Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year ... and welcome to Jardins sans Frontiers!

 Happy New Year and let's welcome in 2011 - I'm already planning my garden visits!
 But imagine what the gardens would look like if we drained them of their colour ....
It would make garden visiting very grey!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Thoughtful Thursday .... just before 2011

The sun came out briefly today and I was lucky enough to be at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire, where the winter garden is looking glorious (see above). Hope you all have a wonderful New Year and more in 2011 - thanks for visiting. I'll be launching a new blog in the next few days ... so watch this space .... 

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Just picture these "P" Gardens!

The ruined abbey overlooking one of the lakes at Painshill Landscape Garden, Surrey
I skipped the "N"s because there weren't enough of them to whet your appetite and have moved on to perfect, picturesque and panoramic gardens only to realise that I've never reviewed most of them properly, so need to revisit many of these in the new year. Painshill Park in Surrey is one of those gardens that's hard to forget - a wonderful landscape rather than manicured garden - with dramatic touches like the ruined abbey (above) overlooking one of the lakes that are integral to the landscape. It comes complete with Grotto, Gothic Tower and and Turkish tent, but more of this when I review it properly next year! 
You'll find an equally dramatic landscape at Painswick Rococo in Gloucestershire (above) - another exquisitely restored 18th-century landscape garden that I have yet to review, but have marked in the diary for the snowdrops in early 2011. This glorious 10-acre garden in the Cotswolds has a magical and mystical quality to it. It was only rediscovered in the 1980s - prior to that it was completely overgrown, but restoration work began in 1984 and it's now open to the public from January to October. Well worth visiting for its snowdrops and fabulous tulip displays later in the season.
Parham House - always a favourite with its wonderful walled garden, filled to overflowing with tulips in the spring and glorious borders throughout the summer months. The house was built in 1577 and makes a spectacular backdrop for the gardens, which have been developed during the last 100 years. Every month there's something else in bloom here, so it's definitely a garden to visit throughout the seasons - each time I return I find something else to make me gasp!
Pashley Manor in East Sussex - another magnificent garden, famous for its Tulip Festival in spring time (27th April - 9th May 2011), but worth visiting at any time because, like Parham, there's always something in bloom and it changes throughout the seasons. 
Pine Lodge Gardens in Cornwall (above) will always occupy a special place in my heart because I spent so many hours there while my father was in the hospice nearby. This is a really wonderful garden, lovingly tended by its owners and just a stone's throw from the Eden Project, Lanhydrock and many of the other magnificent Cornish gardens, so don't miss it if you're in the area. It's one of the few properties in the UK that has a special winter garden. Fantastic snowdrop displays early in the season! 
Polesden Lacey in Surrey was one-time home to a noted Edwardian political hostess - Mrs Ronald Greville, who created the gardens after she came to live here in 1906. Today it is under the stewardship of the National Trust and is famous for its roses (above), irises and the wonderful walled garden. Stunning views over the Surrey countryside because of its hillside position and yet another garden that has slipped through my reviewing net, but with a definite mark in the dairy for 2011!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Magical "M" gardens from Marrakech to Manor Houses

Majorelle (above) is one of my favourite gardens in the world - this small plot in the middle of Marrakech - former home of the french painter, Jacques Majorelle, who died in a car crash in 1962 - and allowed to fall into a sad state of disrepair before it was lovingly restored by top fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, who bought the property in 1980 and re-opened it to the public. Filled with cactus, yucca, bamboo and exotic plants from all over the world, this is a magical oasis that you can't miss! You'll remember the blue paint for the rest of your days - stunning!
Marle Place in Kent is a hidden jewel - run by an artist, who has her own gallery there, and with many interesting sculptures in the gardens. Glorious in the spring with all its bulbs; displays of alliums that will take you breath away in June and colour throughout the summer months, this is a plantsman's paradise. A series of garden rooms spread over 10 acres, this garden has been nurtured by the current owner and turned into a real gem! There's a Victorian gazebo; wonderful woodland walks; a lovely walled garden, with splendid orchid collection in the greenhouse and much, much more. 

Head for well-known garden writer/designer, Mary Keen's glorious country home in Gloucestershire (right) if you can when it opens for the National Gardens Scheme next year - located in the village of Duntisbourne Rous, you will cross a ford to get there and be treated to a little patch of heaven in this idyllic Cotswold setting.
Open on several days in 2011 (but check NGS Garden Finder website for details), this garden is quite unique, but well worth making the effort to see if you're in the area. It's open for snowdrops in February and you could combine it with the absolutely wonderful white displays at nearby Colesbourne Park (check John Grimshaw's Garden Diary for full details). I'm going to miss the snowdrops (sigh .... again!) this year as I shall be away in India, but will feature a list of places you can see them before leaving.
One of my favourite gardens closer to home is Michelham Priory in East Sussex (above) - particularly glorious in spring time with its fantastic bulb displays and blossom, but well worth visiting throughout the summer months. Slightly off the beaten track, you'll be able to savour this garden without too many coach parties taking your space, and it's en route to many other great gardens if you're in the area.
Combine Michelham with Monk's House (above) - outside Lewes - for the best of both worlds! The first is a former priory and the second is a charming cottage garden that was once home to Virginia Woolf of the Bloomsbury set. This garden is absolutely wonderful - filled to bursting with flowers in bloom and you've got the history of the house too! I would never have discovered this one without help from Bay Area Tendrils in California. Strange how we often miss things on our own doorsteps, but thank you Alice - I've spent many happy hours here since we visited together!
And finally, Mottistone Manor on the Isle of Wight - a glorious house with a charming garden and exceptional summer borders (above) - this is the property that inspired me to seek out other English manors around the country and see what they had in store for the gardening enthusiast. This garden is unique because there is no watering allowed here - it's survival of the fittest for the plants - but it certainly goes to show what you can do without spending hours outside with the hose!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Love those "L" gardens - lush, luxuriant and luring!

A long way from London lie a number of wonderful "L" gardens that are really worth making the effort to go and see. Start with Lamorran (above), a glorious hillside garden on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall. This garden is quite different to others you will find in the area, because it's Italianate in style, has wonderful views over the water and is filled with interesting sculpture and statuary features. But sadly, not for the feint-hearted or anyone with a walking disability because it is on quite a steep hill and some of the paths are very narrow.
Move onto Lytes Cary, which I visited for the first time because I had seen a picture of the entrance to the house (above) and couldn't resist the temptation to go and see it for myself. This is a glorious six-acre Arts and Crafts garden with immaculate topiary and near enough to many other gardens to make it worth while making a special trip to the area so you can enjoy them all (these "other" gardens include Barrington Court, Cothay Manor, East Lambrook Manor, Hestercombe and Tintinhull).
Larmer Tree was a new discovery for me in 2011 and I'm really glad I found it! An extraordinary and beautiful garden which was created for the people to enjoy - a genuine pleasure garden - and one of the most unusual I've seen in my travels so far! It retains the stages and theatre sets that were used in its heyday to provide entertainment. A real gem, with a wonderful water garden (above). By the end of the 19th century it was attracting 44,000 visitors a year - that's higher numbers than some gardens today!
Another watery wonderland that had been on my Wish List since I started this blog a couple of years back was Longstock Park in Wiltshire (above) - the John Lewis garden that opens twice a month for different charities during the summer months, but is actually a pleasure garden for partners of the firm, who can visit whenever they like. Well worth finding out when open days are because it's a feast for the eyes, and quite different from anything else you'll see.
Leonardslee was one of the most spectacular gardens I saw this year (above) - a magical garden filled with azaleas that give a show like no other in Britain when they come into bloom in May, but sadly sold this year to a mystery buyer. Nobody knows whether the new owner will re-open to the public in 2011, but it's going to be a great loss for garden lovers if they stay closed, because this spring spectacle is truly remarkable, so fingers crossed for all of us who like to gawp at other people's gardens!

This concludes my alphabet series until the new year as I'm nearly half way through, but if the "Big Freeze" carries on and I'm stuck at home much longer, I may start on the Marvellous "M" gardens early!

  Season's Greetings to all my readers and I hope you have a warmer holiday 
than us here in the UK!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Fowl Freeze!

These pictures tell the story of the fowl freeze here in Britain!
If you want to see more pictures of Brighton in the snow, click here ... it looks just the same in this big freeze too ... snow on the beach ... snow everywhere!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Silent Saturday - snow break!

Sky before the snow ...
During the storm

After .... but there's more on the way!
And this is nothing ... we live in Brighton, on the South Coast. But the rest of the country is in shutdown mode with people stranded at airports and on roads. It's snowing again, so more later ...

Thursday, 16 December 2010

"K" Gardens that no Keen Gardener should miss!

After my trip to Key West last week (which seems like an age ago, thanks to the cold British weather), I'm returning to my alphabet series in the run-up to Christmas, reviewing the best of the gardens beginning with "K" that I've seen in my travels. I'm starting with The Kampong in Coconut Grove, Florida, which definitely ranks as one of my favourites visited this year. This is a beautiful garden and was once the home of Dr David Fairchild (of Fairchild Gardens fame), who planted some magnificent trees during his time here. Few people make it to The Kampong because it does little to publicise itself and has fairly restricted opening hours (check their website here for details), but if you are in the area don't miss it because this is a wonderful garden.
The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, near London
Kew Gardens (also known as the Royal Botanical Gardens) rank as one of the finest botanical gardens in the world, not just because of its sheer size and scale (300 acres), but also because of the diversity of its plant collections. Famous too for its wonderful collection of specimen trees and enormous Victorian glass houses, housing palms and tropical species, this is a garden to visit more than once. Even though I've been numerous times, I've never done a full review, because I've always got distracted by one particular part of the gardens, like the magnificent Lily House, so this is one for me to put on my list for 2011!
Kiftsgate Court (above) was another garden that I'd been trying to get to for several years and finally made it after a particularly stressful visit to neighbouring Hidcote Manor, where I got pushed and trampled by the crowds. Kiftsgate - home of three generations of women gardeners - which receives nothing like the volume of business that its neighbour does, made a welcome respite and I was so enamoured by the gardens there that I revisited a few weeks later with fellow blogger, Rothschild Orchid. These gardens are serene! Wonderful planting and spectacular views over the Vale of Evesham.
Knoll Gardens in Dorset (above) - several times winner at Chelsea and filled with wonderful perennials and grasses - looks good at any time of year including the winter months, when you are left with the remnants of last year's blooms. Another garden that I need to review properly when I'm next in the area, but for anyone with an interest in grasses, this is an absolute must. You will see more grasses here than anywhere else in England and there's a nursery too, where you can ask the extremely knowledgeable and helpful owners for advice on your own garden if you're thinking of buying plants to take home.
Gardens Hotel, Key West
And although it doesn't really count under the "K" category, I'm directing you back to the wonderful gardens I visited in Key West last week - especially the Audubon House and Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden - in case you missed them. 

Monday, 13 December 2010

Secrets and surprises in Key West!

Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden, Key West
Key West is certainly full of surprises and while we were there we found a couple of really unexpected places including Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden, the wonderful Butterfly Nature Conservatory and a hotel with a garden to die for! Of course, you might argue that Nancy's Garden is not so secret any more because everyone knows about it, but it's an acre of jungle in one of the highest value real estate belts in the United States, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that you're somewhere other than Key West once you get inside.
Nancy Forrester with her feathered friends
Nancy Forrester (above) has lived here for many years and this little oasis in the heart of the town is well worth going to see. But be warned, it's not easy to find and there are no signs. So head for Simonton Street and when you get to Free School Lane (between Southard and Fleming) walk down the cul de sac and you'll see painted parrots on a picket fence. Once inside you're treated to a real tropical forest experience  with Nancy's collection of palms, bromeliads, ferns and orchids, to name but a few of those growing, and then there's the birds ... the weather was so cold last week that Nancy had brought them all inside, so we sat in her kitchen listening to her tales about the garden and her life in Key West; how she'd acquired so many birds and the changes she'd seen over the years. 
The verdant landscape inside the Butterfly Conservatory

The Butterfly Conservatory is brilliant at any time, but especially so on a rainy day (and we had one when we were there), so we were delighted to take cover in this fantasy world of fluttering wings (as were all the other adults we saw there). There's something magical about this number of butterflies in one place and every time I go to a butterfly garden, I'm transported back to my youth! I've been lucky enough to visit two others this year - the Montreal Botanical Garden and the Niagara Botanical Garden which also has a Butterfly Conservatory. It poured with rain the day we were there too!
Combine these delights with a stay at The Gardens Hotel (above), just off Duval Street and it makes a perfect garden break in Key West. The hotel was built in 1875 and covers a third of a city block. Peggy Mills bought the property in 1930 and planted many of the palm trees and bamboos that are there today. But this is definitely the place to stay if you're heading for the Keys because you've got the best of both worlds with hotel and garden. There's no noise, yet the hotel is close to all the bars, restaurants and tourist attractions. Great rooms (especially the Carriage House) all with balconies or verandahs; jazz on Sunday afternoons; really helpful hotel staff and a bar overlooking the pool; plus a wine tasting room that could leave you with heady memories of Key West! 
What you see when you lie by the pool at the Gardens Hotel
I'm heading back to England tomorrow, but I've got another unusual garden post from my visit to the Keys that I'll be writing while waiting at the airport - the world's first botanical garden that offers you the chance to stay in it! If you missed my other Key West garden posts, you can find them here.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Best of Key West - Hemingway, Audubon and a few cats!

One of the many polydactyl cats at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
No visit to Key West would be complete without a visit to Ernest Hemingway's home - to see where the legendary author lived with his famous six-toed cats. Just ninety miles from his other tropical home in Cuba (which I was lucky enough to visit in September) this wonderful villa is surrounded by a lush, tropical garden and is home to some 60 cats, some of which are direct descendants of those owned by Hemingway. The house is now a museum and its only full-time residents are the cats, who are provided for under the terms of Hemingway's will. 
I don't suggest you count this as a must see garden - it's certainly green and overflowing with tropical foliage (so is every other garden in Key West, which is part of its great charm) - but it's the house rather than the garden which draws the visitors and I too stood in line to satisfy my curiosity about Ernest Hemingway and the polydactyl cats. Hemingway lived and worked here from 1931-1961 and built the swimming pool - the first and largest in Key West; there are also some fine antiques and the house has now been designated a National Historic Landmark.
But just a few blocks away, The Audubon House and Tropical Garden is a must see. This charming house is set in an acre of immaculately-kept gardens and is filled with native plants and ornamental exotics. The house was built by Captain John Geiger, Key West's first harbor pilot and a master wrecker who also collected plants. Audubon visited Key West in 1832 and was introduced to Dr John Strobel who lived adjacent to Geiger and through this connection John James Audubon came to know the house and admire many of  the exotic plants at the property, and use them in his paintings.
The house and garden fell into disrepair during the first half of the 20th century and were saved by local Key West residents - Colonel Mitchell Wolfson and his wife Frances - who decided to turn the property into a museum, housing both antiques typical of 19th century Key West and original engravings by Audubon. There are many of his original works on display in the house and it's definitely worth a visit, as is the charming garden. There's also a really excellent museum shop and print gallery selling limited edition Audubon prints.