Blessed with a series of ancient wells, Beckley is one of those quintessentially Oxfordshire villages with irresistibly pretty country cottages, a manor house (or two), community pub and a medieval church that dates back to Norman times. It is the type of village where well-established English roses and wysteria command exterior walls and where exuberant cottage flowers find their way between the cracks to greet you. On Sunday 19th June 2022, Beckley will be opening their garden gates and welcoming visitors to 15 private gardens for charity.
Beckley Open Gardens
Around 4 miles North East of Oxford overlooking the Otmoor RSPB nature reserve (where in the winter there are amazing murmurations of starlings), the village of Beckley bi-annually opens 15 gardens to the public to raise funds to repair the fabric of the medieval church.
A garden for all seasons
I had the pleasure of photographing one of the gardens (in a house a few doors down from the pub) in early Spring and again quite recently with the owners Bill and Marion’s daughter Helen who has been helping her parents prepare it for Beckley Open Gardens.
When Bill and Marion bought their house in Beckley 34 years ago, Helen says, “The garden was in fairly poor repair, with the flower beds full of invasive ground elder. A previous owner, the historian Robin Lane Fox, had written about the garden in his newspaper column and planted some of the important structures enjoyed today, especially the unusual Katsura trees that circle the garden, giving dappled shade from these beautiful trees.
Robin had made an important change to the structure of the garden from a sloping hillside into three lawns surrounded by flower beds, and it is this structure which has been improved and replanted by Marion over the years, introducing further interesting trees and shrubs, such as a twisted willow, amazing ferns and a wonderful dogwood tree that will hopefully be flowering for the Open Gardens on 19th June.”
More recently, Helen has continued Marion’s love of re-wilding and native plants, encouraging cow parsley and foxgloves, oxeye daisies and salvias. The centrepiece is an ancient apple tree where Helen says “bird feeders are visited by numerous blue tits and chaffinches, blackbirds and woodpeckers all nesting in the shrubs and trees within and bordering the property.”
Bee-friendly with an allotment box garden
Five years ago, Helen came up with the idea of making up ‘allotment boxes’ out of recycled wooden fruit crates for the voluntary work she was doing with refugees. Helen created a mini potager filled with herbs and vegetables offering extra nutrition and a connection to nature.
And in lockdown Helen took that idea to another level by creating a mini allotment in her parents back garden so that her mother could tend them, offering produce to neighbours who passed by on their walks which inevitably ended up in a good old chat.
Helen has painted the fruit and veg crates and lined with fabric to suppress weeds and filled with homemade compost.
Allotment box garden
The stone building at the end of the property is a 17th Century former farm store with hayloft, now used by Helen as her residence which also happens to be a wonderful sun trap. The exterior walls have this extraordinarily romantic shell pink climbing rose that embraces the honey coloured stone.
*Beckley Open Garden information
15 gardens will be open to the public in Beckley from 2pm to 6pm. The entrance fee is £5 cash per person (free to Ukranian guests) and free parking at the Village Hall, OX3 9UZ. The Church hosts the art club exhibition every year. The parish school adjacent to the Church hosts afternoon teas home-made and served by the villagers.
Helen says you can expect “other stalls dotted around the village in the driveways and gardens of residents including a book stall, toy stall, homemade ice cream stall and a wonderful plant stall in an amazing location at the back garden of the Manor House Farm which has a ha-ha with commanding views over the Otmoor RSPB reserve behind the property.
On arrival at the village for ‘Open Beckley’ you’ll be given a map of the Open Gardens and stalls. It is a very welcoming occasion when you can visit lots of cottage and more formal gardens, chat to villagers, go to the The Abingdon Arms pub for lunch so well worth a visit!”
Finally, as interior design is never very far from my mind, and textile design is often inextricably linked to nature, here is a fabric design that feels appropriate for this post. I have long admired this Radish design by New York designer Sarah Nicholas Williams of Radish Moon (available through showrooms in the US).
Sarah is an illustrator and textile artist whose radish design is in hand-illustrated ink and watercolour printed onto Belgian linen.
Thank you so much for reading and to Helen, Marion and Bill for giving blog readers a taste of what they might expect for a garden day out in Beckley. I can’t think of anything nicer to do at this beautiful time of year.
With best wishes,