Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A hidden Arts & Crafts gem in Birmingham - Winterbourne Botanic Garden

Winterbourne House in Birmingham has a Grade II listed Arts & Crafts garden
Winterbourne House in Edgbaston, Birmingham is one of the finest Arts & Crafts houses in Britain - worth making a special pilgrimage to see if you're a fan of this decorative movement - and set in seven acres of gardens with many fine features associated with Gertrude Jekyll. The house is filled with an exceptionally well-preserved collection of furniture, textiles, ornaments, curtains, wallpaper and carpets and the garden boasts a pergola, crinkle crankle walls, Jekyllesque borders and other features from her book, "Wood and Garden", published more than 100 years ago.
Winterbourne House and its gardens have been completely restored by the University of Birmingham
Winterbourne House was built for John Nettlefold, a prosperous Birmingham-based industrialist, who moved here with his family in 1904. And although he only remained here until 1919, two further families lived here before the outbreak of World War II. it was the Nicolson family, who arrived in 1925, who made a substantial contribution to the garden and grounds. John Nicolson was the son of a Scottish crofter who became a successful businessman in Birmingham. He also had a passion for gardening and introduced many new plants to the property during his time there. His particular interest was alpines.
The gardens at Winterbourne have been fully restored by the University of Birmingham
Since 1944 Winterbourne has belonged to the University of Birmingham. It was gifted to them by the family after John Nicolson's death and has variously been used as student accommodation and as a teaching base, until finally in the new Millennium, a brave decision was taken to restore the property to its former glory and open it as a museum. The University has done a remarkable job and in 2008 the garden was awarded a Grade II listing in recognition of its national importance.
Winterbourne's gardens are Grade II listed and include one of the finest crinkle crankle walls in Britain
The garden contains some remarkable features - a fully restored pergola, one of the finest crinkle crankle walls in the country (above) a large walled garden, planted in traditional Arts & Crafts style, with borders arranged to provide huge splashes of colour in high summer, fully restored glasshouses, featuring collections of orchids, succulents and alpines, and an original 100-year-old nut walk (below), featuring filberts, cob and hazel nuts. 
The nutwalk is an original feature of Winterbourne Botanic Garden, planted 100 years ago
Today the garden houses more than 10,000 different plant species and is recognised as an important Botanic Garden. The National Collections of Anthemis and Iris unguicularis, the winter flowering iris, are held here and there is also an impressive collection of cacti and succulents in the greenhouses. The seven acres provide a diverse habitat for all types of plants and are also planted with many fine trees, including a magnificent Chusan palm and a fast-growing North American redwood. 
The walled garden at Winterbourne features a fully-restored lean-to glasshouse
Margaret Nettlefold designed the original garden here. She was much influenced by Gertrude Jekyll and introduced many of the structural Arts & Crafts features. The pergola was faithfully restored during the recent renovation of the property by the University, as were the glasshouses and today the garden is a striking example of an Edwardian garden, with the added attraction of a huge number of plants and species at the heart of this bustling city.
View of the walled garden at Winterbourne from the gallery
Winterbourne has been carefully planted to provide year-round interest and also features a collection of Geographic beds, with Australia, Europe, China, Japan and North America represented. It is unusual to find so many different plants within a relatively small area and credit must be given to the University of Birmingham for preserving and protecting the collections here. But it appears that the garden is relatively unknown and it is all too easy to be lured into the much larger Birmingham Botanical Gardens nearby and miss this hidden gem. 
If you are in Birmingham, make sure you head for Winterbourne House - you won't be disappointed. The house is a veritable Arts & Crafts museum and the garden is delightful. Open daily throughout the year, except for a month at Christmas time, but check website here for details. Admission is £5.00 for adults. The property is staffed by extremely helpful students from the University of Birmingham. Easy to find because it is marked with brown tourist signs and there is parking on site. Get there if you can - I really enjoyed my visit despite pouring rain!


  1. This is indeed a hidden gem! Thanks for the discovery and the sharing!

  2. It is really a perfect example of an English garden. I'd love to visit it. Your blog is for me the best guide to the most interesting gardens in UK. Thanks a lot!

  3. I just visited birmingham in the last few weeks and as this garden opened at 9am, we started off there. I really likes the japanese garden area, which I can't see in your pics. Really lovely gardens and I definitely recommend it (plus entry is free with HHA cards)