleys Plants began in the early 1970s by David and Barbara Barker: David was the local GP in the village and he enjoyed gardening and raising plants. With a large garden to fill, the couple bought a mist propagation unit to produce their own plants and soon began to sell surplus plants, gradually increasing the range until they set up a small nursery.
David and Barbara's son Aubrey became director in 1980 and runs the nursery today. In the mid 1970s, a chance seedling from a shrub in the garden became the talk of the horticultural world. Potentilla 'Red Ace' was the first deep red coloured potentilla ever found and caused great excitement when it was launched at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May 1976 where security guards were hired to guard the display. Soon the new plant, distributed by Blooms Nurseries at Bressingham, Norfolk, was available in Europe, Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia. During the last 30 years, more than 100 other plants have also been introduced by Hopleys.
As I walk around the garden, the informal island beds remind me of Alan Bloom's Dell Garden at Bressingham and Aubrey explains, 'My parents were great friends of Alan Bloom and were greatly inspired by his garden.' At Hopleys, conifers and other trees form seasonal backdrops to beds filled with perennials, shrubs and roses, including many stock plants. The garden has also been a useful trial ground for many new plants collected over the years from all over the world. Despite the exposed situation, no watering is done in the garden and plants thrive although strong winds and gales have reduced the number of broadleaf trees over the years. A few large oaks remain as well as a huge ash tree, the fourth largest in the country and measuring over 100ft high. The large area of lawn at the south side of the property is also used for concerts and picnics in the summer.

Despite the exposed situation, no watering is done in the garden and plants thrive

Aubrey and his garden designer wife Jan try and add new features or plantings each year to continue the development of the garden. Recent additions include a new bed near the nursery to show off colourful winter stems and a copper water feature. A new visitor centre is planned in the autumn which will offer more room for talks, exhibitions and a larger tea room. Aubrey, who worked in engineering before taking over the family business, has introduced engineering artefacts in the garden including some strategically placed millstones, all blending beautifully with their surroundings. Sculpture exhibitions often take place in the summer in the garden. Guruve, based at Stanstead Abbots and specialising in contemporary sculptures and art from Zimbabwe, will be transforming Hopleys into a sculpture garden for the weekend of August 8 to 10, inviting other sculptors and artists to participate in what promises to be a fantastic event.
At the nursery you'll find a comprehensive range of unusual, interesting and garden worthy plants with perennials a speciality. Plants are conveniently organised into suitability for sun and shade loving sites and many of the plants can be found in the garden. Most plants are propagated on site - the business side of the nursery is tucked away at the end of the garden - and Hopleys offer more than 6,000 different plant varieties, specialising in some genus particularly Campanula, Diascia, Euphorbia, Geranium, Helianthemum, Hemerocallis, Osteospermum, Penstemon and Salvia. Special plant weekends take place during the year, such as the Hellebore weekend in early March and lecture and demonstration events include an Autumn Colour weekend in October. Whilst at the shop and particularly if you garden on clay, do pick up the Hopleys Wavy Spade, brilliant for cutting through the ground, moving shrubs and dividing perennials.

Aubrey Barker's Top Six Plants
Abelia x grandiflora 'Hopleys' with pale pink flowers and variegated leaves has proved to be successfully hardy in trials at RHS Wisley


Philadelphus madrensis 'Manteau d'Hermine' is great for smaller gardens


Rubus spectabilis 'Olympic Double' has deep double pink flowers in May


Penstemon glaber is a free flowering compact plant, flowering from May to October


Salvia uliginosa grows 1.8m high with sky blue flowers from August to November


Diascia personata 'Hopleys' has pink flowers from June to October


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