Saturday, 30 January 2010

Absolute must for all US gardeners!!

Now this is an absolute must for all you US readers who like visiting gardens because it makes them affordable; works nationwide; and will save you a fortune, if you love visiting gardens. I discovered it here in Florida and know that it works all over the US. I've already used it to visit most of the gardens I've reviewed so far (with entry fees running anywhere between $5 and S20, I couldn't afford to "Gallop" here at the rate I do!!).

Many public gardens here in America run a "Friends" or "Member" Programme which means that you sign up for an annual membership. If like me, you have a fabulous garden nearby (and in my case it's the Marie Selby Botanical Garden), you can visit that garden whenever you want during the year, but you also get reciprocal arrangements to other gardens through the American Horticultural Society (AHS) all over the United States.

Alternatively, you can just join the AHS and then you'll get their magazine, plus news of events and free entry to all their member gardens.

I've only been here for 10 days, but so far I've been to see the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Sunken Gardens, Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, and next week I'm off to Fairchild Tropical Gardens and many others on the East coast of Florida .... so watch this space!

I will be adding a US Garden directory to my side bar when I've visited more gardens here, but in the meantime, here's a list of the Florida properties I've seen, with links:

Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales
Joan M. Durante Park, Longboat Key
Jungle Gardens, Sarasota
Sunken Gardens, St Petersburg

Thank you all for visiting - I'm having a wonderful time here looking at gardens - and hope you'll continue to visit with me.

Friday, 29 January 2010

The "estate" that Sarasota forgot - another secret garden!

I've been coming to Sarasota for at least five years, but I've never seen anything written about Historic Spanish Point. I found it by accident; spent a couple of hours there this afternoon with my girlfriend from the UK; and was amazed that more is not made of this wonderful and eclectic property - another "must-see" if you're in the area!

Former home of Bertha Matilde Honore Palmer - widow of a Chicago magnate - you can just imagine the parties that went on here during the family's 70-year "reign" at this estate! It's certainly as interesting as the Edison and Ford Winter Estates that I reviewed earlier this week, and Bertha was definitely a gardener with "attitude", so you have unusual features like her sunken garden, with its exotic pergola (top and below), Duchene Lawn (bottom) and glorious Fern Walk (above).

But it's a little hard to understand the ethos of the property today - virtually unpublicised - but very visitable, with a glorious outlook over the water, some really interesting features including a jungle walk, and bordered by fantastic mangroves on the west (overlooking Little Sarasota Bay) and pine flatwoods to the east. The spanish moss is spectacular; there's a butterfly garden (sadly devastated by the recent cold spell); a prehistoric Indian burial mound; and much, much more.

But for some reason this property just doesn't feature in all the tourist "blurb" for Sarasota! It's only a half-hour drive from downtown, and it certainly gets my vote, so hope that when you come this way, you'll remember to visit.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

A great little "estate" in Florida

It's taken me several years to get to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida, but I finally made it today!! It's a charming property - not what we'd call an "estate" by English standards - but well worth the visit if you want to see a slice of life gone by, some magnificent palm trees (above) and cycads (below), and sit by the Caloosahatchee River admiring the views.

Thomas Edison, the great inventor, first visited Fort Myers in 1885. He was already well-established as an inventor and wanted to find a property that would allow him to escape from the brutal winter months in New Jersey. The story goes that he bought the 13-acre plot within 24 hours of arriving in town and went on to build a house for himself and a guest house that stand on the site today. All the materials had to be brought down the river because there was no road system at that time.

With views like the one above, looking down Edison Pier, it's hardly surprising that when his friend - Henry Ford - came to stay some 20 years later, he immediately bought the plot next door. Today the two properties are a Florida Historic Landmark, which have been fully restored, surrounded by gardens filled with interesting trees and plants.

The Moonlight Garden (above) is charming, with its blue pots and central pond. It is a tiny little haven designed by renowned female landscape architect Gertrude Biddle and is accessed from Edison's office. And it's just one section of the gardens that will catch your eye - elsewhere there are many fine plants - all meticulously labelled - and many trees including a splendid selection of palms; the largest banyan tree in the US; and other tropical collections including cycads, with their extraordinary fruits.

And all this perched on the edge of the river, where you can watch paddle steamers like the one above. A great day out you certainly won't be disappointed. We really enjoyed our visit.

Monday, 25 January 2010

US & Canada Garden Directory

Huntington Library and Gardens, California


Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing
Filoli Gardens, Woodside (below)
Fullerton Arboretum, Orange County
Hakone Gardens, Saratoga
Hortense Miller Garden, Laguna Beach
Huntington Library and Gardens, San Marino
Keeyla Meadows Garden, Albany, CA
Lotusland, Santa Barbara, CA
San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas, CA
Small Planet Garden, en route to Big Sur
The Wave Garden, Richmond Point
Filoli, California


Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales
Joan M. Durante Park, Longboat Key
Jungle Gardens, Sarasota
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota
Mable Ringling's Rose Garden, Sarasota (below)
Mable Ringling's Rose Garden, Sarasota, FL

Spanish Monastery, N. Miami Beach
Sunken Gardens, St Petersburg
The Kampong, Miami
Vizcaya, Miami

North Carolina

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, Belmont

Heronswood Garden, WA created by plantsman Dan Hinkley


Heronswood Garden, Kingston, WA
Windcliff Garden, WA

Allan Gardens Conservatory, Toronto, Canada
Allan Gardens Conservatory, Toronto (above)

Climate change ... breaks your heart if you're a gardener

Today I left my Florida home excited because I was planning visits to two new gardens I'd never seen before en route to Tampa airport to collect a friend from England. But instead of the usual spring in my step after garden visits, I'm feeling really sad, having seen the extent of the damage that the prolonged spell of cold weather here in Florida has caused. The picture above was taken at the University of South Florida Botanical Garden but this wasn't the glorious brown that we associate with autumn in the UK (below).

I'm sure that this garden can look lovely, with its ideal location on the edge of Lake Bennke, but my visit was a real wake-up call on climate change! And I haven't seen "The Road" yet, which is hitting cinemas all over the world, but I've read the book and when I saw the way the gardens looked today, I realised that I probably don't have the stomach to see the movie!

My second visit was the Sunken Gardens in St Petersburg - still looking pretty good under the circumstances, but an uncharacteristic amount of brown there too. Of course, it would be hard to rival the collection of palms, citrus fruit trees and lovely blooms in this little oasis, but here too the foliage on many of the plants was a deathly colour (or should I now be writing "color" in the US?). That said, little could deflect from the sun shining through the palm frowds into the garden below.

There's no doubt that this is an enchanting place - it's stuck in a time warp - from the sign on the road (above), which is reminscent of Florida in days gone by, to the wonderful, antiquated "grove" heaters strategically placed around the garden (above, centre). The original four-acre property was bought by George Turner in 1903 - a plumber, who also happened to be an avid gardener - who drained a shallow lake on the site to provide the rich and fertile soil in the garden today, which sits 15-feet below street level.

Originally opened as Turner's Sunken Gardens, the property was bought by the City of St Petersburg in 1999, but it retains its olde-world charm today, and is worth a visit if you are in the area. There is another garden nearby - The Florida Botanical Gardens - which I didn't have time to visit, but I'll let you have the low-down on that one when I get there.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Sunny Sunday ... at last!

This post is to thank you for all your lovely comments and good wishes for my travels. And yes, today the sun is trying to shine, so I thought I'd share some of the sights from my morning walk today. The birds here are wonderful - pelicans (above) everywhere!

The flowers are beautiful too and such a delight after all the snow in England.

I can't believe how many types of hibiscus there are ... everywhere I look!

Beautiful grey herons too!

And the jewel in the crown here ... the roseate spoonbill.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Weather here is worse than the UK!!

This post is for everyone who thinks that I'm galloping around in glorious Florida sunshine, because although it should be like the picture above, I'm actually shrouded in a thick flog, reminiscent of November in the UK, so I'm sitting at my desk planning my garden trips in the next few weeks and praying that the weather improves. What's more, the current weather patterns also made for a pretty bumpy transatlantic ride, so I was pretty pleased to put my feet back on the ground last night!!

I'm incredibly lucky to be within 10 miles of the wonderful gardens in Sarasota, including the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (all pictures on today's post are taken there on previous trips... when the sun was shining), and the gardens at Ca d'Zan, which I haven't reviewed yet, but will be doing when the weather improves, to see Mable Ringling's magnificent rose garden.

I'm really excited because Marie Selby is running some fantastic courses this winter, including several digital Photo Workshops (I've never been able to enhance my pictures, so this is going to be a first for me and I'm off there this afternoon to sign up), and some lectures on bromeliads and orchids - neither of which I know anything about.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that the weather improves, and I'll keep you posted about my garden visits. The new Naples Botanical Garden is right at the top of my list for when the sun comes out next week and the Edison Gardens.

Thank you all for your good wishes from my last post and hope you'll continue to drop in here. And... if you haven't discovered it yet, there's my new blog:

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Thinking about spring ... as the days get longer

I'm leaving for the US tomorrow and won't be home for several months, but as the big thaw continues (despite more snow flurries today!), I realised that I'm going to miss some of the wonderful spring gardens in England this year. I won't see the bluebells, or the daffodils, so wanted to flag up a few gardens for my readers, in case you've got the chance to visit when there are carpets of spring flowers. And if you do ... please take some pictures for me!

Two exceptional gardens that you can visit in a day are Mottisfont Abbey (above) with its incredible camellias, and Heale House (below) with its acres of daffodils - both are quite wonderful in springtime, and you may want to think about planning a visit as the days grow longer. Longstock Park is another must see in this vicinity - but opening times are very limited and I have yet to get there (because of the restricted hours), although only last week someone was telling me what a beautiful garden this is.

Cornwall also has more than its fair share of exceptional spring properties, and the gardens tend to be ahead of those further east. You've got a glut of glorious gardens including Trewithen (below), with its incredible spring bulbs and camellias; Caerhays Castle, which will leave you gasping because the spring camellia and rhododendron displays are so incredible; and other amazing gardens on the Helford Estuary, including Trebah and Glendurgan. You'd need a week in Cornwall to take them all in, but I think this is the best time of year because prices are lower and the county is less crowded.

If you're planning visits to British gardens, you may find my Garden Directory useful - it lists nearly 100 properties that I visited in 2009. I hope you enjoy these gardens .... and I shall be back reviewing American gardens next week, including the new Botanical Garden at Naples, which I plan to visit over the weekend. I shall also be touring the Carolinas, Georgia and several other states in the next few weeks, so hope you'll check in to see where I've been.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Frozen Sheffield Park - another winter wonderland!

It's fantastic at any time of the year, but yesterday when I visited Sheffield Park, the lakes were still frozen. And even though the sun was shining, it was still very cold, but a wonderful day to see this amazing garden recovering from the big freeze. There were new shoots everywhere and it's going to be a blaze of colour in the spring judging by the bumper crop of buds on the rhododendrons and azaleas!

The swans were picking their way through the ice; children were running around in the park; and adults were amazed by the amount of ice left on the lakes. It was a perfect winter wonderland, like so many of the gardens here in the south emerging from the snow.

All of the lakes were still partially frozen, with notices everywhere, warning people not to walk on the ice. It may look tempting, but you wouldn't want to fall in that water .... hypothermia would soon set in!
And best of all was the thin and watery winter sunshine. Not enough to warm you up at the edge of the frozen lakes, but enough to make you realise that England looks very different without its blanket of snow ... even if the ice is still there. But even in this winter wonderland, do spare a thought for those in Haiti - it's so easy to give on your mobile/cell phone, so here's the link:

Friday, 15 January 2010

An amazing winter wonderland - West Dean

Snow's melting, sun's returned, and I can't think of a better garden to visit than West Dean near Chichester in Sussex, particularly in the late afternoon, when the shadows are long and the spring bulbs are about to push up through acres of grass at this idyllic setting in the folds of the South Downs.

Former home of Edward James, the 100-acre estate supports a College of the same name dedicated to education in the arts and crafts (you can study many different subjects here from making stringed musical instruments to photography, bookbinding or metalwork!) and a garden that draws visitors from all over the world.

Harold Peto (of Iford Manor fame) designed the magnificent giant pergola (above), which always looks spectacular - even in winter - for this is when you can see just what an architectural feat it is, with its columns reflecting in the pools of water below.

Gertrude Jekyll also had an input here, with her wild water garden to the west of the main house, alongside the river Lavant, which meanders through the gardens. Her only other water garden is at Vann.

West Dean also has 35 acres of ornamental gardens, an arboretum and a superb Victorian walled kitchen garden, which is particularly memorable in summer with its fruit trees and magnificent herbaceous border which is ablaze with colour.

But for me, this garden is exceptional in winter, with the clear light and low sun in the sky, casting shadows across the landscape.

Also worth looking out for at West Dean are the special themed weekends that take place during the year - the Wholly Herbs event, the Chilli Fiesta, the Totally Tomato Show and the Apple Affair, when the displays are spectacular - do check the website for details - you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Memories of summer .... as more snow falls

OK - that's it - we've woken up to another blanket of snow here in southern England; the roads are hushed, the schools are closed; there'll be more stories about how we're not equipped to cope in this country. So as I look out of my window onto another Brighton "white-out" I'm going to reflect of one of the glorious gardens I visited last summer, to lift my spirits.

Welcome to Waterperry near Oxford - eight acres of ornamental gardens, founded by a Miss Beatrix Havergal in the 1930's - to educate women in horticulture - and now a glorious palette of colour to remember as I look out over more white streets and try to remember just what is planted in my garden under the latest blanket of snow. Open all year round (except Christmas), you can look forward to special snowdrop weekends here next month on 6/7 and 13/14 February.

This is a wonderful garden, home to the National Collection of saxifrages (kabschia), with more than 300 species and cultivars, but most memorable for its incredible herbaceous stock beds and borders (top) - an absolute joy in terms of their density of planting, fine colour schemes, and impeccable labelling (which means that even I can't make excuses for my inability to remember plant names, because here at Waterperry, I could just take photographs of plants and labels to jog my memory!).

The formal garden is one of the garden's best-known features, with its swirling knot garden and tunnel of white wisteria, plus the "The Lamp of Wisdom" sculpture (above). Alpines, dwarf conifers, a rose garden, water-lily canal and five acres of commercial orchard producing apple juice are also well-known features of this stunning garden, plus an excellent nursery, where you'll be hard-pressed to resist buying for your own garden.

It's well worth checking what's on at Waterperry because there is a full programme of gardening and arts and crafts on offer. And, if you want to combine this beautiful garden with others in the area, you can put Rousham House and the University of Oxford Botanic Garden on your list.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Lovely "L" gardens to divert us from the snow

As we're sitting here in the South of England waiting for the snow to thaw (and we've certainly seen more of our fair share of the white stuff in the last month!), I thought I'd revert to my alphabetically listed gardens, and give you some glimpses of some of the best starting with "L".

Lamorran is one of my favourite English gardens - way down in Cornwall on the Roseland peninsular - this is one of the best kept secrets in the county and well worth a visit. The gardens are on a steep incline overlooking the sea, and the planting is so dense that you feel as though you're in a jungle! This property is quite unique - Italianate in style, with many wonderful statues - but also notable for its collection of palms and tree ferns, which flourish on its south-facing slopes. Opening times are quite restricted, so do check the website before visiting.

Just down the road is Lanhydrock with its 17th century mansion and unique gatehouse (above). This garden couldn't be more different than my previous entry. Famous for its astounding collection of magnolias in the spring, this property boasts wonderful woodland walks and views over the surrounding countryside. Former home of the Robartes family, it has been under the stewardship of the National Trust since 1953 and the garden is open all year. The house is also well worth visiting, but is not open in winter.

Moving away from Cornwall, there's Lower Severalls, another of my favourites (above). Hidden away in deepest Somerset, this is an unusual cottage garden with dense and unusual planting and a series of "rooms" featuring different plants in the water, bog and dry gardens. There's also a very good nursery.

Lytes Cary is another unique garden to visit if you're in Somerset and is easily accessible from Lower Severalls - a wonderful medieval manor house (above), with magnificent topiary and an Arts and Crafts garden that looks stunning in the summer with the dense planting, and splendid borders.

This area of Somerset is a great place to base yourself if you're doing garden tours, because you can also include Tintinhull, Barrington Court, East Lambrook and Montacute on your wish list and all are within easy reach. It's worth looking at a map and planning to spend several days here if you want to take advantage of all the gardens - and certainly worth dreaming about, if like me, you're still snowed in!