Sunday, 30 May 2010

What a lot went on in May!!


May is drawing to a close ... and it's been a good one!  Hottest gossip on the UK gardening scene is that Tom Coward is moving from Great Dixter to Gravetye Manor in July, so watch out for changes in the way the Manor garden looks. Lots of good weather (although the English gardens are running well behind thanks to the brutally cold winter); a visit from well-known American blogger - Alice (below) of Bay Area Tendrils and Alice's Garden Travel Buzz.  It's always good to meet fellow bloggers and we went on a whirlwind tour of gardens in Sussex, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and Wales, many of which Alice is currently featuring on her blogs.  I also had the chance to meet the lovely Victoria of Victoria's Backyard and sneak a peak at her glorious garden, which opens for the NGS later this year.

First time gardens for me this month were Chart's Edge, Gravetye Manor, Monk's House (entirely due to Alice even though it's so close to my home), Veddw, and the Roof Gardens in London's Kensington (great lunch and even better views!) - all very different gardens and each unique in its own way - and all covered in May postings, so do scroll down if you've missed them.

The most impressive sight this month was the Rock Garden at Leonardslee (top),which simply took my breath away (top), together with the tulips at Cothay Manor, where I encountered the charming owner Mary Ann Robb (RHS in picture below), hard at work in the bog garden, with her co-workers.

May also saw The Chelsea Flower Show, which I missed, but managed to catch up with on TV; the promise of many new gardens to come in June and lots of hard work in my own garden (which never gets featured on my blog because it's work in progress, but not far enough advanced to be proud of yet!)
But after four years of hard work, it's beginning to come together. Below is one of the areas I'm working on right now - there was nothing here at all at the beginning of April, and I'm planning to have a whole bed of different euphorbias and heuchera .... all experimental at the moment ... so it may well change!

And not to be forgotten are new bloggers on the scene this month include Seeds and the City and Monkey Dribble - both lovely UK blogs and Rosemary's Blog with its wonderful pictures. I thoroughly recommend all three.  Fellow Blotanist Catherine Horwood of Gardening Women - has a new book out, to be reviewed on BBC's Woman's Hour tomorrow and I'm just off to buy a copy, so will let you know what I think when I've read it.

I'm off to Barnsley House - former home of Rosemary Verey - in June, to do a photography course with Clive Nichols; and to West Dean to see what new courses they have on offer at a special preview day. There are many gardens on my wish list, including several in the Cotswolds, which I hope to see when I go up to Barnsley.  So all in all, May has been a good month, with many lovely sunny days, gorgeous gardens to visit, and new friends ... and June promises to be even better.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

When tantalising topiary turns to hedging horror!


I've visited several gardens this month which are renowned for their topiary displays, starting with Mapperton House (above) and Athelhampton (below), but all are currently at risk from box blight or Phytophthora (Greek for 'plant destroyer') - a water-born fungus which kills yew hedges.  Sir Roy Strong completely changed his iconic garden at The Laskett after it had been hit by box blight and Westbury Park Garden in Gloucestershire (to be reviewed next week), is desperately looking for a cure for its yew hedges before it's too late!  And the tragedy is that even Mapperton and Athelhampton looked as though they were in for a hard time beating these bugs.

I'm not going to elaborate on the history of topiary here, because I've found a fascinating website which deals with all aspects of ornamental hedging - the Topiary Organisation - and will let you read for yourselves what is known about this ancient art.  But what I do know is that I saw a huge number of immaculately clipped hedges in my travels last week, which prompted me to look further into topiary.  


There are many stunning gardens in England where topiary is a primary reason to visit. Personally, I cannot imagine the time and effort required to turn hedges into appealing shapes like the well-known squirrels at Great Dixter (above), or indeed the consummate clipping skills required to keep Veddw (below) looking so immaculate, but I am filled with admiration for those gardeners who offer such visual delights to their visitors. I have yet to hear of a gardener's spirit-level that guides the clippers, or an electric trimmer that cuts to a number 1 or 9 like a barber uses!

Let's just hope that someone finds a cure for these hedging horrors soon, because it would be a terrible shame to lose the topiary displays at these wonderful gardens.  I'd just like to say that these are the gardens I've visited this month with extraordinary or interesting hedging .... there are many others throughout the UK that I'll be visiting later this summer .... so watch this space!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Another glorious gourmet garden!


I have to confess that while all really serious gardeners have been at the Chelsea Flower Shower this week, I've been skulking around in Sussex enjoying the sunshine and looking for new gardens to visit. But I'm glad I stayed home, because I visited a startling garden this week, which has been on my wish list for several years - Gravetye Manor near East Grinstead in Sussex - a fine example of an Elizabethan house, surrounded by acres of glorious gardens and parkland - and former home of William Robinson, the influential (and outspoken) garden designer, who earned the nickname of "Father of the English Flower Garden".
Gravetye is best-known as a luxury hotel, surrounded by glorious gardens, but is now under new ownership and what will interest fellow gardeners is the new head gardener who joins the team in July. Tom Coward is arriving from Great Dixter in East Sussex and it will be interesting to see what changes he makes at this historical property in the next few years, given its gardening history.

This was the home of leading garden theorist and writer, William Robinson (1838-1935), who moved here in 1885 and remained here until his death.  Robinson was heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, was a friend of Gertrude Jekyll's and came into contact with William Morris, who much admired his work. He was a passionate gardener and prolific writer, who launched the original weekly journal "The Garden" in 1871 (not to be confused with the monthly RHS publication, The Garden - which goes out to members today) and two major gardening books:  "The Wild Garden" and "The English Flower Garden" which remain in print today. Other well-known gardens for which he is credited include Hergest Croft in Herefordshire and Killerton in Devon.

The gardens at Gravetye are divided into several distinct areas - the wonderful and immaculately tended formal gardens around the house (top three pictures), where the Elizabethan manor plays a large part in the overall impression of the grandeur and style of planting; the lovely woodland gardens at the rear of the property (above) where you will see magnificent displays of late-flowering rhododendrons; the wild garden beyond the formal gardens; and the parkland and lakes which provide memorable views for hotel guests.  There is also a fine kitchen garden, which will, I'm sure be nurtured and brought back to life when Tom Coward arrives.

At present, the only way you can see these glorious gardens in all their splendour, is to eat or stay at the hotel, but I can assure you that this is a wonderful place for "Ladies that Lunch" (just like Babylon in London) and I, for one, will be returning with my girlfriends to see how these gardens progress.  I didn't have time to sample the food on this visit, but I'm told it's excellent, and the location alone is incentive to eat there. You've also got the added attraction of nearby Wakehurst Place where there's always something spectacular in bloom!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Margery Fish's cottage garden paradise

No visit to Somerset would be complete without a visit Margery Fish's home in East Lambrook.  This amazing plantswoman will always be remembered for her contribution to "cottage" and country gardening. She lived there for 30 years and passed on her ability to create drifts of colour in a small space in her numerous books, including "Cottage Garden Flowers", which became a bible for country gardeners in the 1960s.
Margery and her husband Walter bought East Lambrook Manor in 1937 for £1,000 and together they developed the two-acre garden there. But when Walter died in 1949, Margery emerged as a keen plantswoman in her own right and spent her time lecturing and writing about gardening, as well as building up a nursery to supply an increasingly knowledgeable garden audience with the plants that they needed to emulate her style.  She also developed her own cultivars including Astrantia Major, Hebe, Penstemon and Pulmonaria saccharata Margery Fish; and Euphorbia wulfeni, Dainthus, Primula vulgaris and Santolina Lambrook.
The most striking feature at East Lambrook is that every inch of space has been used to create a garden that is filled with vibrant colours throughout the year.  The garden starts drawing visitors in February for its snowdrop displays; and throughout the spring and summer months, the planting has been carefully chosen to provide colour and interest whenever you visit, starting with drifts of spring bulbs in March and April and wonderful full cottage borders in May and June. There is always something in bloom and it is the abundance of the planting that will strike you, because there are no patches of dark earth to be seen anywhere. You'll certainly leave here with many new ideas for your own garden!
Although the garden is small, it gives the impression of being much larger because it is cleverly divided into separate areas with a series of winding paths and lovely vistas which make you think you're in quite a large space. There is a true cottage garden adjacent to the house, and at the rear of the property there is a meadow area and a bubbling brook.  You can easily spend a couple of hours here, just wondering at all the different plants.
If you're planning to visit other gardens in the area, you'll be spoilt for choice because there's Athelhampton, Mapperton and Hestercombe, and you many even want to stay at the lovely bed and breakfast adjacent to the garden, East Lambrook Farm, run by a charming English hostess and offering great comfort in another lovely Somerset stone house.  You can't get much more off the beaten track than this and you may just want to stay for ever!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Veddw - an undulating eye opener in Wales!


Veddw is a truly remarkable garden. On the slopes of the Tintern Valley in Monmouthshire this is the charming child of gifted gardeners Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes who have created an extraordinary landscape out of the land around their home. It's like a scene from Alice in Wonderland and I kept expecting the Mad Hatter to arrive at any moment!!  Marvellous planting; clever use of structure and colour; tantalising vistas over the undulating hedges; and a photographic heaven are all hallmarks of this wonderful garden.  


It is glances of the areas within - like the Meadow (above) - that are notable features of this garden, which is divided by immaculately clipped hedges, revealing a series of magical garden rooms like the Cornfield Garden (below) once you venture inside them. I can't even imagine how many hours it takes to keep the hedges so perfectly trimmed, but they're a vital ingredient of this extraordinary garden, which flows like river, down the hillside.


Anne's special Cornfield Garden garden is particularly striking, with its boxed hedge enclosures, hand painted black enclosing rails, adorned with all the plant names and hand-made brick paths. She tried to grow weeds here once, but failed dismally because they wouldn't grow to order.  But be warned, this is not a garden for the feint hearted .... it doesn't fit the norm and you won't find immaculately tended herbaceous borders or stretches of striped lawn.  This is a garden that will really make you think!


Veddw is all about colour, shape and form and is well worth making a detour for if you are anywhere near the Severn Bridge - it certainly ranks as one of the top gardens I've seen yet, and I shall  definitely be going back next time I'm within 50 miles of it.  You will  see that I have also allowed the pictures here to tell the story, rather than describing the garden in detail.  The Veddw website has a full garden description with Charles' photographs.  I'm really glad I visited because this is one of the gardens that has been on my wishlist for more than a year and it certainly sails into my "Top Ten List" at the end of my first year of blogging.


Save the wonderful contemplation pool (above) till last and you will be able to reflect on your visit to this amazing garden.  Veddw is open on Sundays from 2.00 - 5.00, but check the website for full details and prices.  This is definitely a garden worth making a detour for and a reason to be in Wales on a Sunday.


Anne has written a book about creating the garden at Veddw, with photographs by her husband, Charles. "The Bad Tempered Gardener", published by Frances Lincoln, is an extremely good read and covers a lot more than the garden! 

Friday, 21 May 2010

I'm the luckiest woman in the world!!

Udaipur, India (January)

Today marks the anniversary of when I started blogging and I want to say a really big thank-you to all my readers; all the friends I've made on line; all the garden owners who've put up with my endless questions; and most of all to my family and friends, who've watched me or joined me Galloping round gardens all over the world. THANK YOU EVERYBODY!!


It's been a wonderful year and much has been achieved - some 100+ gardens reviewed; a hospital built in India; many air miles accumulated; and times of great sadness and joy! It all began because of my dear father .... when he was dying last year, we used to visit gardens together in Cornwall - on the days that he was well enough to be pushed in a wheelchair round some of the best gardens in the world. They were truly wonderful days and I shall always remember the joy that they brought us when time was running out. I started photographing gardens then and once he was gone, I started blogging. Thank you Paul.


I've met wonderful garden owners; made many new friends; kept battery companies buoyant with all the pictures I've taken; and made pilgrimages to far-flung corners of the globe to find new places and new faces. There's been some terrible disappointments in terms of gardens visited, but also some real surprises.


I've been stopped at borders; travelled all night on buses, trains and planes; got sick and recovered; but I've had incredible fun too, despite the ups and downs. Many of you wonder how I do it, but I've already written how and why and if you want to know, here's the link.

Veddw, Wales (April) - to be reviewed next week

A special thank-you goes to all the garden owners who've allowed me to visit at very short notice, or let me in when I've appeared at the gate. And to all the people who've helped me overcome plagiarism, picture stealing, computer glitches and camera hitches.


There's certainly been more than a few nights in grim hotels ... when I wondered why I carried on .... but the good times have far outweighed the bad! And the gardens more than made up for lumpy pillows, foul food, dirty rooms and noisy neighbours.


What I have learned is that gardens and gardening are a wonderful way of putting the world in perspective. You see the seasons change; you witness extraordinary weather conditions, but nature always bounces back and provides more beautiful flowers, regardless of the weather.


I've managed to build a hospital in rural Rajasthan which is nearly ready to open. And I'll be honest, I'm more proud of that achievement than anything else I've done in my life. But none of that would have been possible without the unerring loyalty of my Indian business partner and the encouragement and support that I've received from family, friends and benefactors. And I've even managed to visit gardens in India on my travels there.


Thank you too to all the gardeners who read my blog, who've become fans of The Raven Foundation on Facebook and given us moral support as we've been building the hospital. Just knowing you are there makes all the difference!!


And as we reach the end of May, the list of gardens that I hope to visit gets longer and longer, so I hope you'll continue to follow me around the world. I don't think my garden wish-list will ever be completed!


So today, I leave you with a selection of the gardens that I've seen throughout the year - they are featured in the month in which they were photographed, so I am not expressing any preferences here - I just wanted to share some of the wonderful sights I've seen. If you'd like to know more about any of them, you can click on the caption - it will take you to the original entry. So here's to the next year of visiting gardens .... and who knows where I'll end up!!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Down to earth again and back in Sussex

After all the excitement of lunch at The Roof Gardens in London earlier this week, it's back down to earth again here in Sussex, as we hope for warmer weather and fewer showers! All the gardens seem to be running late because of the long, cold winter we had here, but here's one that looking fantastic, even on a grey day - Michelham Priory, near Hailsham - and what I love about this garden, is that it's never crowded.

This is an extraordinarily beautiful garden, tucked away in the countryside near Hailsham, with a house that dates back to 1229, and boasting the longest medieval water-filled moat in the country! But what really strikes you about Michelham is the sense of peace there as you wander through the garden admiring the planting.

Originally the site of a monastery, there is even a small Physic Garden and a restored Cloister Garden (below), but what will really strike you here is the density of the planting and the glorious border displays that change through the seasons - right now the tulips are still in bloom - but in June the densely planted borders will be resplendent.

There is also a restored mill house and a regularly changing sculpture exhibition here at the Priory, with all work by local artists. This really is a garden to spend a little time in and allow yourself to sit and enjoy the countryside. You can easily get to Batemans - one-time home of Rudyard Kipling - from here, if you want another local garden, or if you visit in June, there are notable NGS gardens open, including Clinton Lodge and Hailsham Grange.

Other nearby gardens include Monk's House and Charleston, which I'll be reviewing in the next few weeks, but in the meantime I'm off to Somerset next week to look at some of the great gardens there!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Eat your heart out above London!

I seem to have done a lot of raving about new gardens I've visited recently ... and I make no apology for doing it again today, because I've just had lunch at the wonderful Babylon rooftop restaurant in London and had the chance to wander around the The Roof Gardens there in between the downpours .... and it's absolutely amazing!!! The pergola (above), definitely gets a place in my pergola parlour, the views over London are fantastic, and the food, which is after all why I went there, is commendable. All in all a great day out!!

The restaurant is perched on the top of what used to be Derry & Tom's, the once famous department store in Kensington High Street, and the The Roof Gardens - which extend to an amazing 1.5 acres - are on the floor below, so if you're sitting out on the terrace, you have wonderful views over the greenery beneath you. It's a magical setting for lunch and you also get fine views of London! Today both restaurant and gardens are part of the Virgin empire.

The gardens are divided into four distinct areas - a Spanish Garden modeled on the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain; a Tudor Garden (below); an English Woodland garden (bottom) and a Japanese garden (above) and there are even ducks and flamingoes wandering around as though they own the place! It's really quite enchanting.

I'm sure you'll agree looking at these pictures, that it's hard to believe this is all above busy Kensington High Street in London. But if you've got the time and you're up in town, or visiting from overseas, this is one to aim for ... especially on a summer's day, when you can eat outside.
Babylon offers a set price menu (two or three courses) or a la carte and the food is excellent, but do book ahead, because I suspect that you could be disappointed if you don't. Full details and sample menus are available on their website (including prices for set menus).

Just a brief note to my readers in case you wonder why I love so many places ..... it's simply because I don't write about anywhere that I don't like!! There are many gardens that I've visited that don't make the grade for me, but rather than write negative comments, I leave them out altogether! GG

Monday, 10 May 2010

Garden Candy in Kent!

No wonder Kent is called "The Garden of England" - it's filled with beautiful gardens all in spring bloom and I set off early this morning to visit some of my favourites. First stop was Hever Castle (above), which is looking quite glorious, and as I've reviewed it before (click to view), I'm going to tell the story in pictures today.

One time home of Anne Boleyn, just one of Henry VIII's many wives, and more recently, William Waldorf Aster, who collected classical statues, you will be amazed by what you find in the gardens - ranging from small classical figures to huge arches like the one below. There is also one of the longest pergolas in Europe (above) and a magnificent man-made lake. There is always something in bloom here, so you can visit at any time.

The four-acre Italian Garden is quite superb - filled with a series of garden rooms, each one different - and there is also a water maze, a Tudor herb garden, and acres of beautiful parkland to compliment the castle, which is just as interesting as the grounds.

Chiddingstone Castle (above) is less than 10 minutes from Hever and if you're in the area, it would be a shame not to drop in. The garden here is under development, but makes a wonderful place for a picnic; and treasure hunters will be amazed by the Egyptian, Japanese, Buddhist and Stuart/Jacobite collections housed in the castle.

Combine this with nearby Groombridge Place (above) and you'll have a wonderful day out. The moated house (not open to the public) nestles in a valley, and considerable effort has been put into developing the gardens, which like Hever, offer year-round interest. There is a wonderful Drunken Garden of mis-shapen junipers; fine displays of flowers; a giant chessboard and a new knot garden. There is also an Enchanted Forest, approached by an ariel walkway, to keep the children entertained.