Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Wednesday Walkabout - Driftwood, East Sussex

Geoff Stonebanks' garden is definitely one for the "Wishlist" this summer - Driftwood is a tiny plot in Seaford, East Sussex, filled with innovative ideas and perfect planting. It opens from 1 June for groups, by arrangement and on designated days for charity (see website link above for details). Keep your eyes open and don't miss the finer details of this extraordinary garden. Every penny raised from openings goes to charity and Geoff has already collected more than £76,000.  You certainly won't be disappointed when you visit and you know your donation is going to a good cause. Happy visiting!

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Wednesday Walkabout - Spring gems in Sussex and Kent - Great Dixter, Gravetye Manor, Michelham Priory and The Walled Nursery

Great Dixter in East Sussex is always worth a visit - it's a jewel garden filled with colour throughout the season
Spring is sprung and gardens around the garden are awash with colour. There's always an incredible display of tulips at Great Dixter at this time of year - which marks just the beginning of another season of extraordinary eye candy at this wonderful garden, where head gardener, Fergus Garrett reigns supreme to ensure that every visitor leaves ecstatic! He worked alongside garden guru and owner, Christo Lloyd for many years and carries on the tradition of vibrant planting established by his mentor. 
William Robinson lived at Gravetye Manor and created the original gardens - Tom Coward has brought them back to life during his successful seven-year stewardship here
And not too far away, there's another amazing Sussex garden, under the stewardship of Tom Coward, who worked alongside Fergus at Great Dixter, before moving seven years ago to another legendary garden - Gravetye Manor - one-time home of William Robinson. Tom has done a remarkable job of restoring and rejuvenating the landscape here and it's a must-see garden - a great place to have afternoon tea and then take a wander round. 
Geoff Stonebanks' garden is an utterly delightful micro garden overlooking the sea in East Sussex
Another Sussex gem that opens regularly for charity, thanks to the extraordinary energy and effort of owner, Geoff Stonebanks, is Driftwood in Seaford, but check opening dates below. This is a magical micro garden overlooking the sea, filled with interesting plants and quirky, interesting ideas - rest assured, you'll never catch them all in a single visit. Check out Geoff's webpage here to see when the garden's open. You won't be disappointed.
Michelham Priory is in the heart of the East Sussex countryside near Hailsham and well worth a visit
Michelham Priory, near Hailsham is flourishing under head gardener, James Neal's care and is alive this week with tulips. A really good choice for children over the Easter holidays as there is a number hunt to keep them occupied and masses of space to run around in, while the grown ups can enjoy the bucolic setting of the priory and its grounds.
The Walled Nursery at Hawkhurst, Kent has a wonderful cafe if you're out plant hunting
And if you're putting your best foot forward on the hunt for plants and want to follow an interesting restoration project that's underway, head for The Walled Nursery near Hawkhurst in Kent, close enough to combine with Great Dixter or Sissinghurst. There's delicious food at The Winery Cafe on site and some interesting plants.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Wednesday Walkabout - Wakehurst Place

Well worth a walkabout, especially in springtime - Wakehurst Place in Sussex - where you'll find ideas for your own garden: trees and plants to marvel at; the Millennium Seedbank (worth a visit on a rainy day); and wonderful walks throughout the year. This is Kew in the countryside at its best!
Get there as soon as possible to see all the magnificent magnolias in flower, rhododendrons and a lot more besides. The shots below are just a snapshot of what's in flower now.

Open daily from 10.00 -18.00 (Last entry 17.00). The Millennium Seedbank is a working scientific hub that aims to conserve 25% of the world's plant species by 2020. Admission is £12.50 for adults, free to National Trust members.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Silent Sunday - Postcard from Mallorca

In search of wildflowers in Mallorca, but just a little distracted by all the colours here! 

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Magnificent magnolias for Mother's Day

High Beeches Gardens in West Sussex is a remarkable woodland garden
We're all getting ready for Mother's Day - buying flowers, arranging lunch or an outing, but why not take your mother somewhere really special this Sunday? Choose a garden, walk around and admire the magnificent magnolias in bloom - they are really special flowers that will leave a lasting impression! And there are some fantastic gardens in the South-East of England that are easily accessible.
High Beeches Gardens, south of London, have some of the best magnolias on display anywhere and offer the chance to take a woodland walk that takes in fantastic rhododendrons, swaying daffodils and views that will leave you astonished. Open from 13.00 this Sunday, specially for Mother's Day and it's well worth a visit.
You'll find more magnificent magnolias and rhododendrons at Borde Hill, with the former in flower and the latter beginning to bloom (and so early this year, that the garden has opened a week ahead of schedule to enable visitors to truly enjoy the visual delights on offer).
In Hampshire, there's the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, with its extensive magnolia collection close to the main house at the heart of the garden. 
And of course, there's always Kew Gardens, on the fringes of London, with its own collection of these wonderful trees and magnificent glasshouses. And if you're visiting, don't forget to marvel at The Hive - an amazing artform in the middle of the garden.
And look out for other spring marvels at all these gardens, including carpets of flowers
But let's not forget, if it hadn't been for the formidable plant explorers who travelled far and wide in centuries gone by, we would not have any of these magnificent trees here in the UK.

Happy Mother's Day and let's hope the sun shines!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Wordless Wednesday - 8th wonder of the world - the mobile phone

It doesn't matter how far off the beaten track you are, you'll still find a mobile phone!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

"Garden of Eden" in Kerala - Amaryllis Homestay

Evening view from the veranda at Amaryllis, looking down into the valley below
If you're in search of the "Garden of Eden", look no further than Kerala, in the hills near Wayanad, where you'll find Amaryllis Homestay - another peaceful haven away from the frenetic pace of daily life in India. This is Victor and Ranjini Dey's home, in a prime location, overlooking a fertile, green valley, where they welcome guests from all over the world into their productive coffee plantation.
Victor has lived the plantation life since he was a young man, when he first arrived in Kerala from Calcutta, aged 20, and started working in a tea plantation near the well-known hill station, Ooty. His monthly stipend was a mere 250 Indian Rupees (a little over £3.00 at today's exchange rates) although he only brought home less than half of this to his new bride Ranjini, after other deductions. He still keeps a copy of his wages slip in the bar at Amaryllis to remind him of those days.
Victor has worked in the industry for 50 years now, managing tea, coffee and cardamom crops on different plantations, but most recently at the Kuppamudi Estate, which is also home to another popular Wayanad tourist property called Tranquil. But in 2006, they chanced upon the site that is now Amaryllis and when they saw the view (see below) from the plot they'd discovered, they knew this was the perfect place for their new home.
Building started in 2008 when they brought in the necessary equipment to level the top of the hill and four years later, construction was finished. But Victor continued to work as manager at the neighbouring Kuppamudi Estate and it was not until January 2016 that they opened to guests. What you see there today is a tribute to their combined efforts - a magnificently-run home, with far reaching views. But particularly noteworthy is Victor's clever use of local woods to decorate their home. 
On the day we arrived, I didn't recognise the coffee plants because they were all bearing white blossoms (above), rather than the familiar reddish pods (below). But Victor explained that the harvest doesn't normally finish until mid to late February and this year is unusual because there has been unseasonal regional rain, which has encouraged the plants to blossom early.
Once the blossom fully opens, it will remain open for three days and produce a jasmine-like smell before beginning to dry out in the sun, sticking to the small berry that's forming there and providing protection throughout the hot summer months and monsoon season.And so another coffee berry cycle begins, with the pod continuing to grow for a further 9-10 months and finally being harvested the following year when it has reached full size. 
Wander around the grounds at Amaryllis and you will find many other delights, including pepper creeping up the trees; Artocarpus heterophyllus - the "Jack" fruit tree, with its monumental green fruit blooms; and a plethora of tropical plant delights, as well as hundreds of potted plants that decorate the terraces.
But it's the homestay experience that makes Amaryllis so special. Both Victor and Janjini have many years of experience in the hospitality industry, after their long stint at nearby Tranquil. They are charming hosts and they run a wonderful home. Most of the bedrooms are in the main house, but for a really special experience, stay in one of the two tree houses on site (see below), both constructed of local bamboo. 
Amaryllis is one of the new-generation Indian homestays that promises to make travelling here easier for visitors seeking a combination of comfort and local interest. Beautifully furnished rooms, wonderful home cooking and efficient bathrooms. Victor and Jini take great pride in their home and extend their hospitality to all their guests. I for one, will be return ing next time I visit Kerala.