Nursery of inspiration

PUBLISHED: 07:47 13 March 2015 | UPDATED: 07:47 13 March 2015

The house looks over the nursery

The house looks over the nursery


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

Borders have inspirational planting displaysBorders have inspirational planting displays

Set back from the road in Much Hadham in East Herts, Hopleys is a large Victorian house with five acres of garden and a nursery filled with row upon row of tempting plants.

The nursery, Hopleys Plants, was set up in the early 1970s by David and Barbara Barker. David was a GP in the village but his other passion is gardening and raising plants. With a large garden to fill, the couple bought a mist propagation unit to nurture their own plants and soon had so much they began to sell the surplus. They then gradually increased the range until they had enough stock to set up a small nursery. The couple’s son Aubrey became director of the company in 1980 and runs the nursery today with his wife, Jan.

In the nursery’s early days, 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 and caused so much excitement when it wass launched at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1976 that security guards were hired to guard the display. Soon the new plant, distributed by Blooms Nurseries at Bressingham, Norfolk, was available to gardeners across the globe. During the past 30 years, hundreds of new plants have been introduced by Hopleys and its informative website lists all the introductions.

‘My parents were great friends with Alan Bloom and were much inspired by his garden,’ says Aubrey as we admire the island beds full of plants, a style typical of Bloom’s Dell Garden at Bressingham. In the Hopleys’ garden, conifers and specimen trees form seasonal backdrops to island beds filled with perennials, shrubs and roses, including many stock plants. The garden has also been a useful trial ground for plants collected over the years from all over the world and for new plant introductions. Despite the exposed situation, no watering is done in the garden and plants thrive here, although strong winds and gales, including the severe storm in October 1987, 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.

Trees form a seasonal backdrop to the bordersTrees form a seasonal backdrop to the borders

In high summer the large area of lawn on the south side of the site becomes a perfect setting for concerts, outdoor theatre, picnics and exhibitions, while workshops and talks take place in the visitor centre. Aubrey and Jan, a garden designer, add new features and plantings each year to continue the development of the garden. Latest additions include a bed near the nursery to show off colourful winter stems and a copper water feature. 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.

Hopleys is a plantaholics paradise and Aubrey and Jan exhibit its treasures to high acclaim at various gardening shows, including those held by the Royal Horticultural Society, in the summer. Unusual, interesting and garden-worthy plants as well as many choice perennials are conveniently displayed at the nursery in sun and shade sections, while most of what you see in the nursery can be found in the garden borders. 
Many of the plants are propagated on site – the business side of the nursery is tucked away at the end of the garden – and Hopleys specialises in certain ranges, particularly campanula, diascia, euphorbia, geranium, helianthemum, hemerocallis, osteospermum, penstemon and salvia. 
To top it off, the visitor centre has a super tea room, opened in 2012, and the on-site shop offers a good range of gardening sundries, including the brilliant Hopleys Wavy Spade, perfect for cutting through ground, moving shrubs and dividing perennials, particularly if you garden on clay.


Hopleys 2015 events

Summer roses in a white-themed borderSummer roses in a white-themed border

May 9, 11am-4pm

Shrub and perennial propagation with Aubrey Barker. An opportunity to learn about propagation techniques including seed sowing, cuttings, grafting and layering.


June 13-21

Guruve sculpture exhibition in the garden.


June 14

Much Hadham Open Gardens.


July 25, 6.30pm

Open-air theatre: The Secret Garden.


August 30

Garden open for the Red Cross.

September 5, 10am-1pm

Garden design clinic with Jan Adams. Garden planning workshop including ideas on hard landscaping and plant choices.


October 14 and 23

RHS event: autumn colour in the garden, with lecture and garden tour.


October 17, 10am-1pm

Autumn pruning with Jan Adams. Learn methods of autumn pruning and put this into practice in the Hopley’s garden.


December 5, 10am-1pm

Christmas wreath making with Fiona Franklin.


To book tickets for these events and for full details, go to


Hopleys Plants

High Street

Much Hadham

SG10 6BU

01279 842509


The nursery and garden are open from March 1 to late December. Opening times: Monday and Wednesday to Saturday 9am-5pm (4pm November-December); Sunday 12.30-5pm (4pm November-December).

Entrance to the garden is free with donations appreciated, a portion of which go to the National Garden Scheme.

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