The Avenue, Exton, Oakham, Rutland, LE15 8AH
Telephone: 01572 813200
Review by John Lea - Late April 2012
Originally the home for the BBC's Gardeners' World programme presented by Jeff Hamilton, this is a garden that my wife has wanted to visit for a long time. I was not so keen, 39 individual gardens on an eight acre plot must mean lots of garden rooms and in a country garden I hate them. Gardens in the countryside should blend into and draw from the scenery around them. But I couldn't be more surprised.
We arrived at lunchtime with a dark cloud overhead and rain spotting down as we unloaded my wheelchair. I dashed for the accessible loo, just a wooden garden shed on the outside but inside tiled and spotless. I then dashed through the spots of rain to the tearooms, again outside just a wooden building but inside was cleanliness, a good range of food and a terrifically warm welcome. Just after we had sat down a coach load of elderly people (some even older than me) arrived in the rain and dashed (limped and wobbled) into the tearooms. The staff seemed delighted by the challenge.
There were manual wheelchairs available but I didn't see any scooters. From the tearooms, we went straight into the garden and that was where my surprise started. No garden rooms! What I had not realised that this had been the garden to Jeff Hamilton's home and he needed a garden that he could both relax and enjoy an evening. He achieved that by creating the various TV Gardens into an over all design that flowed from one to the other. In fact, if it wasn't for the occasional plaque describing what that part of the garden was designed to do it would have been hard to realise that you are moving from one garden to another.
His son Nick has retained the original BBC Gardens but developed them in keeping with our time, and has extended the garden. The leaflet describes it as a "theme park for gardeners", and it is just that, but it is also a garden to relax in and enjoy.
The paths are fine gravel but sometimes you have to go across lawns to see everything, and surprisingly at the end of the wettest April on record, and immediately after a heavy shower, I had no problem crossing the lawns in my wheelchair.
The garden shop is also a dream for gardeners. No plastic toys or rows of ornaments - just gardening equipment and books with a good selection of preserves. Behind the garden shop is a superbly laid out plant nursery, plenty of width for a wheelchair and a wide selection of clearly named plants. On our visit, Nick Hamilton was busy preparing plants for Chelsea.
We enjoyed our visit so much that we called back there for lunch on our return journey from Norfolk. The staff in garden, tearoom and shop retained their helpful, welcoming smile and that makes the difference to any visit.