OXFORD: Waterperry Gardens

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By Tim Saunders

Playing in the park while listening to opera. That is what the children are able to do at Waterperry Gardens in Oxford. It really is the first time that they have been able to do such a thing. Countless studies have shown how beneficial it is for children to listen to classical music and what a great way for them to start, if they haven’t already done so. 

There’s a picnic area near the park making this helpful for visiting families.

Despite changeable weather this is a fun packed day out. The rural museum is full of interesting objects from the past including a Victorian cucumber straightener, an old cash till once owned by the comedian Ronnie Barker and various items used for cutting hedges. Gordon the curator is a mine of information and has filmed short videos on youtube. “Gordon (Dempster) is just who you need when visiting a museum,” says Caroline. “He brings it to life.” She enjoys his demonstration of an agricultural device for scaring the birds which is simple but effective.

We love gardens and this eight acre estate is a pleasure to roam around. It’s not too large to be daunting and a great deal of work has been carried out here to make it as visually stunning as possible. It is home to the world famous longest herbaceous border at 200ft long – it is also stunning and classical in its design. It is not surprising to find that it is an RHS Partner Garden. Think of a flower, tree or shrub and you should find it here. As we savour our surroundings, up above us we spy a wonderful kite circling.

I have missed seeing dahlias this year as I forgot to sow any at home and last year’s haven’t returned. So it is a joy to see the variety at Waterperry Gardens, which was founded as a school of horticulture for ladies by Beatrix Havergal in the 1930s. It is still possible to come here to study gardening.

On entering the gardens the children are given instructions for the Alice in Wonderland trail and Caroline is given the prizes – we can’t queue due to Covid restrictions. This is an excellent idea because it really gets the children excited about visiting and even though it is raining they clutch their sheets and read carefully, Harriett (10) and Heidi (8) showing Henry (5) where to go. We all get lost but eventually find all the characters and the children each win a pink flamingo, “very in keeping with the story” Harriett reminds us. The trail gives a nice introduction to the gardens for all of us. We are then able to spend time in each part. At Yew Henge the children enjoy playing hide and seek. There are plenty of benches dotted about and there’s even a viewing tower. Waterperry’s ornamental garden is home to the National Collection of Kabschia Saxifrages.

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