Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Special Sussex gardens!

When summer finally arrives in Britain, as it has done in the last week, there can be few places more glorious than the English garden! Sussex is particularly well-endowed with exceptional gardens and it is easy to visit two or three in a day.  I visited two of my favourites this week - Great Dixter (above) and Pashley Manor, which make a wonderful combination for a day out because they are so strikingly different, but easily accessible to each other.

Great Dixter will be a familiar name to many, because the house, which dates in part to the 15th century, was extended in 1910 by the famous architect Edward Lutyens, who also created the original garden.  The magnificent planting that visitors witness today is the legacy of the well-known gardening writer, Christopher Lloyd, who was born at the house and lived there for 84 years.
Great Dixter is notable for its fabulous borders, meadow-style planting and strident colours. The house is also open to the public and from inside, there are lovely views of the garden. Once you are outside, the house, with its exterior timber features and Lutyens chimneys, provides a memorable backdrop to the gardens. I think this is one of the most inspirational gardens in Britain and I never  leave there without wishing that I could make my garden look so vibrant, interesting and full of surprises. The website has details of opening times, but do remember that it's never open on Monday.

Pashley Manor at nearby Ticehurst, also has glorious gardens, set against the backdrop of a Grade I listed house, which has two completely different facades - Tudor at the front (see below) and Queen Anne at the rear. These gardens could not be more different from Great Dixter and extend to 11 acres of beautifully-landscaped grounds and a series of garden "rooms", which are manicured to perfection. Particularly notable and well-worth making a special visit for, are the tulip displays in spring and the roses in summer.  

Its present owners have spent more than 25 years restoring the neglected property that they moved into to its former glory, as seen today, and worked with landscape architect Anthony du Gard Pasley to help restore the gardens. The results are impressive and this is a truly lovely garden. The roses and borders are particularly stunning and in June the scent of the roses is wonderful. 
Pashley Manor currently has an interesting outdoor sculpture exhibition, with many works by leading artists skillfully displayed against the backdrop of the gardens. Particularly striking are the works by Philip Jackson (left) and Kate Denton.

If you're planning to visit both of these gardens in a day, do time your visit so you can lunch at Pashley, because the food is all home-cooked and the restaurant area is charming. This too, is a notable feature of the property, because all the staff there are smiling and helpful (and I promise I'm not being paid to say this!!).  Pashley is open during the week, and is easy to combine with a visit to Great Dixter.  Both are members of the Historic Houses Association (HHA), so entry is free to friends (except on special event days).

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Two of the best!

Wonderful weather last week and I was visiting gardens in Essex - I saw so many lovely places that I can't fit them all in here, but I'll start with two really well-known ones and feature the rest next time it rains! First stop for me was Glen Chantry near Chelmsford.  I've been trying to get to this garden for several years and it was at the top of my list because the charming owners are retiring at the end of this season, so curious visitors will no longer be able to marvel at what this couple have achieved in their 30+ years of gardening (and more than 20 years of opening their masterpiece to people like me!).

Glen Chantry is absolutely stunning and as a gardener myself, I felt truly humbled by the glorious borders, the range of plants and obvious love and care that has gone into planning and maintaining this majestic garden.  I know that my garden will never look like this!  Particularly stunning at this time of year is the profusion of white flowers (above) and the density of them. But if white isn't your favourite, don't worry, there are many other plants and every border is bursting with them. And it is this sense of borders "bursting" that makes this garden so special.

If you want to see Glen Chantry, get there before it closes to the public for ever on August 15th, or the magic will be lost forever from inquisitive eyes like ours!  Do check the link for opening times because this garden is only open two days a week.

Equally spectacular, but very different is the Beth Chatto Garden near Colchester. This seven-acre garden is a masterpiece and the owner is famous for her expertise in moisture-loving plants.  You won't turn a single corner without being amazed by the sheer brilliance of the planting!  And I had a special bonus here, because I was accompanied in part of my musings by the garden cat (see below in centre of picture) - a sleek and shining black beauty.
This is paradise! The moment you walk through the gates, you feel yourself becoming part of the landscape.  There are ponds, grass walkways and spectacular floral displays.  At the entrance there is a gravel garden, filled to capacity with sun-loving plants, but nothing will prepare you for the contrast of the water garden and shade areas that have made this one of the most-loved gardens in England.
I loved the hostas (left) - they looked good enough to eat - and marvelled at how they had remained in tact. My own experience of planting them has left me with slug-eaten specimens that break my heart.

There is so much to see in this garden and so much to admire that you could easily spend half a day here.  You'll find yourself retracing your steps regularly to see the combination of plants in any given area and thinking how you could do this at home.  

Not surprisingly, this garden can get very crowded, so plan your visit for the start or end of the day - I went an hour before closing and had the benefit of fewer people and gentler light to savour all that is here!  And make sure that you have space in your car when you visit here, because if you're always on the lookout for new plants for your garden, you won't get away without buying.  I left for home with some marvellous, healthy and incredibly good-value additions for my own humble garden that I shall be planting later today.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Cornish gardens and cream teas!

You'll be nothing short of amazed when you see what grows in Cornish gardens and now is the perfect time to visit, before the schools break up. There are three truly wonderful properties on a peninsular near Falmouth - Carwinion, Glendurgan and Trebah - that you can visit in a day (although you'll probably need two!). But what is amazing about all three is the size and scale of the plants that grow there.

Trebah (right) has the tallest Chusan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) in the country, together with many other exotic specimens reminiscent of a Jurassic Park film set. It extends to about 25 acres and you can meander through the garden's ravines down to the Helford River, checking out the vast gunnera plantation (above) en route.  This garden always has something to see, starting with swathes of bluebells in spring; huge banks of rhododendrons a little later; and then come the hydrangeas.  But whatever time of year you visit, you will be stunned by the scale of this garden and the size of the plants.

Neighbouring Glendurgan is just as spectacular and is also on a hill, with deep ravines and valleys that are filled with unusual plants.  Here you will find the famous laurel maze (below) that will thrill adults and children alike. Particularly impressive is the camellia walk in springtime but like neighbouring Trebah, it doesn't matter what time of year you visit - you won't be disappointed!

Then you come to Carwinion, which is my favourite because of its stunning bamboo selection.
This garden is home to the Bamboo Society's reference collection and you will find blue, red, yellow and green specimens here. You will also find the most wonderful Cornish cream tea, which you can take on the terrace of the house while admiring the wonderful bamboos!
Another big plus is that you can stay at Carwinion on a bed and breakfast basis - your charming hostess, Jane, offers a wonderful cooked breakfast and you have the added bonus of being able to explore the gardens early in the morning! Here too the gardens meander down to the Helford River and it's a wonderful walk.

Because of their proximity of the Gulf Stream, there are plants in these gardens that you won't find elsewhere, so prepare to be surprised! 

It's like entering a different world so go equipped with plenty of film or digital space, because you won't be able to get away without your own memories of the extraordinary plants you've seen.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Secret gardens in Sarasota

Today I visited two charming gardens in Sarasota and close enough together that you could visit them both in a morning....if the heat didn't get to you first! The first is the Sarasota Garden Club, nestling right behind one of the major hotels in the city and, I suspect often overlooked by visitors, even though it is quite charming.

This small garden (left) is run entirely by volunteers and is a non-profit organisation that offers talks and education programmes to both members and the community at large. Friday is a particularly good day to visit because you'll always find members at work in the garden and they're happy to talk to you and answer any questions.
Particularly noteworthy is the butterfly garden here, which has been planted with species that appeal to butterflies and hummingbirds - you can access this at any time of day and you will be rewarded with many butterfly sightings.

If you have kids, don't miss the Jungle Gardens (right). These are are another great "find" in Sarasota! They are more than just a garden lovers paradise with the plethora of tropical plants, including more than 100 species of palms. There are also the birds, which will enthrall the children (and the adults!) - there are lots of parrots, which make wonderful photographs, and of course, flamingoes, which you can get really close to, plus reptiles (not my scene, I'm afraid, so I didn't get too close!).

I got the fright of my life while photographing them - I was so busy looking through my lens that I didn't notice one coming up behind me and the first I knew of it was when I got tapped on the shoulder and jumped out of my skin!  I don't think anybody can really resist these ridiculous creatures - pink and pompous - and extremely noisy when they get together in a group.  The kids will love them...and so will you!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Orchids and epiphytes galore!

Florida's Gulf Coast certainly has some beautiful gardens and I'm going to feature some that I've visited in the next few days.  It is incredibly hot here in Florida (around 90F!) and that plays havoc with the light when I'm taking photographs.

Today I went to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. It's location is perfect, overlooking the bay, and for anyone interested in orchids, this is a must.  The garden covers some nine acres and is a fine showcase for bromeliads and epiphytes (plants that live on other plants). And with the latter, you have to make sure that you keep looking up!

The plants in the Tropical Display House (some shown here) are fantastic! I have to confess that I don't know a lot about orchids so to me they are just extraordinary plants which make wonderful photographs, but judging from the exclamations coming from visitors all around me, this collection is impressive. All I know is that I spent so long looking at them that I nearly got locked in at the end of the day!
The gardens outside are also a feast for the eyes - there are bamboo, palm and banyan groves; hibiscus, "succulent" and wildflower gardens; a Koi pond; magnificent displays of bromeliads and of course - the epiphytes - which caused me to walk into a bench because I was so busy looking up!  
This is a wonderful place to spend a peaceful half-day and well worth taking a detour for if you're a gardener.  It doesn't come cheap at $17.00 a head, but should be on every gardener's "Must See" list.  And for those who decide that they are going to grow their own orchids, the shop has one of the best selections I've ever seen, but of course, as a UK resident, I can't take them home!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A rare English treat!

There are several gardens in England that I have always wanted to see, but public access to them is virtually impossible - they include Sir Roy Strong's garden - the Laskett, in Herefordshire - and Highgrove, belonging to Prince Charles.  The first I have been lucky enough to see and I thought I'd feature it before leaving to explore gardens in Florida. The second remains on my wish list.
The Laskett is a remarkable garden, which reflects the charming eccentricity of its owner, Sir Roy Strong and his late wife, Dr Julia Trevelyan Oman.  There was no garden at all when they bought the house back in the 1970's and they spent many years together making it what it is today - a unique and theatrical garden, which demonstrates the personality of its makers.  

Even the house (left) which is built in an unremarkable style, has been made to look interesting, thanks to the artistic talents of Sir Roy and his late wife.  They have made a feature of the blue trelliswork that supports the climbers and their clever use of pathways and statues as focal points, means that the eye is directed to the better parts of an otherwise ordinary piece of British architecture.

The Laskett is split into a series of garden rooms and when you visit, it is Sir Roy that shows you his masterpiece, and takes you from set to set, explaining how it came to be and why there are so many unusual features. Much of the naming and planting is due to his late wife's connection to the theatre, since she was a movie and theatre designer, so there are named areas including the Covent and Nutcracker Gardens and Glyndebourne; the Sheakespeare Monument; and the Schonbrunn and Arabella Orchards.

You can only visit The Laskett if you join a tour group like those organised by Border Lines, but this is no great hardship because this company is run by a charming Englishman, James Bolton, who is extremely knowledgeable and a garden designer himself, so he has hand-picked all the venues featured in his programme.  I would never have seen this garden without joining a tour and was extremely happy when a client cancelled at the last minute so I was able to take their place.

The Laskett is undergoing great change at the moment because Sir Roy fell foul of box blight, so some of the vistas shown here may have altered, but do visit this garden if you get the chance, because it must surely be one of the great British gardens that will go down in history. And if you can't get to visit, Sir Roy Strong's book, The Laskett: The Story of a Garden, is well worth reading, because it tells the whole story of how this garden came to be and has wonderful photographs that make you feel as though you are there. 

Friday, 5 June 2009

Two secret gardens in Hampshire

Today I visited two truly wonderful and different gardens in Hampshire, but they shared a remarkable sense of tranquility.  The first, Apple Court, near Lymington (above) was one that I have been trying to get to for several months now, while the second was one that a friend told me about - the gardens at the Hospital of St Cross in Winchester - where there was a festival of flowers.  Both were very special.
Apple Court has been designed as a series of interlocking garden rooms, where the planting reflects the need to deflect the strong winds that come off the sea, which is less than a mile away.  This is home to a National Collection* of hostas and hemerocallis. 
Quite how they keep the slugs away from the hostas was a mystery to me until I met the owner's daughter, who explained the magic properties of copper when it comes to slugs, but I am sure that most of you reading this already know that trick.  I have always shied away from hostas because of the way they disappear in front of my eyes!
The "rooms" here include white, winter, daylily, cottage and Japanese garden areas, interspersed with sculpture and carefully placed seating, so you can sit and enjoy the various aspects of Apple Court.
This really is a find, but do check opening times on the website, if you are planning a special visit.

The second garden I visited today - at the Hospital of St Cross in nearby Winchester - transported me into a different world again and I was lucky enough to visit during the annual Flower Festival.   This is a garden steeped in history, overlooked by a church that dates in part to the Normans (c. 1135 AD), which is tended today by the residents of the alms houses within the hospital complex - some 25 elderly gentlemen who form a thriving community within the heart of a bustling city.

Every year there is a Flower Festival at St Cross, when parts of the hospital, which would not normally be open to the public, are host to spectacular displays like the one above.  

But the garden is worth visiting with or without the special displays that I was lucky enough to see.  It is a peaceful oasis within a thriving city, with beautifully-tended borders and a lovely small lake set against the backdrop of the church.  And the Hospital of St Cross is famous for its ancient tradition of "The Wayfarer's Dole" - a drink of beer and bread given to visitors who request it - which dates back to the days when the pilgrims broke their journey here.  

Admission to Apple Court, which is open from March to October, is £4.00 and it has an exceptional nursery, with a huge range of hostas, hemerocallis and ferns.  I have rarely seen such fine ferns!
The gardens at St Cross are open throughout the year (check website for details), and this makes a wonderful start to a tour of Winchester.  

*For further information on National Collections of plants in the UK check this link:  http://www.nccpg.com/

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Marvellous Marle

Marle Place near Tonbridge in Kent is one of my favourite English gardens because it's stunningly beautiful, very low key and full of surprises.  You don't get many clucking coach loads here and even if you were to be unlucky enough to arrive on a crowded day, there's plenty of space.  
It's actually a series of garden rooms and you feel as though you're walking through a storybook, where each garden space is like a painting - not surprising really since the lady behind it - Lindel Williams - is a talented painter and this reflects in her garden design. 

Right at the entrance, there's a charming water garden; then a cosy lawned area adjacent to the house and a meadow brimming with allium and iris; then the two pond areas where you can sit and reflect; and a wonderful arboretum walk, where you can admire the sculptures.  And if this isn't enough to whet your appetite, there's the kitchen garden and the orchid house. 

But what really strikes you about Marle Place is the absolute peace of the place.  You can wander quietly through the garden, find places to sit and reflect, or like me, marvel at the planting and wish that you'd done that at home.  

It's not just Lindel who is talented - her daughter also produces the most lovely wooden creations for the garden - seats, bird baths and sculptures.  I'm just about to buy one for my garden and when I do, I promise I'll post it on the blog!