Farewell Eastgrove Cottage
by Marina Duffell October 2009
On my arrival from London to live in Worcestershire more than 20 years ago, one of the first NGS Open Gardens that I visited was Eastgrove Cottage near Shrawley. I had moved into a modern, cottage-style house that actually had a small garden, my first for many years. Having joined the CGS, and with Eastgrove as my ideal, I was eager to create my own "cottage garden". I cannot in all honesty say that my aspirations have matched up to the perfection of Eastgrove Cottage, but it has been fun trying and, in the process, I have revisited Eastgrove a number of times, and have always enjoyed wandering, admiring and learning from its many features.
At the small but well-stocked nursery you could buy almost any plant you had seen in the extensive garden. For the price of your purchase you always received, gratis, from Malcolm or Carol a brief history of your chosen plant and invaluable advice on its cultivation, not to mention an enjoyable discussion on any and every aspect of gardening. And then there was Malcolm"s celebrated homemade icecream….
The reasons for my attachment to Eastgrove lie not only in the obvious enthusiasm and dedication of its proprietors. Their aesthetic appreciation of their lovingly-restored "17th Century half-timbered yeoman"s farmhouse" was the pivotal point from which they developed the surrounding garden, always with an eye to the views from every angle. The sensitive and always-accurate assessment of colour-blending, variation of foliage, texture and non-plant decoration provides both peace and drama throughout. The "homely" touches of hens in an orchard, with cyclamen-sprinkled grassy areas lend yet another dimension, as does the sympathetic blending of the garden borders with the greenness of the countryside beyond.
My visit in October 2009 proved, sadly, to be my last, as the owners now felt it time to "shut the garden gate" to the hoards of worldwide visitors. Well they certainly "went out in a blaze of glory". I wonder if other last-time visitors felt the same as I did, on a fading autumn afternoon, to be greeted at every turn by an unexpected midsummer explosion of colour.
Eastgrove Cottage in its quiet country setting has made an impact that rippled far and wide, and I feel sure those numerous visitors over 34 years would want to wish Carol and Malcolm Skinner a happy and restful retirement - the latter being highly unlikely for two such active and dedicated "Cottage Gardeners".