Tuesday, 26 October 2010

We've grown a hospital in the garden!

Well this is really it ... I'm leaving for India ... to open the hospital that we've built in the garden!! It's taken two years; there have been moments when I wondered why I've done it; days when I wish I'd stuck to the seeds and plants that I know back home; but after two years of hard work, we're ready to open our doors to patients in rural Rajasthan.
And as a passionate gardener, I can say it's been a bit like making a garden from scratch. We started with nothing except a plot of land (above) and a lot of determination. We planted the seeds and waited anxiously for them to grow. We watched nervously while we endured terrible weather conditions - days when the temperature went well over 100F and torrential rain that rendered working on site impossible; but the seeds survived. After a few months they began to grow into very small plants and slowly the building began to rise from the ground. Construction work started a year ago in November 2009 and although progress seemed slow at times, we had the basic building in place by April of this year (below).
Over the two-year period, I've been to India six times, often in difficult conditions and leaving my family at times when I should have stayed home. I've encountered illness, unhappiness and even a sense of desolation when we've run into problems that you just wouldn't find here in the UK or the US. But I'm not complaining, because it's been an enormous challenge and we're now ready to open our doors. I've travelled many miles since this project began and met many wonderful people in rural India (below).
Now is the time for me to thank everybody who's helped along the way. None of this would have been possible without Dr Deepak Babel (below), the man who looked after my husband when he became so sick in India two years ago. It was because of his care, compassion and courage that my husband got better; and it was because we met that this project began. I'm not going to go into all the history here, because if you're interested you can read about it on our Raven Foundation blog.
And thanks will never be sufficient for all those who've helped along the way - our families, our friends, our benefactors and readers - all of whom have encouraged us, supported us and helped us achieve our goal - Disha Hospital (latest picture below) - which will be inaugurated this coming Sunday. (You'll all be asleep in the UK and the US when it happens, but do spare us a thought when you wake up!)
It's spring in Rajasthan, so I'm hoping to get out into some of the glorious gardens there once we've opened Disha, so more from there .... and thanks again for all your support in the last year.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Gardens for all Seasons - Wakehurst Place

Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, is affiliated to and managed by The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It also houses the Millenium Seed Bank, an ambitious project set up to store the seeds of every plant in Britain as well as a further 24,000 species from around the world. It's certainly a garden for all seasons and has a remarkable collection of trees, spread over more than 450 acres, so is well-known for its autumn colour, but there is also a fine winter garden, which bursts into colour in November.
The Tudor mansion (above) was built in 1590 for Sir Edward Culpeper, and provides a good backdrop to the adjacent Sir Henry Price walled garden (top), which is well stocked with colourful perennials throughout the spring and summer months. Sir Henry bought Wakehurst in 1936 and lived there with his wife during WWII, and together they restored both the mansion and the gardens. The garden bearing his name has a distinct "cottage garden" feel to it and is famous for its mauve, pink and blue flower collections (below).
The Water Gardens (below) are filled with moisture-loving and woodland-flowering plants, which bloom during the summer months and the Iris Dell, with its famous display of Japanese irises is unmissable during the summer months. There are also fine collections of hardy plants, arranged georgraphically, and Wakehurst is home to four National plant collections - birches, hypericums, nothofagus and skimmias. 
One of the most attractive features of the gardens here is the feeling of space - you can walk for miles without running into crowds, and because of its site, on the High Weald of Sussex, there are many different routes through the gardens and adjoining valleys and you may well wonder just which country you are in as you walk through the different topographical areas, including the Himalayan Glade. It's easy to spend an entire day here!
Wakehurst is home to the Millenium Seed Bank - a project committed to the storing of seeds for future generations - there are already more than 24,000 seeds here - some 10% of the world's plants and the aim is to have 25% stored by 2020.  The seeds are frozen and then placed in underground vaults.  There is a permanent exhibition (above) in the futuristic Seedbank building which explains how the project works and you catch glimpses of white-coated scientists at work, which all adds to project's mystique.
You can buy an annual membership at Wakehurst Place, which also covers you for Kew - well worth doing if you plan to visit often, particularly as both gardens have much on offer in the winter months! If some words are familiar here, it is because I've taken them from an earlier post on Wakehurst Place. This is just one garden from my "All Season" series, which has already featured Sheffield Park and Waterperry Gardens

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Autumn Colours

Why not share your autumn colours too and participate in the Fall Color Project, which is hosted by Dave at The Home Garden?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Gardens for all seasons - Waterperry

As November beckons, it's harder to find gardens here in the UK that welcome you with open arms. The majority of our gardens close at the end of September; a hardy few remain open until October; and it's really only the botanical gardens, arboretums and great parks that keep their doors open throughout the winter months. But Waterperry is one that welcomes visitors every day of the year except Christmas, and its easy to see why when you look at the planting at this magnificent garden near Oxford.
One of the great joys of Waterperry is that any aspiring gardener can visit to see what they'd like to grow at home. The nursery beds (above) are beautifully organised into groups of herbaceous perennials, and all plants are labelled. When I dropped in last week, it was the asters that took my breath away and you can see here (below), just how brilliant the signage is! The nursery here is also excellent and assisted by the labelling, I left with a car full of plants for my own garden, confident that I would have the right cultivars and colours for the spaces I wanted to fill.
Beatrix Havergal founded this garden back in 1932, and set it up as the "School of Horticulture for Ladies". It's located on a flat site near the River Thame and has rich, slightly alkaline, loam soil. Today it's still a great learning centre and people travel from far and wide to attend the numerous gardening courses on offer here, as well as a range of arts and crafts subjects. If I lived nearer, there are certainly many day courses that would appeal to me.
In addition the the stunning borders and trees, there's a magnificent Formal Garden (above), designed by Bernard Saunders and Mary Spiller, and featuring high yew hedges for protection and an imaginative knot garden, where the compartments are filled with summer bedding plants. But I'm not so sure about the slightly oversweet statue of a young girl carrying a lamp as the centrepiece (which is why I've left it out). Other statues in the garden are less sugary and there's a fine collection of sculptures by the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
Once winter comes, Waterperry is renowned for its snowdrop collection. You get as good a display here as anywhere and when I visited in March this year, I was astounded by how good the garden looked after all the heavy snow (below). There's also an alpine garden here, and five acres of orchards, with nearly 50 varieties of apple growing, a small gardening museum and some spectacular trees. Definitely worth a visit at any time of year and you can combine it with the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, less than half an hour's drive away.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

A miniature garden Utopia and great for the kids - Bekonscot Model Village

Imagine living in a magical village where you don't need money! Everything is free; you're surrounded by greenery; there's an amusement pier, a fairground and a harbour; and even a free train service to take you to the shops or to see your friends. Everywhere you look there's open spaces and glorious trees ... and the maples are just beginning to turn, so you've got wonderful autumn colours. 
This little Utopia is Bekonscot Model Village in the heart of Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire - former home of London accountant, Roland Callingham, who had a passion for model railways. He started building this miniature world some 80 years ago, with the help of his gardener, Tom Berry, and today this two-acre site survives in the heart of commuter-belt Britain, and gives pleasure to hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
This is a classic story of a cloud with a silver lining because this attraction nearly prompted a divorce for its creator! There was a time when Roland Callingham had all his trains in the house rather than outside and his wife finally gave him an ultimatum and said that he had to choose between her and his hobby, because she could no longer live with all the locomotives in the home! So following construction of a swimming pool in the garden in 1927, Bekonscot's creator moved his trains outside and started work on the buildings that make up the village today, including the pier (above) which lies at the heart of the former swimming pool.
Trains here run on the largest Gauge 1 railway in the UK and were built by well-known model railway manufacturer Bassett-Lourke and while they provide the focus for railway enthusiasts, gardeners will be amazed by the immaculate landscapes here at Bekonscot, tended by full-time teams of specialist gardeners (below), well versed in the art of bonsai. It's quite a sight to behold when you see the density of planting!
Bekonscot is open until the end of October, but closes during the winter months - for full information check website through the link above. But even as a gardener, it's certainly worth a visit to marvel at the planting! Combine this with a visit to nearby Waterperry Gardens and you'll get the best of both small and large-scale gardening, and a day to remember.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Autumn glory in Oxford - Botanic Gardens and Impressive Architecture!

I can never decide whether it's spring or autumn I like best, but the colours were so glorious in the sunshine at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden yesterday that I'm swaying towards autumn! I love this garden and it's never better than on a slightly chilly day in October, when the sun catches the plants at their best. It's the oldest Botanic Garden in Britain (founded in 1621); its location is wonderful; and its plant collections are astounding (and I know I've written about it before, but it deserves to be mentioned again because there's so much going on here!).
This is just one of more than 2,200 Botanic Gardens in 153 countries around the world. All play a major role in plant preservation, because today there are more than 30% of the world's endangered plant species in these gardens. And Oxford is certainly doing its fair share to make people aware of trees and plants with its new "Healing Power of Plants Trail" which aims "to introduce visitors to the role of plants in contemporary medicine". When I visited, there were several groups of school children in the garden, all learning about the role of plants, and clearly having a wonderful time!
The gardens here are divided into three areas - a Walled Garden (top) with impressive central flower beds classified by botanical family, while the magnificent borders against the walls are divided into geographical regions including the Mediterranean, South Africa and New Zealand. The plants in the wall borders benefit from the protection of the walls which effectively provide a microclimate. The second area is the Lower Garden, with its impressive vegetable plots (above) and its herb and fruit collections.
There's also a Rock Garden and glorious Glasshouses, including the Lily House, which is home to an impressive collection of Victoria Amazonica (above). They've always been a favourite of mine and every time I see them, I stand and stare in amazement, as I did at Bok Tower Gardens in Florida and Val Rahmeh in Menton, France. They make me want to turn into a frog so I can bask on the leaves!

Everywhere you look in this garden there are impressive plant displays and it's location at the heart of the city makes it even more remarkable, because you can see so many of the city's spires from inside. Oxford 's a glorious place to visit at any time of year, with its unique architectural landmarks, like the circular Bodleian Library (right) at the heart of the city and just a couple of minutes walk from the gardens. There are also the Oxford colleges, many of which have their own gardens, but more on that in another entry when I've had the chance to explore them.

Also owned and operated by the Botanic Garden is the Harcourt Arboretum just a few miles outside the city, where you'll find trees that date back to 1835 and some impressive collections, including giant redwoods and acers which are now beginning to turn into a fiery furnace of colour in the autumn air (below). The 37 acres here include parkland and woodland. Wait a couple of weeks and acer glade will be in full glow! Both Garden and Arboretum are open throughout the year.