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As promised we visited the Quinta Arboretum at Swettenham today. It took us a while to find it – DO NOT follow the SatNav – the guide book should definitely carry this warning. For the first time ever I saw a sign reading “SATNAV warning” at the entrance to the narrow, unadopted and, most importantly, dead end lane I was being directed down. Just head for Swettenham and the (eventually) well signposted Swettenham Arms. The Arboretum is equally discreetly signposted but unless you arrive early in the day like us, the steady trickle of visitors would give you a clue as to where to go. Payment is on a trust basis, which is really refreshing and it’s very good value at just £2.50 per adult.
This informal approach is evident throughout the garden. There are no signposts to guide you, you just meander around, going wherever the fancy takes you and you’re fairly sure to see everything. A map at the beginning would help – there were useful information points about the flora and fauna at key points and a map of the whole garden would ensure that you take everything in. We picked up a booklet about walks in the area in the pub afterwards and its map of the Quinta Arboretum revealed that we had missed out the “39 steps” and the Cockpit at the far reaches of the garden. I probably would have reached them had I been exploring on my own, but Sam’s camera battery and his attention span had run out and we turned back just before this part.
Clumps of bluebells (my first of the year) provided splashes of vivid blue, white and pale lilac throughout the woodland. Although I love the traditional drifts of blue that carpet woodland at this time of year, the three colours compliment each other so well against green and the flowers are equally perfectly bell shaped and beautiful whatever their colour. The promised bank of bluebells (in the Cheshire Gardens Guide) was pretty, but hard to access to get any nice shots, so I just enjoyed looking at it instead.
But what really lifted my spirits and caused me time and again to raise my lens was the marvellous array of trees. All sorts of bark, knots, whorls, gnarled shapes, leaves, buds, imposing stance, delicate blossom, fragrance, scale, shape… so much to take in and so much to captivate. Sam, 7, exclaimed, “Aren’t trees great, mummy. They help us to live and they are so beautiful!” Now Sam isn’t normally given to girlie statements but he really seemed to appreciate all the different trees. We had armed him and Abigail with a compact camera each to keep them occupied and they enjoyed snapping away. The collages at the end are entirely their work. My particular favourite trees were a cherry blossom with bark the colour and sheen of gun metal (prunus Taihaku) and the veteran oak by the pond, with its huge gnarled protruberance the shape of a rhinocerous / cat / dinosaur (depending on your imagination).
The pond itself was a real surprise – perhaps it’s nice not to see a map beforehand! It was a treat to suddenly come across this tranquil water edged by tall slender trees which were reflected in rippled lines on the surface of the pond. The sun was in and out of clouds today and the light changed dramatically from one moment to the next. I still haven’t decided which shot of the lake I prefer. Both the same but with and without sunlight.
Sometimes I find it hard to step back and view a landscape – my personal photographic style is up close and I have to remind myself to step back and look at the whole picture. This was easy at the viewpoint at the far end of the garden, a wonderful view of the Dane Valley. I like to crop out sky if I can, unless it really adds something to the image, and I found myself drawn to the way the trees overlapped each other, colours and shapes contrasting and complementing each other, when viewed as a vista rather than as individual elements. Another very eyecatching vista was created by the thousands of dandelion flowers in the plantation. Some might say that these “weeds” have no place in a garden, but I personally loved the carpet of yellow heads stretching as far as the eye could see.

As we left the garden a blaze of vivid blue caught my eye – well you’d be hard pressed to miss it. It was a rhodendron augustini and was staggeringly gorgeous.

Our visit to the garden ended predictably in the pub – almost certainly like the majority of visitors – with a glass of wine, a huge plateful of triple decker sandwiches dripping with prawns and marie rose sauce – and a lively discussion about who had taken the best shot. Perfect!

I shall make a note in my diary to return in the Summer and the Autumn to see the changes during the seasons – a good excuse to sample more items on the menu at the pub too!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I’d love to hear your comments too!

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