The grounds of Ruckley Grange were embellished in the early 19th century. Probably around 1820-1830, shrubberies and plantations of yew, pine and birch were planted east and west of the house, and a small park lay north and south. To the west of the house, the Timlet brook and a tributary were dammed to form two pools, one falling into the other down a waterfall. This water feature was approached by rock-cut steps.
John Jones, the owner in 1858, enclosed the park to the east and north with a stone wall, and also built at least one lodge. Jones also commissioned rebuilding work at the house in 1851, which saw further works in 1874, and by 1891 the house included a conservatory. The grounds at this time featured parterre flower gardens and mazy wilderness walks, as described in the sale catalogue of 1895. To the west of the house lay Ruckley Pool, which had been enlarged and screened with ornamental woodlands during the 19th century.
In 1896, John Reid Walker, owner of Walkers Brewery in Warrington, bought Ruckley Grange, and in 1904 he commissioned the architects Sir Ernest George and Yates to remodel the house, outbuildings, and gardens. South of the house they created a formal Italianate garden, with stone balustrading along low terraces, tall yew hedges, and a long stone basin or canal with a copper-roofed summerhouse at the far end. The formality and austerity of this design scheme was in marked contrast to the previous gardens.
Below the house a large open-air swimming pool was created, together with a Swiss chalet-style changing room. The architects also built two new lodges in the park, both in the Arts and Crafts style. George and Yates were also responsible for several other structures and features in the grounds, including a neo-Elizabethan stable block and a neo-Jacobean gazebo, which lay 80 metres south of the house, and featured an adjoining balustrated retaining wall.
It’s no secret that I consider myself to be very blessed to work at QVC. It’s also no secret that a big part of that are the wonderful people I meet. Julie Bates, founder of Peony Flowers, is one of the loveliest individuals you could hope to meet. The same is true of my fellow presenter, Craig Rowe. We always love spending time together when we can, so we were utterly delighted when Julie invited us to visit the home of Peony Flowers in Ruckley, Shropshire.
Craig and I were like excited children on a school outing! We met up at London Euston and shared a good old natter on our train journey. As we got closer the scenery got greener and greener and the sun was shining, causing our excitement to build further.
Julie and her best friend, Sue, who always accompanies Julie to the QVC shows and shares Julie’s Peony passion, met us at the station and we began the drive to the ‘factory’.
Well, forget what you’ve ever thought a factory ought to look like! Beautiful old farm outbuildings have been kitted out to accommodate this wonderful, warm, family-run business. The staff were so relaxed and friendly, and the fresh air flowed through the huge open doors along with sunshine and idyllic views over acres and acres of unspoilt beauty.
We watched as the flowers were cut to the correct lengths and arranged carefully in the special ‘water’ which sets in a special drying room with lots of gentle heat. It’s such a lovely environment and everyone seems like a member of the Peony family.
We visited the on site shop and wanted to buy everything. You should see the size of some of the creations! One day I would love to invest in some of the larger pieces. When I finally move into a forever home I will, for sure. In my rented home I have displayed the Today’s Special Value for Friday and, as you can see, Popsiecat is having a good nose, too!
There was so much to see but it was time for lunch so Julie whisked us off to the beautiful Ruckley family home. A stunningly, elegant, welcoming house of grand proportions set in acre upon acre of natural beauty. It looked like something right out of a period drama! Craig and I were utterly gobsmacked.
Julie’s charming parents, husband and some of the other members of the Peony team had lunch with us on the terrace. We were met with quails egg canapés and chilled bubbly! We felt so spoilt. Lunch was wonderful, the sun shone gloriously and conversation flowed so easily with everyone. Craig always jokes about moving into the Ruckley House when he’s on air with Julie and now I think he’s more serious than ever! I’m sure there’s room for me, too. I can’t express enough the warmth and generosity of this lovely family.
I recall the last Breast Cancer Care gala evening I attended last year. Peony had kindly provided the beautiful table decorations and then donated them to be auctioned off on the night to raise a considerable amount of money for the charity. I feel rather proud that this is a wonderful home grown, great British brand, and I happily support their family-owned business regularly – I have quite a few Peony pieces decorating my home.
We walked around the gardens, which are the pride and joy of Julie’s very elegant mother. She seemed to know every flower and every plant as though she had a unique relationship with each and every one! We really felt we got to know Julie and her family that much better for our visit. We even met Julie’s beloved little dog, Twiglet, who is completely besotted with Julie!
The time ran away with us and finally we left the tranquillity of Ruckley to head back to the big smoke with full tummies and slightly tipsy smiles. Craig and I again had the chance for a really good natter and reflect on the journey home.
I don’t know about Craig but I slept like a very contented baby that night! I hope you can join us on Friday when Julie brings us one of the best Today’s Special Value prices ever with a stunningly realistic set of three roses including the elegant vases they come in which can be used independently too.
Hopefully you feel as though you’ve had a vicarious visit to the Estate through my blog. I’d love to hear from you so please feel free to leave a comment below.
See you soon, much love as always,