Thursday, 30 July 2009

Udaipur - city of grandeur and gardens!

I'm now in Udaipur - one of the most beautiful cities in the world - and at this time of year, in monsoon season - it is filled with flowers everywhere you look. It has been made famous by the scenes in the James Bond film "Octopussy", which was filmed here, and most of us have seen pictures of the iconic Lake Palace (above), on Lake Pichola, which is now one of the world's top hotels.

Everywhere you look there is greenery at this time of year and yesterday, I went to visit one of the most famous gardens here - the Saheliyon Ki Bari - which is in bloom, following the rains. This wonderful garden was built by the ruling Maharana Sangram Singh in the 18th century and he presented it to his Queen after their marriage.

Translated it means, the Garden of Maids and takes its name from the 48 ladies who attended to her at her wedding.
Saheliyon ki Bari is quite majestic - it has long walkways (right) edged with magnificent palms; lush green lawns, fringed with banks of irises; and a spectacular water garden surrounded by a marble pavilion, and featuring large marble elephants and fountains that seem to float on a bed of water lilies and lotus flowers (below).

Marble is common here in Udaipur, because the mines are just north of the city, but one wonders how they transported such huge blocks back in the 18th century when the local terrain is so hilly - perhaps this is why elephants were as important then as they are today in India.

One of the great joys of this garden is that it's used by the local people, who come here with family and friends to picnic and enjoy the peace, away from the blaring of the motor horns on the street! This is a veritable oasis in the middle of the city and well worth adding to your visiting list, once you've marvelled at the city palace and the views.

All photographs copyright Charlotte Raven

This is a very old posting, hence the layout problems and poor photographic images - I will update this entry when I am next in Udaipur in 2011. Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Marvellous Serre de la Madone in Menton

The last garden that we visited on our tour of France last week - Serre de la Madone in Menton - was perhaps the most interesting, not just because it's the former home of Lawrence Johnston, who also owned Hidcote in the UK, but because it is undergoing restoration, after some 40 years of neglect so it's very much a garden in progress.

Although in the same town as Jardin Val Rahmeh, it could not be more different - this garden is reminiscent of England, both in its planting style and placing of statues, pergolas and water features, whereas Val Rahmeh is like a tropical feast! In Southern France the word "serre" refers to mountains and this garden lies in the hills to the west of Menton, so it has a different soil structure to Sir Percy Radcliffe's creation in the east of the town. If you're going to be in the area - do visit both on the same day, but not on Monday or Tuesday, because both have different closing days!

Johnston, who had spent much of his early life in France, arrived on the French Riviera in 1924. He had already made the garden at Hidcote, so he had a good understanding of plants and planting and he, like many of his compatriots recognised that this area was a botanist's paradise. because of its micro-climate. He was a passionate plant collector and his search for new species led him all over the world in his quest for plants for his new property.

Johnston's passion for collecting plants was to play a major feature in the way the garden developed over the years, because he wanted separate areas to display all his specimens. And the French horticulturist Ernest de Ganay described this garden as "an oasis of flowers, a paradise of colours and scents", when he visited in the mid-1930s.

When visiting this garden you arrive at the bottom of the hill below the house (top) and wind your way up through wonderful terraces filled with agapanthus and flowering plants (above right); and are then surprised by the formal gardens that are overlooked by the house, where you discover the wonderful lotus plantation (above and below). There is so much to see and it is exciting to see the work in progress; what is already there is quite spectacular and this is another garden that ranks high on my list of world favourites.

When Johnston died in 1958, he had no children, and he left the garden to Nancy Lindsay, who was herself a well-known botanist. She was unable to pay the taxes and was forced to sell the property, which then had a succession of different owners, who lacked the specialist knowledge to maintain the garden, so it gradually fell into neglect and disrepair. Finally, in 1999, it was purchased by the Conservatoire du Littoral, with the help of the town of Menton and other corporate bodies, and it is now undergoing restoration. Now there is a dedicated group restoring La Madone to its former glory, along with other private gardens in Menton.

I leave you with this lotus image as I depart for India to work on The Raven Foundation hospital in Rajasthan - which is my own way of restoring health and happiness to a very different community, and I hope you'll drop in on my other blog to see how we're progressing in the next few weeks - we lay the foundation stone this coming Friday and this is going to be the start of a very exciting period in my life. I'll also be writing about the wonderful gardens that I visit in India, but my real work is in promoting our foundation and seeking support both in India and back at home for our project. There is little doubt in my mind about the impact that my gardening forays have had on the way I think about what we are starting in Rajasthan and my motto for the foundation is:


Thank you all for visiting my gardening blog so regularly in the last few weeks - I've really enjoyed writing the entries and many of you have made wonderful comments, which have been much appreciated. I'll be back visiting English gardens next month.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

A hillside dream in Ventimiglia!

Our last few days in France ... and Italy ... were filled with wonderful garden visits, and now I'm home again, I shall try and catch up with my blog! I cannot believe the wonderful vistas we saw last week; the incredible plants; the extraordinary locations of the gardens we visited; and the magical floral displays everywhere we looked. The whole of southern France is in bloom at this time of year and every town and city has flowers everywhere!

We were so taken with our visit to Menton that we returned the next day to look at more gardens, starting at the Giardini Botanici Hanbury, and also known as La Mortola, just over the border in Italy. Of course, there is no border of note any more and you only realise you're in Italy when you see the signs at the edge of the road. This amazing botanical garden covers some 45 acres (18 hectares) of Cape Mortola, perched on the edge of the Mediterranean beyond Menton.

The land was purchased by Thomas Hanbury, who had made his fortune in China, in 1867 and - with the help of his brother Daniel - and several well-known French landscape architects, they turned the hillside plot into the botanical wonder there today. But it's not just the plants that are remarkable, it's also the features - like the Moorish temple (above) - that houses the ashes of Thomas Hanbury and his wife Katherine, which make this garden so special.

When Hanbury purchased the land, the existing palazzo was extremely dilapidated, but with the help of his brother, he restored the property and set about making the amazing garden. Yet even today, surprisingly little is known about this extraordinary man - who also gave the gardens at Wisley in England to the Royal Horticultural Society.

What makes La Mortola so unusual is its steep gradient and part of its charm is the huge number of steps and terraces that are integral to the design and planting of the land. You wander from terrace to terrace, and enjoy wonderful vistas along the way. There are pools, pergolas and fountains and absolutely magnificent plants in all shapes, sizes and colours.

Every corner you turn here gives a different vista and you will see more and more remarkable plants each time you turn your head - there are more than 6,000 different species on site here, so don't be surprised if you miss a few!
I was so amazed to discover that this Italian garden was the brainchild of the same man who gave Wisley to the Royal Horticultural Society that I hope to find out more about Hanbury, because he was clearly an interesting, if eccentric philanthropist. I have seen little published about Sir Thomas Hanbury and had never realised that he had such an important role in English gardening history, in terms of his role as donor to the RHS. Of course, Wisley is one of the most popular gardens in the UK, with some 750,000 visitors each year. He certainly left a wonderful legacy to the nation!

Today, the Giardini Botanici Hanbury is owned by the Italian state and maintained by the University of Genoa. There were many students hard at work there on the day we visited and they are clearly doing a wonderful job, because the garden is quite glorious!

Monday, 20 July 2009

OMG - look at these lilies - you could sleep on them!

Thank you all for your wonderful comments about yesterday's entry! I was just so disappointed by Gourdon and my failure to find the garden in Grasse that I forgot to appreciate the beauty of this part of the world!

But today was fantastic and I visited a garden that more than measured up to Majorelle in Marrakech. In fact, it took my breath away and if you look at the lilies above, you'll understand why! These lovely green waterbeds were just one of the many striking features at Val Rahmeh - Menton's exotic botanical garden. They are called Victoria lilies; they come from the River Amazon; they were discovered in 1801 by the German botanist, Thaddeus Haenke; and they were first introduced to Kew Gardens in 1846 and named after Queen Victoria. They can grow up to two metres (approx 6 feet) in diameter, and they are quite spectacular. All I wanted to do when I saw them was lie on them!

This garden was created at the beginning of the 20th century by General Sir Percy Radcliffe, widower of Rahmeh Theodora Swinburne - he was just one of many former Empire builders settling in the South of France because of the temperate climate
and like so many of his compatriots, he was prepared to search all over the world for exotic specimens to plant in his little patch of heaven on the Mediterranean coast.

Menton has its own micro-climate, so gardens flourish here in this far-flung corner of southern France, just before you enter Italy. And, located where it is at the eastern end of the town, Val Rahmeh is protected from the wind by the mountains, and enjoys a subtropical climate.

The town is delightful and it has more than its fair share of beautiful gardens, yet the people who work there, don't even know they exist. In fact, my husband and I had lunch near the port and when we asked the maitre d'hotel how to get to Val Rahmeh, he just looked at us in amazement! We finally asked a glamorous French policewoman to show us the way. But once you get your bearings, the Villa is not hard to find and you can even park outside.

Allow several hours to see this magnificent garden because I think you'll be entranced by what you find here. The setting, the plants, the ambience - all are fantastic - and even though the gardens do not cover a huge area, you'll find so many fascinating specimens here that you'll want to keep exploring for several hours. Impressive too is the the labelling of the plants and each time you are peering in amazement at some new specimen, you only have to look to the discreet red label to find out what it is! This is quite definitely a 5* garden and worth making a detour for. And it's only one of several gardens in the area ... I shall be writing about the others in the next few days.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Spectacular mountain scenery and sea views, but not much garden!

Well, I did try and visit gardens today, but have to say that not all went to plan! My husband and I set off this morning, filled with optimism and a determined aim to visit more gardens on my list. We had a lovely day out and saw some delightful sights; but sadly, these did not include gardens because we were shouted at in the first ... and failed to find the second one!

The sky was blue (above) and we also understood why this area is called the Cote d'Azur (see the colour of the ocean below). But our endeavours were considerably hampered by the fact that the French don't really believe in signposts; and my satellite navigation system doesn't seem to be able to cope with the hairpin bends that are part of life in the mountains here; so combine that with the tourist traffic at this time of year; the
French view that if it's medieval, you can put it on the tourist map and charge what you like for food, souvenirs and parking, and you've got an interesting culture gap!

First stop today was the medieval village - with its castle - at Gourdon. We'd read in the tourist guides that the castle has an impressive garden and we wanted to combine this with another botanical delight at Grasse. But the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes end in disaster!

The village of Gourdon is stunning (even if parking is difficult - no vehicular access to the old town and it is quite a steep uphill hike!) and the views from the top are spectacular. Be warned though ... you'll find your quota of tourist trappings here, ranging from imitation jewellery to overpriced paintings, tacky fridge magnets and other gaudy souvenirs.

The castle looks magical from the outside and your sense of anticipation is considerably heightened by limited opening hours. Visits to the garden are even more severely restricted with tours in July and August only. But sadly, there is a catch because the castle at Gourdon is definitely lacking in garden! It would be better to say that it has some fine topiary, a medicinal herb garden in the making and some spectacular views! All this can be seen from the castle and if it's a hot day, you can access the gardens from inside, so there's no point in waiting to do a "garden" tour. Just visit the castle and enjoy the views from within! It's the same price and you won't get shouted at, as we did, for lagging behind and taking photographs (not that it mattered because my husband doesn't speak French and my command of the language doesn't stretch to answering back!).

Somewhat chastened by this experience, we decided to carry on to the Villa Noailles in nearby Grasse, because one garden visit certainly doesn't count as "galloping"! But it was not our day and despite trying to find this villa for well over an hour; which involved reversing, turning, asking pedestrians, repeatedly reprogramming the Sat-Nav and looking hard for signs, we never did find it.

Tomorrow we are going to visit the gardens of Menton and Monte Carlo, so let's hope we have better luck - if I'm to believe what they say in the Michelin Guide, we won't be disappointed.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Musical fountains & sailor-suited gardeners!

I've been planning this trip for a few weeks now as I'm due at a wedding in Nice tomorrow! But I couldn't possibly visit this part of France without dropping in on a few of the magnificent gardens that I'll be sharing with you in the next couple of days. The climate here in the south of France means that there are plants and vistas that you wouldn't find back home and combine that with the opulence of the area and you've got some pretty exotic gardens.

My first stop today was the world-famous Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild at Cap Ferrat, just outside Nice. My initial response was "Wow"! The villa was built for the Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild in 1912 and she had an entire hill removed so that the gardens could be laid out on flat ground; she named the villa after an ocean liner and insisted that all 35 gardeners who worked there wore sailor costumes; and then she divorced the Baron and moved to Monaco, leaving her extraordinary villa and garden behind!

In fact, this is probably one of the most unusual gardens I have seen anywhere in the world. It is
composed of nine different garden areas, which include French, Japanese, Exotic and Rose Gardens; and combined with its unique position overlooking the Mediterranean and with fine views of Villefranche and Beaulieu, this will surely feature as one of my top garden choices when I get around to writing the definitive book of gardens to visit worldwide, along with Majorelle in Morocco (see entry for 14 June) and Iford Manor, which I wrote about last week.

I had only heard the story about the gardeners being dressed as sailors before I left to see the garden today, so it was quite apt that there should be a huge cruise liner lying in the bay at Villefranche that was clearly visible from the Villa Gardens (above right).

Although the Baroness was responsible for the design of the villa and the areas of garden closest to the house, the credit for most of the planting and landscaping seen there today should go to Louis Marchand, who took over the garden when the villa was bequeathed to the nation in 1934. He was responsible for the Exotic Garden, with its huge bamboos and cacti and also the Japanese Garden.
The Rose Garden (left) is another striking feature of the landscape here - a huge area of pink roses planted in memory of Beatrice Ephrussi, because this was her favourite colour. I am told that this makes a staggering display when all the roses are in bloom!

But perhaps the most impressive sight of all here in the garden is the "musical" fountains in front of the pink villa (below). I say musical because they start up every 10 minutes, and for a short time, the wedding-cake villa is the backdrop for a theatrical fountain display that halts most visitors in their tracks! If you get to this part of the world, don't miss this villa, with its incredible gardens - it's open year round and it's certainly worth making a detour for!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Garden Gadabout - a great way of raising funds!

Regular readers will know that I often visit two or three gardens in a day when I am out and about, but today I turned from "Galloping"to "Gadabout" Gardener on a wonderful tour of local gardens in Brighton, England. This scheme really appealed to me (and judging by the numbers of visitors at the gardens, it did to other garden fanatics too!) and it may well be something that like-minded gardeners want to try back home.

The formula is simple (although it does take some organisation!) and is an open garden scheme raising funds for charity. Private garden owners open their patch for a couple of consecutive Sundays and charge a £1.00 (($1.60 approx) entrance fee on the gate. The proceeds all go to a selected charity; the visitors get to satisfy their curiosity about other people's gardens; there are often plants for sale; but most importantly, this is a wonderful way of looking at the ingenuity of other gardeners; seeing new planting schemes; and realising that what you do at home is just as interesting to a garden audience as visiting many of the wonderful commercial gardens that open to the public.

The gardens I saw today were filled with novel ideas - like the wellington-boot planting (above); the fish sculptures (above and below left); and many different and original planting schemes that made small gardens feel like jungles, meadows or wide-open spaces, even though many of the gardens are in the middle of a town or city!

As we all know, each garden owner has their own vision of the way their plot should look and this scheme enables inquisitive garden lovers to attend a banquet, serving up innovative ideas, originality and charm.

The scheme in and around Brighton has been running for over 15 years and this year sees more than 70 gardens opening to raise funds for The Sussex Beacon - a purpose-built clinical care centre for men and women living with HIV. None of the gardens would normally be open to the public, and this is a great way of getting behind the scenes!

The Garden Gadabout scheme is masterminded by Bridgette Saunders, who opens her own remarkable garden for the event. Don't miss this one!! It is a joy and delight and when I heard a five-year old boy telling his mum that this was "just the best garden ever", my heart lifted! He was, of course, quite right because Bridgette's garden is fantastic.

This year's open garden scheme continues next Sunday, 19th July. There is a brochure listing all the open gardens, which are grouped into areas and means that you can plan your visits to cover Brighton and Hove, as well as other outlying areas including Rottingdean, Lewes and Seaford, to name just a few. The brochure includes maps and full details of the gardens that are open. Advance tickets are also available from The Dome Box Office in Brighton (tel: 01273 709709), costing £6 for the whole day, and giving you unlimited access to all the gardens in the scheme.

What really impressed me about today was the enthusiasm of all the people visiting the gardens and the way the owners engaged with their visitors - all the gardens I visited, large and small were remarkable in their own way; the owners were delightful and happy to answer questions; the sun was shining; and for me it made one of the best "Galloping Gardener" tours so far this year.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Wandering through Wiltshire

The Peto Garden at Iford Manor is an English garden that you can't miss - it's like something from a dream. I had it at the top of my list for several months before finally getting there and I'm glad I made the effort, because it's outstanding!

Nestling on the side of a steep valley near Bath, the honey-coloured Manor house sits near the river Frome, and the garden rises behind in a series of terraces, filled with surprises. You enter by a simple garden gate and then the show begins! This garden is a masterpiece, with its magnificent cypresses and junipers; its columns, fountains, marble seats and statues - and all in 2.5 acres! You wander through this theatrical feast and wonder just how long it took Harold Peto to make this extraordinary Italianate spectacle in the middle of nowhere.

Harold Peto trained as an architect in the same offices as Edwin Lutyens, but he did not become really interested in gardens until he was in his forties. He bought Iford Manor in 1899 and spent the rest of his life making the remarkable garden that is there today. Much of the stonework came from Italy, as did the inspiration that prompted him to include cloisters, loggias, statues and urns, many of which he shipped home from his travels in Europe in his post-architect years.
Harold Peto also designed the gardens at Buscot Park and West Dean, but it is here at his home that he excelled himself. The steep terrain means that he has used every inch of the hillside to display the finer features of the garden and as you climb the steps (left) a different vista unfolds at every stop, but equally impressive are the views over the valley below. Tucked away at the back of the garden is a Japanese garden.

This magnificent garden is also used as a concert and opera venue throughout the summer months and I cannot imagine a more spectacular place to enjoy music on a balmy English evening, with the backdrop of an Elizabethan manor house and views over the valley. This is a garden where time stands still and you feel that you have stepped back a hundred years - don't miss it!

And if you're in the area, combine this with The Courts at nearby Trowbridge. This is another lovely manor house, surrounded with more than seven acres of gardens, including a rectangular lily pond with spectacular irises. You walk through the gates and see the manor house (above) and then wander through the various different areas, which include an arboretum, formal and water gardens.
The Courts is very low key, but not to be missed. It was given to the National Trust in 1943 and has been well restored over the years, and carefully planted to create the beautiful, peaceful garden that you see today.
Particularly impressive at The Courts is the topiary - immaculately clipped box (below) - that looks a bit like ice-cream beginning to melt in the sun; the water garden (left) with its stepped runnel and the pond shaded by a swamp cypress, but which bursts into colour when the water lilies open. It is here that you get a wonderful iris display in springtime.

If you plan to combine the two gardens (and it would be crazy not to, since they are just a few miles apart), do check the opening times. Iford Manor is only open from 2-5 and is not open on Monday or Friday; The Courts is open daily, but not on a Wednesday, so don't make the mistake that I made and arrive mid-week. In my case it didn't matter because I was visiting other gardens in the area (to be featured later), but if you've travelled a long way to see these two lovely gardens, you don't want to miss one!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Gardens that open for charity - don't miss them!

I am just re-posting this entry because there is a garden in Sussex that opens for the last time under the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) this coming Sunday and you won't want to miss it!! Town Place, near Haywards Heath in Sussex (pictured above) is one of the most stunning gardens that I have seen this season and it's open from 2-6pm on Sunday, 12th July. There's ample parking and excellent teas, and I hope that some of my English readers will make it!

We're incredibly lucky in the UK because there are so many gardens to visit. And, thanks to the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), which has a network of owners who open their gardens on just a few days a year to raise funds for the charities that the NGS supports, this is a wonderful way to see gardens that wouldn't normally be open to the public.

This year has seen many changes to the way owners operate, with many gardens opening on weekdays as well as weekends, which gives Mums a chance to visit while the kids are at school and has the added advantage of less crowds. Entrance to the gardens is set at a very low rate and many serve tea, so by planning your day carefully, you can take in a couple of gardens and get homemade tea for under £10.

Some NGS gardens open on a regular basis during the season, on the same day each week, whilst others are only open on a few days a year. So to maximise on the visiting season, you need to arm yourself with a copy of the annual "Yellow Book", which lists all the garden openings around the country, by county and date.

The book includes maps and a description of the gardens and if, like me, you are a garden fanatic, you will never leave home without it! That said, it certainly helps to have a good road map when setting out on a garden jaunt (or a good SatNav system), but you will also find bright yellow road signs as you near your destination, showing you the way to the NGS garden that is open on that day. These signs are quite distinctive and have guided me to many a garden that I was looking for when I thought I was hopelessly lost!

One of the joys of these gardens is the many personal features that you find in them and some are featured here in the photographs - including a homemade sculpture and a scarecrow that particularly appealed to me. Another noticeable feature of the private gardens is that the planting is often more informal than that found at commercial gardens open to the public; and an added bonus is that owners are often present and more than willing to answer any questions you may have. These gardens are also excellent places to buy plants that have been grown on site.

In addition to the Yellow Book (available from all good booksellers, and Amazon) the NGS has its own efficient and easy-to-use website that features a "Garden Finder". Enter your UK postcode and you can find open gardens within a 50-mile radius of your home, together with information about dates and times. Most entries give details of the garden in question and other useful information including website and contact details.

There are approximately 3,600 gardens that open for the NGS during the year in England and Wales and the principal charities supported include Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care and Help the Hospices. All are really worthwhile causes, so you know that your entrance fee is actually going to make a difference, and you have the joy of visiting a garden that is not normally open to the public.

In Scotland there is a separate organisation - Scotland's Garden Scheme, which operates on the same lines. There are other charities that run open garden schemes too, including the RNLI
and British Red Cross. Details of these will be available from their websites.

Gardens shown here are all open under the NGS scheme and include Moorlands, Sussex (above left); Witham Place Farm, Essex (above centre); and Conock Manor, Wiltshire (left). I'll be featuring all of these properties in greater detail in my blog at a later date and suggesting other local gardens to visit when in the area ... so watch this space!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Dalliance with Dorset

Summer is here and the weather was wonderful (until today's torrential rain!), so why not venture out to Dorset, where there are some really magnificent gardens? You could do two or three in a day if you were determined, so in the first of a series of musings about Thomas Hardy country, I can tell you about some of the historic houses with wonderful gardens that I rate as "unmissable" in this glorious part of England.

Mapperton House is a one of my all-time favourites - I return there regularly and am never disappointed because there is always something different to see against the backdrop of a wonderful English manor house, which overlooks a magnificent garden nestling in the valley below. And this is what makes this garden such a complete surprise! The drive is lined with tall lime trees, and you see the house in the distance. Then you explore the gardens adjacent to the property, starting with a courtyard garden at the entrance, and an immaculate lawn and borders at the front of the 16th/17th century house.

But it is what lies below that will amaze you - a magical garden complete with an Italianate fountain court and sculptured topiary; a flower-covered pergola that changes with the seasons and variously displaying wisteria, clematis and roses; and the orangery, built by the current owner's family some 30 years ago.
But Mapperton does not stop here - there is another garden level below the tower house (pictured above), complete with ponds on two levels and views over the open countryside.

The garden here has something for all seasons and is open from March to October daily, except Saturday. The house is open from the end of June to the beginning of August, but please check times and dates on the website.

Athelhampton is another historic house with an equally impressive, but very different garden that is easily combined with Mapperton in a day. This is a Tudor manor house set in the heart of Thomas Hardy's Wessex, with some of the most striking topiary that you will see anywhere in England; a 15th century circular dovecote; and a winding river walk along the Piddle.
The gardens are both intimate and formal and there is a striking centrally-located Corona (below) with central fountain, which is surrounded by impressive stone obelisks, atop undulating walls, against a backdrop of immaculately-clipped yew hedges.

The house is also well worth visiting to see just how the English lived in days gone by. Parts of it date from the middle ages, although it was added to in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The gardens were designed at the end of the 19th century by the architect Inigo Thomas, although they have obviously taken many years to mature to the stage where they are today with the 30ft clipped yew pyramids in the Great Court (above).

Athelhampton, like Mapperton is open from May to October, but not on a Saturday. Both properties are worth making a special trip to see and you will have the added advantage of enjoying the Dorset countryside, which is quite spectacular at this time of year.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Garden paradise for all the family

It's all very well being a passionate gardener, but one of the problems of garden visiting is what to do with the kids when visiting gardens away from home! If they're anything like mine, there's no way that they will give a second glance to plants or wonderful border displays... but give them another distraction and you might just get to spend time admiring the garden yourself.

Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in Norfolk offers the perfect solution because it has a spectacular collection of birds which will entertain all age groups and a magnificent Millenium Garden (above), created by my favourite garden designer, Piet Oudolf. There is also the smaller Wave Garden designed by Julie Toll. Both are very different, but quite spectacular and well worth going out of your way to visit. There is a lot of open space here, including a wildlife habitat garden and a wildflower meadow, so kids can run around while "crinklies" admire the flowers.

I have to confess that I am also a bird fanatic, so the other allure of Pensthorpe is its hugely impressive collection of cranes, storks and flamingoes, as well as many other web-footed friends that you won't see elsewhere. But it is the cranes that are really stunning and if you are lucky (or happen to be there at feeding time) you may get to see the cranes in action, like the one above, calling out. These birds are wonderful, majestic and unusual, and Pensthorpe is actively involved in re-introducing the various species to Europe.

But so too are the smaller birds and I was just fascinated by this one's feet (below). When I mentioned this to my son, he replied: "Well, of course, Mum, how else could you walk on the water lilies?" And he has a very good point there!

One of the joys of Pensthorpe is that it's open all year and there is always colour in the gardens and among the birds. Well worth a visit and going out of your way for!