Eastgrove Cottage

Eastgrove Cottage_Sankyns GreenMalcolm and Carol Skinner moved to Eastgrove Cottage in Sankyns Green from Birmingham in 1975. The cottage is a half-timbered “yeoman farmhouse” dating back to the 17th century and has a 3 acre garden. Malcolm and Carol set about making the quintessential English cottage garden – one that Patrick Taylor in his book “The Gardens of Britain and Ireland” described as “the definitive and irresistible cottage garden”. He went on to say that “If you do not know what a cottage garden should look like, this is a good place to learn…..it is flawlessly kept and full of lively planting and cunning design,”

In 1970, the Skinner family used to make a two-and-a-half-hour hour trek on bus and foot from Birmingham to have Sunday lunch at their remote half-timbered country cottage in the Worcestershire countryside they had first seen in a Birmingham Post advertisement. Malcolm Skinner was then a Birmingham hotelier and it was a pot of honey that brought them to Eastgrove Cottage. “We were visiting gardens with Carol’s parents and we happened to be passing near this garden. We saw a little notice saying ‘Honey for Sale’ and so we had a big pot of honey and that changed our life a little.”

By 1975 it had become their permanent home rather than a weekend retreat. Over the next 30 years, they turned the garden into one which ranked as one of the best cottage gardens in England. The Skinners also fashioned a mini-arboretum which they called “The Glade” to blend the garden into the surrounding rural landscape. The garden was opened to the public and developed an international reputation. The garden was not merely very attractive – it was designed to be productive with an orchard and chicken house. The Skinners used to run a nursery from the garden. They grew about 20,000 plants a year from their own stock selling a range of 1200 different varieties of herbaceous perennials to the 4000 visitors who came each year. Visitors could also also sample Malcolm Skinner’s famous loganberry ice cream with its pleasantly sharp sorbet taste!

Marina Duffell of the Worcestershire Black Pear Gardening Society wrote that “ 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”. She went on to say that “The reasons for my attachment to Eastgrove lay not only in the obvious enthusiasm and dedication of its proprietors. Their aesthetic appreciation of their lovingly-restored house 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 provided both peace and drama throughout. The “homely” touches of hens in an orchard, with cyclamen-sprinkled grassy areas lent yet another dimension, as did the sympathetic blending of the garden borders with the greenness of the countryside beyond.”
The garden even has two brick built privies – as it was, once upon a time – two cottages. In our recording, Malcolm and Carol tell the story about the origins of the cottage, its residents and the growth in the success of the garden in attracting both professional and amateur gardeners from around the world.

In 2007, Eastgrove Cottage Garden was named in the book “1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die” by Rae Spencer-Jones and Elizabeth Scholtz. Discussing Eastgrove, the authors said it was “full of horticultural riches” and that £the different areas are carefully colour-coordinated to reinforce a series of distinctive atmospheres.” But, by 2010, advancing years and ill health forced Malcolm and Carol to phase the buiness down and, in their words, to “shut the garden gate” but today they still spend hours in the garden refashioning it to make it easier to manage in later life

The cottages were part of the Witley Court Estate and this page from 1920 Sale catalogue at that time describes them as Nos 4 & 5 Sankyns Green.

Whilst renovating the cottage, Malcolm & Carol Skinner discovered very old shoes bricked up within the old  old baking oven, and describe the discovery in this recording .  This document describes the practice which occurred during the 16th to 18th centuries.

The recording below describes how the couple came to Eastgrove Cottage and developed the gardens of many years.

Filename: Skinner_MalcolmCarol_20141007_2_2_A.mp3  (27 mins : 11 secs)

Start Topic Period
00:30 House hunting in the Witleys’ area 1970
01:24 Travelling from Birmingham to view Lovely Cottage, Ockeridge 1970
03:00 Viewing Eastgrove Cottage, Sankyns Green 1970
03:21 Buying honey at the gate from Mrs Monica Hughes (former owner of Eastgrove Cottage) 1970
04:30 Viewing the land surrounding Eastgrove Cottage (The Dingle and the beehives) with Mr Robert Hughes (husband of Monica) 1970
05:33 Buying Eastgrove Cottage 1970
06:50 Spending weekends at Eastgrove while living in Birmingham 1970-1972
07:38 Moving to Eastgrove permanently 1972
08:56 Living “The Good Life” at Eastgrove – pottery, plants, bed and breakfast 1972-1974
09:32 Renovating the whole cottage to take paying guests 1973-74
10:10 Knocking through to the second cottage 1973-74
10:40 Starting the Bed and Breakfast business 1974
11:18 Stopping the Bed & Breakfast business to concentrate on the garden 1975
11:50 Attracting visitors to the garden; developing publicity 1976
13:00 Starting selling plants to visitors 1977
13:43 Buying pots to sell plants 1977
14:08 Attracting group visits; opening garden daily 1980s
14:35 Making and serving flapjacks and ice cream to visitors 1980s
15:05 Visitors from California, USA 1980s
15:23 Professional photographers begin visiting the garden – Andrew Lawson 1980s
16:34 Returning visitors 1975-2009
17:20 Visits to the garden by professional gardeners – Rosemary Verey, Roy Lancaster 1990s
17:50 Roy Lancaster names the EastGrove Ruby Lace Peony 1990s
18:38 Breeding new varieties of plants – eg Viola Eastgrove Blue Scented 2000s
19:20 Golden Wedding celebration, cricket match, 2009
19:30 Closing of the garden to the public 2009
21:00 Meeting of Malcolm and Carol – Acocks Green 1953
21:40 Youth Club Acocks Green visits to Lake District 1953-58
24:20 Joining 70 Club at Acocks Green 1957
24:40 70 Club doing social work in Nechells, Birmingham 1958
25:00 Malcolm proposes in Buxton over Ryvita and Marmite 1958
25:30 Marriage at 21 1959
26:10 Birth of children: Karen and Hamish 1960-1963

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