15. Derbyshire – Wednesday 8 July

Melbourne Hall, Melbourne
Lord and Lady Ralph Kerr

Melbourne Hall was once a residence of the Bishops of Carlisle, who may have considered it more convenient and safer to venture no further north. This explains the magnificence of the neighbouring Norman church. The original house was extended by two wings, that to the east, facing on to the garden was added in the early 18th century.  The gardens were designed in 1699, and laid out in 1704, by the royal gardeners Henry Wise and George London for Queen Anne’s vice-chamberlain Thomas Coke. He required them to “suit with Versailles”. The scale is somewhat smaller, but the proportions of the terraces bounded, by yew hedges, running down to Robert Bakewell’s superlative ironwork arbour, give it a sense of grandeur. The garden contains many good figures in lead by John van Nost and, at the top of The Grove, a formal woodland and water garden, is the spectacular Four Seasons Vase, given to Thomas Coke by Queen Anne.

The Church of St Michael and St Mary, Melbourne
Pevsner describes the early 12th century church at Melbourne as one of the most ambitious parish churches in England. While it is sad that the twin towers on the west façade are unfinished, the spectacular Norman interior is indeed worthy of a bishop.

The Dower House, Melbourne
Mr and Mrs William Kerr

It is a few minutes’ walk, taking in the church en route, to Griselda and William Kerr’s garden. William inherited the house in 1982. The family came to Derbyshire in 1988, but shortly thereafter moved to Hong Kong, leaving behind a totally abandoned garden. From the early years of 2000 Griselda returned for short periods, spending two years at The English Gardening School, then Broomfield College and Brooksby. Since then she has not only created a fabulous garden, which is a plantsman’s dream, but also written the most useful and practical gardening book to have been published for years (‘The Apprehensive Gardener’). The early 19th century house stands at the top of a slope looking across Melbourne Pool. On the highest ground is a woodland garden on the remains of a tennis court, below which a network of paths leads down banks of specimen trees and interesting shrubs to a glade and bog garden on the edge of the Pool. The return to the house takes in a large lawn surrounded by a rose tunnel, late summer borders and a bank of flowering shrubs at their best in midsummer.

Bluebell Nursery and Arboretum, Ashby de la Zouch
Bluebell Nursery, should you wish to visit it under your own steam, is a twelve-minute drive from Melbourne. The arboretum contains an extensive collection of trees and shrubs, informatively and helpfully labelled. The nursery has a very tempting array of interesting and desirable plants.