Gardens Illustrated
Portraits of Victoria in the Cutting Garden at Stokesay Flowers surrounded by Rosa Wild Rover ('Dichirap'), Digitalis purpurea, Geums, Eremurus, Nepeta and astrantias
© Jason Ingram

Stokesay Flowers: a rose-tinted vision

Published: June 15, 2022 at 2:06 pm
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A willingness to experiment and an easy-going attitude have served Victoria and Barney Martin well in their quest to establish Stokesay Flowers. Words Kendra Wilson, photographs Jason Ingram

Passing through the gatehouse at Stokesay Court in Shropshire, and winding through tall trees past the stable block to the sloping walled garden, it is possible to believe that you are entering another, better world. In place of tyrannical head gardeners of old, two very relaxed people use this acre for growing flowers that are described by florist Shane Connolly as ‘truly among the best in the UK’, grown with passion and flair and without chemicals – something that is self-evident on entering Barney and Victoria Martin’s benign kingdom, which is alive with birdsong, buzzing,and a clutch of feathery Barbu d’Uccle hens.

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When the couple took on the lease ten years ago and decided to have a go at market gardening, having lived in London and briefly in Shanghai, they were enchanted. Shropshire, too, seemed magical, and so was their small cottage where they planted an orchard, and added some sheep, and roses – and soon many more roses – both in their own garden, and for their business. Of all the luxurious stems grown at Stokesay Flowers, it is roses that are desired the most by customers. In their infinite variety, they give form to the couple’s modus operandi: “It’s all about the romance,” says Victoria. “All of the decisions in our lives and in our gardens are made on that basis.”

Stokesay Flowers
Stokesay Flowers © Jason Ingram

It is a narrow focus that allows a lot of freedom. Victoria, who was a professional gardener before moving to Shropshire, while Barney was a commercial surveyor, sees no romance in growing under cover, all year round: “We like the rhythm of quiet and sleep in winter, and waking up in spring.” They prefer to offer flowers between April and October when they are “properly” seasonal, supplying plants such as rambling roses, cut by the tumbling branch, if that is what is required. Even Pratley Flower and Plants, the British-grown cut flower specialists at New Covent Garden takes these unconventional items, as do “the discerning, bold, romantically inclined florists” among their clients.

Read Victoria and Barney on growing roses for cutting and head below for more from their garden.

Stokesay garden in brief

What Sloping walled garden with good buildings and a small polytunnel in the footprint of a former glasshouse. Where Shropshire. Size One acre. Soil Well-balanced, medium-heavy soil. Climate Sheltered by high walls and a stand of tall conifers on the west side, although there is a frost pocket in the central area. Hardiness zone USDA 8.

Portraits of Victoria in the Cutting Garden at Stokesay Flowers surrounded by Rosa Wild Rover ('Dichirap'), Digitalis purpurea, Geums, Eremurus, Nepeta and astrantias
© Jason Ingram

Clouds of Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ mingle with orange Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, leading the eye to rockets of tawny orange Eremurus x isabellinus ‘Cleopatra’. The arbour is draped with two young Rosa ‘Adelaïde d’Orléans’ grown from cuttings.

Stokesay Flowers
© Jason Ingram

An old pear grows on a west-facing wall, to which roses are slowly being added. The white tractor shed is currently the favourite nesting place for a brood of Barbu d’Uccle hens. Tall walls give shelter, aided by taller trees.

Stokesay Flowers
© Jason Ingram

Even before the door is opened, Stokesay Flowers is a picture of vitality, its sign almost covered by an enthusiastic Rosa Wollerton Old Hall (= ‘Ausblanket’). With plenty of green foliage, each flower colour complements the other.

Stokesay Flowers
© Jason Ingram

The walled garden is contemporary to Stokesay Court, built in 1890. Its ambitions were curtailed after only 24 years, with the beginning of the First World War. Compost bins on the east-facing wall were a project for last winter.

Vase of cut flowers in the work shed at Sokesay Flowers
Vase of cut flowers in the work shed at Sokesay Flowers. © Jason Ingram

For more from Victoria and Barney head to our piece on how to grow roses for cutting.

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Find out more about Stokesay Flowers at stokesayflowers.co.uk

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