I am honoured to have been invited along to the Open Day at Bitterley Court, Shropshire, on Saturday.
Open from 11am - 5pm, admission is £6, Bitterley Court sits on the side of Clee Hill with beautiful views towards Ludlow and up to Titterstone Clee. This weekend brings a rare chance to tour the eight-acre garden with its many specimen trees, topiary, woodland walk and developing fernery.
The spectacular and historic kitchen garden, dating back in earliest records to 1766, flourishes today, growing an array of heritage vegetables, fruit and cut flowers.
The house itself is tucked away by the small rural village of Bitterley with beautiful views of the surrounding Shropshire Hills. In 1780 the grade II* listed house was 'Georgianised' by the renowned architect Thomas Pritchard who designed the world’s first iron bridge. Although the house is not open on the day, visitors can enjoy tours of neighbouring 12th century St Mary’s Church, accessed through the garden gate, which boasts the best surviving Decorative Period churchyard cross in Shropshire, thought to have been erected in the reign of Edward II.

Today the house is owned by Katharine and James Wheeler whose family have lived at Bitterley Court for over 100 years following the Walcots. Mrs Wheeler took over the gardening mantle from her mother-in-law in 2004 and as a horticulturist has lovingly continued to maintain and develop the garden ever since.

The kitchen garden has remained largely unchanged for 300 years and today grow heritage vegetables, fruit and cut flowers.  A large glasshouse against the south-facing wall was renovated in the 90s. The owners retained, however, the old Victorian fig tree trained against the wall in poor stony soil, restricting the roots which encourages fruit. Today’s glasshouse crops include aubergines, chillies, tomatoes, cucumbers and the more exotic bananas and cannas. A beautiful shocking pink pelargonium called Surcouf covers the end wall and flowers all-year-round. 

The thousands of annual vegetables and flowers for the kitchen garden are raised from seed in the glasshouse every year.

In the summer, dotted around the kitchen garden, is a collection of citrus trees including lemons, oranges and grapefruit. The trees are displayed in beautiful Italian pots from Impruneta where the local clay, called galestro, is fired at high temperatures making it uniquely strong with unrivalled frost resistance. 

In the beds bordering the front of the glasshouse inspired by a visit to Chelsea Flower Show in 2017, is a stunning collection of the painterly Cedric Morris bearded iris from the artist-plantsman’s former home, Benton End, in Suffolk. On the west facing wall is the long border affectionately known as the Beaujolais bed due to the largely magenta wine colour palette of herbaceous perennials. In the three facing perennial beds is an emerging collection of old roses including Kathleen Ferrier.

Thomas Pearson