Tuesday, 29 June 2010

June ... what a glorious month it's been!

What a glorious June it's been!  Long sunny days here in England (although we're now facing the prospect of hosepipe bans!), many wonderful gardens visited and new friends made. And I'm now preparing to go to India again, so if you'd like to give moral support to my hospital project there, PLEASE follow our blog by clicking on the link below ... and you can follow me on my travels too:

I've had another wonderful month visiting new gardens; I spent two days seeing glorious properties with Rachel of Wisteria and Cow Parsley; and now I'm busy sorting out what we need for Rajasthan.


It's monsoon time, so it's going to be wellies and wet-weather gear - quite a change from the raging heat we've had in England recently - but a welcome change from the searing temperatures I experienced in April. I might even see some gardens when I'm not in the villages (see photo left) and, if I do, I'll be sharing them with you! One of my favourites - Sahelion-ki-Bari - is at the top.

This month took me to two new manor houses with gardens - Hidcote and Mottistone for the first time; two notable gardens where women have called the shots - Kiftsgate Court and Barnsley House; two stunning landscapes - Colesbourne Park and Buscot; and two very different castle gardens - Arundel and Sudeley. I've smelled a lot of wonderful roses, seen borders bursting with colour and wandered round a couple of water gardens - Longstock Park and Little Wantley; and many other other properties  I'd never seen before.
The labernum walk, Barnsley House - but past its prime when I visited!

I'll be writing about them in the next few weeks and you can check my UK Directory if you're planning garden visits in the UK. Right now it concentrates on the Southern half of England because that's where I've visited most gardens, but as I travel further afield, there'll be more and more properties heading north, so it's a growing list.
Borders at Little Wantley, open for the NGS in June

There are many new bloggers on the block this month too, and I'm sure you'll want to check out their plots - John Grimshaw writing about what's going on in the lovely garden he tends (and many other interesting posts); Judyth at The Time Travelling Garden - a really wonderful read; Patio Patch, based in London's Bloomsbury; Dozen Oaks, with glorious bee pictures; and Garden 337, with wonderful pictures and words about a garden in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They're all new at Blotanical, so do give them a warm welcome!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Three generations of women gardeners at Kiftsgate

Kiftsgate Court is one of THE gardens in the Cotsworlds to visit! It's absolutely stunning, has unrivalled views over the Vale of Evesham, and is a tribute to the three generations of women gardeners who have made it what it is today. And even though it's right next door to Hidcote, you won't find the jostling crowds here ... so it's a little slice of heaven! 
The house was built at the end of the 19th century and provides a magnificent backdrop for the gardens that have been created there in the last 90 years.  It has a Georgian front with a high portico, which can be seen from various parts of the garden (top), and is still used as a family home, but unlike so many other properties where the house dominates the landscape, it's the gardens here at Kiftsgate that will make you gasp.  And at this time of year, every single bit of the garden is in bloom - from the moment you walk in and are greeted by the magnificent peonies and roses (above), to the glorious white garden (below); the rose border; and the lower garden overlooking the Vale of Evesham towards the Malvern Hills.
The garden was originally planted by Heather Muir from 1920 onwards, who had help from her closest neighbour, Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote, but Kiftsgate has stayed in private hands and has been cosseted by two further generations of women gardeners, so it retains a sense of intimacy and charm and feels like a family home. You'll find the famous 'Kiftsgate' rose (Rosa filipes 'Kiftsgate') in full bloom right now - an amazing sight in June - although current owner Anne Chambers likens it to a "triffid" if kept unchecked!  
Leaving the heavenly scented formal gardens behind, you'll find yourself in the sheltered Lower Garden with its half moon swimming pool overlooking the Malvern Hills (above) - and as you wander through the huge Monterey pines, you'll find many exotic plants including echium and agave, sheltered from winter frost on the banks leading down to the pool. You'd be forgiven for thinking you've walked into an entirely different climate here, because it's so different.
And don't miss the amazing Water Garden (above) - a modern masterpiece commissioned by the present owners, where 24 swaying bronze leaves designed by sculptor Simon Allison reflect in the black water of the rectangular pond, complete with stepping stones inspired by the moat at Sutton Place. This is a place to sit and reflect on what you've already seen at this amazing garden.
   Kiftsgate is open on the same days as Hidcote (Saturday to Wednesday in June, July and August), but if you really want to get the most out of this garden, get there when it opens at midday, before the marauding masses arrive from over the road! I will be updating this review in the next few weeks, following my most recent visit.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Almost wordless Wednesday ... a taste of what's to come!

Misarden Park, Glos
Just returned from three days of touring wonderful gardens, and wanted to post some pictures to show you what's to come ....
Snowshill Manor, Glos
Glorious weather here in England and the gardens are looking magnificent ..... I've been to Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Buckinghamshire .... 
Cerney House, Glos
Sun's been shining all the way ... and I'll be sharing all the best gardens with you ...
Ascott, Bucks
Sixteen magnificent gardens in three days ..... so watch this space!
Kiftsgate Court, Glos

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Hiding from the hordes at Hidcote!


Yesterday was Midsummer's Day and I visited several gardens in the Cotswolds with fellow British blogger Rothschild Orchid. My first stop was Hidcote Manor, former home of expatriate American, Lawrence Johnston, who also created the gardens at Serre de la Madone in the south of France.  I know this is one of the most-visited landscapes in Britain, but nothing ... and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the hordes of people there, even though I arrived as the doors opened at 10.00 on the dot!
Hidcote is hidden away down country lanes in Gloucestershire and I should have guessed from the flow of traffic on the way there what it was going to be like, but when I realised all the cars and coaches were bound for the same place as me, there was little choice but to gather my cameras, run into the gardens and see if I could get photographs before I was outnumbered by the throng of foreign tourists who clearly had the same idea as me!!  (I had wondered why RO had said she'd meet me once I'd seen this garden!!) 
There's little doubt this is an iconic English garden, set as it is in the rolling Gloucestershire countryside; with pretty thatched cottages woven into the landscape and Johnston's vision of "a wild garden in a formal setting"; but like Sissinghurst in Kent, you need nerves of steel to visit in high season and you could be forgiven for thinking that you were somewhere in Europe rather than in the heart of England.  In the brief time I was there, I must have been told to move out of the way in no less than five languages, as I tried to get a few pictures!
The grounds at Hidcote extend to some 10 acres and the main features are its many different garden rooms, wonderful hornbeam walk, gorgeous borders (above) and views over the surrounding countryside, but I'm afraid I wont be visiting again until low season .... it was just too crowded for me. Frankly I'd rather go to Serre de la Madone, which is currently being restored to its former glory after years of neglect!  Hidcote is only open on three weekdays, so you have to get there between Monday and Wednesday and I would imagine that weekends are even more crowded!!
Whatever my experience here at Hidcote, garden-lovers should visit, if only because there's another property adjacent that I'll be reviewing tomorrow - Kiftsgate Court - and that's where RO met me ... sensible lady!! And if you're wondering how I got pictures without people ... I too did my share of asking people to move out of the way ... in English.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Midsummer's Day

I'm sitting in the middle of Gloucestershire with Rothschild Orchid and it's Midsummer's Eve .... we've been to three gardens together today - Hidcote, Kiftsgate and a real secret garden - shortly to be revealed!
More later....

Sunday, 20 June 2010

One to bookmark ... Buscot Park

I've seen many beautiful gardens in the last few weeks and had wonderful days gazing at glorious flower displays in historic gardens like Barnsley; admired Elizabethan splendour at St Mary's Bramber; and ogled at topiary displays and unusual plants in microclimates around the UK at Veddw and Ventnor.   But when I finally made it to Buscot Park (which has long been on my wish list) and the landscape unfolded before me, I was truly delighted. 

This is an extraordinary property, with heart-stopping vistas (right) - administered by Lord Faringdon and housing an extremely fine art collection. Buscot overlooks a lake and Harold Peto of Iford Manor created an amazing stepped-canal water garden (top) which runs from just below the main house, opens out into a series of pools, with bridges and statues, and enclosed by neatly trimmed box hedges. The box effect is reflected at the rear of the property (right) where a steep hillside walk gives views over the gardens behind the house.

The large walled kitchen garden was rearranged in the 1980s and has wonderful borders and a Judas tree tunnel - stunning when the alliums are out!  There are also a series of garden rooms adjacent to the water garden, where you'll find subtle planting in muted colours (below). The estate extends to 150 acres, so allow plenty of time here because there's much to see and you don't want to miss anything.
And don't miss the Chinese terracotta warrior collection (below) - 17 life-sized statues in the garden, acquired fairly recently by Buscot Park. But DO check the website for opening times, because they change according to the season and you don't want to get there and find the gardens closed. Apologies to readers if the colours here are a little muted, but the weather was awful when I visited!

Friday, 18 June 2010

An Elizabethan jewel in Sussex - St Mary's House

If you fancy a little bit of Elizabethan splendour, beautifully maintained and served with astounding roses in bloom right now, head for St Mary's House, Bramber in Sussex. It's an exquisite property that's been lovingly restored by two successive owners, with five acres of gorgeous gardens to complement the timber-beamed house. And, if you get your timing right, you could enjoy a concert in the Victorian Music Room because there's an interesting music and opera programme during the next six months.  
St Mary's has twice been saved from ruin in the last 100 years - first, in 1944 when the house narrowly escaped demolition because it was in such a bad state of repair and then again forty years later, when Peter and Mary Thorogood purchased the property jointly with Roger Linton.  They have spent the last 25 years restoring both the interior of the house and the gardens. So immaculate is the house now that it's hard to believe it could have once faced the prospect of demolition and when you visit you'll heave a huge sigh of relief that this property is here for us to enjoy today.
The garden is quite delightful and from the moment you get your first glance of the 15th century house through the topiary garden (top), you will be entranced by the varied vistas and plantings at this historic property. There's a Monk's Walk, a magnificent Walled Garden, which includes the Jubilee Rose Garden, planted in 2002 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth's 50 years on the throne; a charming Terracotta Garden, which is under development, but looking good enough already to show you how it will eventually be; and there are also the pineapple pits, a reminder of years gone by, when this fruit was still grown in England. 
And beyond the Walled Garden there's even more to see, because Peter Thorogood (already a well-established English poet) has created a charming and unique Poetry Garden with inner and outer yew circles and a bust of Byron. The planting is entirely yellow, blue and white and you'll find some outstanding clematis climbing the pergola here. And beyond this, there's a woodland walk, which comes into its own in the spring with drifts of bluebells.
     St Mary's is a really charming garden and is open on Thursdays and Sundays from 2.00 - 6.00.  You could easily combine this with a visit to Parham House, or the Royal Pavilion Garden, Brighton.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A tropical surprise in Southern England - Ventnor Botanic Garden

Today I went to the Isle of Wight and visited the Ventnor Botanic Garden - I was surprised, amazed and delighted by what I saw!!  This glorious 22-acre garden is managed by the local council, is completely free to visitors and has some real surprises in store for you - Chusan Palms, many mature specimen trees and different garden areas that will delight you - ranging from an Australian garden (below) to glorious herbaceous borders, that all thrive in the unique microclimate on the south coast of the island.
The site has an interesting history because it was formerly the Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest , founded in 1868, but it eventually became redundant as antibiotics were discovered for the treatment of tuberculosis, and the building (which was reminiscent of a Victorian workhouse), was finally demolished in 1969 to make way for the wonderful garden that is there today.  
Sir Harold Hillier, the internationally renowned plantsman who created the gardens bearing his name near Winchester, used this site to house tender plants and shrubs from his collection and as a result, there is an astounding array of specimens here from China, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa - all in themed gardens. The result of his original endeavours, together with the council's commitment to caring for the plants and the appointment of a curator, who has worked hard to make Ventnor what it is today, is a magical garden - and one of the best I've seen this year.  
But this remarkable garden has not always looked this good.  Hillier died in 1985 and the garden was then hit by some incredibly harsh winters, when many many plants died. The great storm of 1987 wreaked further havoc on specimen trees and plants, so there has been much work for both the council and curator, Simon Goodenough in the last 35 years. But looking at the garden today, you would never guess that it had suffered such a difficult time. 
This is one to put on your "Wish List" - there are lots of special deals on ferries to the Isle of Wight, and many other gardens to see, including Mottistone Manor, which I'll be reviewing later this month.  

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Snowdrop King at Colesbourne Park


Talk about a week of wonderful encounters.  When I finished at Barnsley House last week, I went to another, very different Cotswold garden that has also featured high on my "Wish List" in the last couple of years - Colesbourne Park.  This garden ranks top in the world for its snowdrops, but the ravages of the English weather rendered a visit there impossible for me this winter, because I couldn't get out of Brighton, let alone make a 130 mile trek to Gloucestershire to see the spectacle that has made this garden so famous. But just seeing the terrain here at this beautiful property allowed me to imagine how it would look in winter with acres of bobbing white heads and I'm determined to get there one day to enjoy its full galanthus glory.
But in some respects I'm glad I didn't get there in February, because my visit last week afforded me the opportunity of seeing this incredible property in summer and more importantly, having the luxury of talking to the Snowdrop King - Dr John Grimshaw (below) - at length about his work. One of the world's leading snowdrop experts, John is also an authority on trees and has written several specialist botanical books to date. Fellow Blotanist, Rothschild Orchid reviewed the Colebourne snowdrops earlier this year, so click on the link to see her post and wonderful photographs.
Colesbourne Park extends to some 2,500 acres and includes four farms and 900 acres of forestry.  When you drive in you can see all the grazing sheep, distinguished by their long fringes after sheering, which John says, is what they do to Cotswold sheep. This is a lovely property, with views over acres of greenery (top) and it's famous "blue" lake (above), which is thought to take its colour from the colloidal clay in the otherwise clean, but limey water; complete with hydroelectric station (below).  It was once the home of celebrated Victorian plantsman and collector Henry John Elwes and the house is still inhabited by his descendants.
Dr John Grimshaw arrived here in 2003 as Gardens Advisor and has spent the last six years restoring the gardens to their former state of interest.  He added long borders to the area adjacent to the main house; started a spring garden at the rear of the property (below) and added to the snowdrop collection - which already runs to well over 200 varieties.  Qualified as a botanist, he is also an dendrologist and has recently finished a major book about trees, which is extremely fitting when you consider that Henry Elwes also wrote a book on the same subject.  And when you see the incredible specimens at Colesbourne, you realise it would be easy to become passionate about trees.
Colesbourne is a truly magnificent landscape and I am really glad I was able to visit off-season, just to enjoy the views and talk to John, who is not just knowledgeable, but charming.  He has moved on from here now, but has his own blog - John Grimshaw's Garden Diary - and if you want to see regular snippets of scholarly garden news and receive the latest galanthus news, this is the place to look.
     This garden couldn't be more different than Barnsley House, where I'd been earlier in the day, or indeed, Sudeley Castle where I ventured next, but for me this was the jewel in the Gloucestershire crown!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Barnsley House, iconic Cotswold garden

Barnsley House, former home of the late Rosemary Verey - well-known garden designer, lecturer and writer - is one of the gardens I've been trying to see for a long time.  And I finally got there this week, not just to enjoy the wonderful gardens, but to spend the day working with one of Britain's leading garden photographers, Clive Nichols.  It was a memorable day on all counts!  Clive is an excellent teacher; the company - just four other equally enthusiastic students - really enjoyable; and the setting, astounding!  
Most readers associate Barnsley House with its famous laburnum walk (above), added to the garden at Barnsley after Rosemary Verey saw the larger design at Bodnant, but sadly this was past its prime. No matter though because other parts of the garden more than made up for the fading yellow blooms, including the potager, the pond area and the glorious borders brimming with flowers.  We were lucky too with the weather, because although grey storm clouds threatened to soak us ... they miraculously disappeared and we were able to work in the garden throughout the day!  
Another bonus was meeting Jane (above left), who was on the course with us (Clive's on the right), a former close friend of Rosemary Verey's and a truly remarkable octogenarian who regaled us with stories of days gone by at Barnsley when it was a private house and home to Rosemary and her husband, David. The most striking feature of this garden is the planting and Verey was well known for her talent in mixing and matching plants to create a sense of abandon.  She became one of Britain's best-loved garden names and advised both Prince Charles at Highgrove and Roy Strong at The Laskett; as well as designing Elton John's garden and the New York Botanical Garden.
Clive Nichols is an inspirational teacher and he spent the day helping us novices to understand composition, apertures and shutter speeds. It was a great joy to work with him and we all had a wonderful day in the garden at Barnsley, which is a photographer's paradise with all its nooks and crannies.  Every corner you turn gives a different vista, or another glimpse of a carefully orchestrated garden room, like the pond area (above) with its mini temple and inviting blue gates.  I also had the chance to talk to head gardener, Richard Gatenby, who gave me many tips on pruning - I'll be running another post on Richard after the weekend, together with more pictures of Barnsley.
I didn't stay at Barnsley because the room rates there are definitely for the rich and famous, rather than mere mortals like me, but I was more than happy with my chosen hotel at Ewen near Cirencester - The Wild Duck Inn (above) - with its charming garden, extremely reasonable prices and delicious food.  In fact, I enjoyed my stay so much that I'm returning there in two week's time to see some more great Cotswold gardens.

**For more Cotswold Gardens, see Sudeley Castle

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Glorious Gloucestershire 1 - Sudeley Castle

Life doesn't get much better than this! I've just spent three days in the Cotswolds looking at gardens, and even though the weather could have been better, I saw seven glorious gardens; attended a photography course with Clive Nichols, one of our leading UK garden photographers (more about that in a later post); and met some very talented and interesting head gardeners, so there'll be lots of posts from me in the next couple of weeks and many additions to my Garden Directory.
     On my way home today, I stopped at Sudeley Castle, which dates back to the 10th century. The Castle was built by Baron Sudeley in the 15th century, and although it has had many different residents since medieval times, and fallen under siege on many occasions, it was purchased by wealthy glove-making brothers - John and William Dent - in the middle of the 19th century and is still inhabited today by Dent descendents.
The Grade II listed gardens date back 300 years, and were restored and redesigned in the 19th century by Emma Dent. They include many different areas, but part of their charm is the backdrop of the ruined castle (above) and the Queen's Garden (top) is the centrepiece that makes a lasting impression on visitors, with its huge yew hedges and wonderful roses.  The whole estate extends to more than 1,200 acres, with wonderful views over the Cotswold countryside, and there are ten different garden areas including a White Garden, Mulberry Garden, and a Secret Garden, designed by Rosemary Verey to celebrate the marriage of the current castle residents, Lord and Lady Ashcombe in 1979.
The gardens at Sudeley are really magnificent, but one of my favourite areas is the wonderful Knot Garden (above) with a Moorish mosaic fountain in the centre, which was created in 1995 and incorporates a design taken from a dress pattern worn by Elizabeth I in a portrait that hangs in the castle. It is hidden away behind the Queen's Garden and has an adjacent exhibition terrace showing how it was conceived and designed.
Equally lovely is the garden within the ruined tithe barn (above) with its glorious borders, and this stands next to a pond filled with koi carp.  There's a lot to see at Sudeley so you will need several hours to fully appreciate the gardens. And then of course, there's the castle, which you can see on a guided tour.  But it does get crowded, so arrive early to get ahead of the coach parties!