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autumn colour

Bluebell Arboretum & Nursery - Woodland Gardens

Annwell Lane, Smisby, Ashby de la Zouch, Derbyshire, LE65 2TA

Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery will be closing for our Christmas break on 24th December 2017 and will reopen on Tuesday Jan 2rd 2018. Our website will be working as normal if you wish to browse through our plants or make an order.

Orders made on our website during this period will be processed and delivered when we reopen in January. Happy Christmas and New Year!

Garden Opening Times
March to October: Monday - Saturday 9am to 5pm
(Sundays & Bank Holidays: 10.30am to 4.30pm)

November to February - Monday to Saturday: 9am to 4pm
(Closed on Sundays)
The nursery and gardens are closed from December 24th to January 2nd and on Easter Sunday

Admission Charge

Adults - 5.00 each
Concessions - 4.00 each (over 60's, students & disabled)
(Children & teenagers under 18 free)

Year long pass - 10

We are a Royal Horticultural Society Partner Garden, RHS members are admitted to the gardens free of charge (on presentation of a valid membership card).

About our gardens...

One of the finest collections of unusual trees and shrubs in Derbyshire, planting in our beautiful woodland garden was started in 1992 and the gardens now cover an area of nine acres.

We are a RHS partner garden and although most of the large trees are still young with the majority at under 22 years of age, many of the shrubs and smaller trees already show their full beauty of form and habit and the arboretum has become a beautiful woodland walk with rare plant treasures on display to entice the real enthusiast!

There are many educational signs on display giving detailed information about the unusual plants in the gardens.

Most of the plants in the gardens are available for sale from the adjoining nursery as young specimens and expert staff are on hand to give information and advice.

  • Large car park on site with space for a coach. Toilet available on site.

  • With the exception of guide dogs, animals must be left in the owner's car, water bowls will be provided on request.

  • Tea and coffee is available from the nursery office on request (no cafe). Nearby pubs (<1 mile away) serve good food at lunchtime and in the evening.

  • Paying visitors are welcome to bring picnics but we are not a park and so there are no tables or bins. All rubbish must be taken with you.

  • IMPORTANT - Please be aware that despite our name, we are not a bluebell wood! We are called Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery as when the nursery started in 1979, we were in a different location right next to a pub called the Bluebell in the local village of Blackfordby. We do have a huge collection of unusual trees and shrubs on display in the gardens but alas, few bluebells so far.

  • Garden Videos
    Two short videos showing our gardens in autumn and spring. Visit us to see it for yourself!

    Interested in booking a guided tour of our woodland gardens?

    We lead a number of guided tours around our woodland garden each year on behalf of the RHS. Details on these including the dates, prices and info on how to book can be found on our events page

    For other groups, we are happy to lead guided tours of our gardens for up to fifty people looking at plants with seasonal interest (Autumn colour, winter bark, spring flowers, etc). These tours are lead by the garden owners, last for approx 2 hours and include a cup of tea or coffee. The price also includes free access to the gardens for the rest of the day.

    In the past we have conducted tours of the gardens for the International Dendrological Society, Royal Horticultural Society and many other gardening groups. We can structure the tour for all levels of interest, from novice gardeners to rare plant enthusiasts!

    Please remember that all guided tours must be booked in advance!

    Prices are as follows for groups:

    • Six to ten people: 12.50 each
    • 11 to 20 people: 8.50 each
    • 21 to 30 people: 7.25 each
    • 31 to 40 people: 6.00 each
    • 41 to 50 people: 5.00 each

    To arrange a tour with us please call our office on (01530) 413700 to arrange a convenient date. We need to know the approximate time your group wished to arrive and how many people would be likely to attend (including the minimum number that will be present as an indicator for the price).

    Creating your own Arboretum or Woodland Garden

    An arboretum or woodland garden is a peaceful haven giving enjoyment and interest for decades and can be a surprisingly inexpensive project.

    Over the years we have created many woodland gardens, including the nine acre arboretum surrounding our nursery (an RHS recommended garden and open to the public if you would like to visit it).

    We are able to give expert advice on planting your own woodland area, from turning a small garden into a tree filled glade to planting up much larger areas for a striking woodland garden many acres in size.

    If you would like our assistance, we can visit your garden or grounds to advise on preparing the site and recommend trees and shrubs which will suit your particular area and grow well. We can then even deliver and stand the trees out for you in the final position, to create the display.

    Prices for this service vary depending upon the size of the project and if you are interested, telephone our office on (01530) 413700 and ask to speak to Robert (the owner) for further information.

    A detailed article about Bluebell Nursery creating new arboreta by Robin Lane Fox was featured in April 2005 in the Financial Times: 'Get a nursery education' - please read below

    Robin Lane Fox on Gardening

    Right now it is very easy to want an arboretum. An arboretum is a dedicated plantation of trees. Why not choose carefully, plant them in quantity and sit back, killing the weeds with chemicals around them until they reach maturity.

    In an arboretum mood, I have just made an expedition to Ashby-de-la-Zouch in the Midlands. There are plenty of grand arboreta around the UK, many of which were planted about a hundred years ago, but what do you get if you start off with an acre or so and want results within 12 years? Showgoers will know that one of Britain's outstanding sources of rare trees and shrubs is Bluebell Nursery at Smisby, but they may not realise it is open 10:30am daily, including Sundays, during the growing season.

    Bluebell Nursery has been planted and stocked by a notable family team. Robert Vernon trained way back at Hilliers Nursery in Hampshire, where he met his wife, Suzette. They did three years of specialised study and Suzette then diverted to work with the Ministry of Agriculture. Bluebell nowadays .. are six acres of trees in tractor-mown grass, most of which leave me scrambling for a reference book. The nursery began 26 years ago but the arboretum is about 11 years old.

    The soil is heavy, lime-free and exposed to a cold Midlands winter at 500ft. Nothing, except the staff and owners, has done it any favours. So the Vernons really know what you can achieve without an army of estate workers or a favoured site in south Cornwall, where trees from south Asia will grow like weeds.

    Even an expert plants an arboretum too closely for the longer term. It needs extreme discipline to observe the eventual widths that books predict for trees. It is almost impossible to know how wide a rare or recent discovery will really grow. Even the Bluebell Arboretum is fairly closely spaced but at least the owners have the invaluable experience of having run one and seen what scores of trees will do. They do not claim to be designers but their own plantation is extremely pleasant, the sort of thing that you or I might come up with because we prefer plants to style.

    If you are going to plant Chinese rarities such as Maackia or the unusual white variegated chestnut called Wisselink you really do not know how much space to allow them on the borders between Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Robert Vernon now offers an advisory service where he will visit prospective planters of an arboretum, large or small, and work with them on suitable planting, much of it very unusual. His fee is 250 pounds for the day, plus travelling costs, and if I were setting out on a project from an acre upwards, I would count a visit as exceptional value. He then returns with a suitable range of high class trees and shrubs from the nursery, lays them out and advises on cultivation.

    If you have the space and can keep the grass down, a well planned arboretum is a fascinating investment across 12 to twenty years or more. The initial choices are so important and so much more fun if you stray away from the obvious. Robert Vernon would certainly be my choice if I were not so obstinate about following my own intuition, backed up by an informed use of catalogues like his own.

    In his own tree patch, I made dozens of notes and learnt about all sorts of varieties that are so hard to see in readily repeatable conditions. On a lime free soil, perhaps you would know already that a fast growing oak with the most brilliant autumn red colour is Quercus ellipsoidalis 'Hemelrijk'. If so, you might perhaps know that the best 'snake-bark' maple with a pink flush is Acer conspicuum 'Phoenix', which is a hybrid between an American and a Chinese Acer, and is quite spectacular.

    Maybe you have seen a purple-leaved walnut but I doubt if you really knew the leaves grow up to 3ft long and that even the opening foliage has a delicious walnut scent when you finger it. I had no idea, but I discovered its exceptional beauty on a specimen at Bluebell after taking notes on several of their excellent white barked and yellow/white barked forms of birch tree. It is such a help to see trees in unusual forms at an age of about twelve years and to realise that, with patience, you will be enjoying something significant when the next decade has slipped by.

    More simply, Bluebell Nursery is a good place at which to buy the lovely Paper Bark Maple, Acer griseum, which has that wonderful peeling bark and flaming autumn colour. It is also an excellent source of unusual shrubs, including some types of Cotoneaster that I could not possibly identify.

    The best time of all for a visit is autumn. Meanwhile, you have the mail order service, friendly advice without charge if you want an unusual single tree or shrub for the new garden and a catalogue that makes wonderful evening reading. It is nearly 26 years since Bluebell sold their first plants to a customer, on the day when their eldest son was born. The anniversary boy has been spending a year in Holland learning from the ultimate experts how to graft and propagate rare trees for customers.

    Like the arboretum, Bluebell Nursery looks set for a distinguished life in the second generation.

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