Friday, 29 April 2011

A new jewel in Britain's gardening crown - Woolbeding Garden, Sussex

Woolbeding House, former home of Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw
This month saw the opening of a 20th century garden set within an 18th century landscape that looks set to become one of the most popular gardens in Britain ... if you can get there! Woolbeding House in West Sussex is the newest National Trust garden to open its doors to the public and I was lucky enough to visit last week. It's a remarkable property and I'm sure it will draw visitors from all over the world, once they hear about it. 
Woolbeding House and its folly (right), created after the Great Storm of 1986
But first you have to get there! There is no car parking whatsoever at the property except for disabled visitors who must book ahead. All other visitors must take advantage of a minibus shuttle service, or walk there. So first things first - unless you are planning to walk to Woolbeding, you can only visit this property by booking ahead - to do this, call Anna on +44 (0)1730 825415. Good luck because the number is nearly always engaged! But do keep trying because I was enchanted by this garden and hope this post will tell the story of what you'll find there if you visit. 
Entrance to the Well Garden, showing the Herb Garden in the distance
Woodbeding House (top) is an attractive and well-proportioned Grade I listed mansion that was transferred to the National Trust by the Lascelles family in 1958. It was then leased to Simon Sainsbury (later Sir Simon), well-known philanthropist of British supermarket fame and his lifelong partner Stewart Grimshaw, who moved here in the 1970s. The garden, as we see it today, is their legacy and a result of their association with both Lanning Roper, the well-known American landscape gardener and journalist; and garden designers, Isabel and Julian Bannerman. For a full history on the house and important garden features, see the UK Parks and Gardens entry on the property.
The fruit trees at the back of the Herb Garden are trained in diamond shapes
Sainsbury died in October 2006, but agreement was reached between the NT and his surviving partner, Stewart Grimshaw that he should continue to live at the property, providing the garden and grounds  opened to the public. The house is not open and many of the contents were sold at auction in 2008 in a Christie's sale. But the gardens at Woolbeding are a veritable jewel in the NT crown - split into two very distinct areas - those surrounding the house - shown here today and the very different gardens across a flower -strewn meadow, which I'll feature next.
A topiary chicken presides over the Vegetable Garden
Once you've walked past the front of the house and admired the folly, which was created in 1987 to replace a massive Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) blown down in the Great Storm the year before, you arrive in the Well Garden, which gives you access to the Herb Garden. The planting throughout is immaculate and complimented by decorative circular brickwork around the well, box-edged borders, spiral box topiary and carefully trained fruit trees in diamond shapes. The Vegetable Garden is presided over by a topiary chicken and will no doubt turn into a vegetarian paradise in the months to come.
The Orangery, which overlooks a perfectly proportioned pool 
This garden gets better and better as you move through the series of interconnected garden rooms, which are divided by tall, immaculately clipped hedges. 

First glimpsed through the opening of a hedge (left) and framed like a picture, you see The Orangery for the first time, overlooking a long pool flanked by perfectly-mown lawns. But the great joy of this property is that although the garden has only just opened to the public, the trees, hedges and climbers are already well established, thanks to the foresight of Woolbeding's residents, Sainsbury and  Grimshaw, who were both passionate about their garden.

Work began on the garden as it is today, when Lanning Roper became involved as landscape architect, and then Julian and Isabel Bannerman joined the team. The Bannermans have their own remarkable garden at Hanham Court near Bristol, which I hope to visit in the next couple of weeks, but have also been involved in other notable gardens including Arundel Castle and Highgrove.

Woolbeding Garden is open on Thursdays and Fridays, from 10.30 - 16.30 until the end of September. This is definitely a property to add to your Wish List, even if you do have to make a considerable effort to get there. I'll be watching its progress carefully and hope to return there on foot again soon! In Part 2 I'll cover the water gardens that nestle in the valley - gardens so different to those featured today you'll be amazed!
View from the Orangery, showing the immaculately clipped hedges that separate the different garden areas

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Dazzling spring flower displays at Chenies Manor, Bucks - an easy day out from London

Chenies Manor provides a wonderful backdrop for the gardens
Chenies Manor House in Buckinghamshire certainly makes impressive viewing has been on my "Wish List" for at least two years and I finally got there today! One of the reasons it's taken me so long is the extremely restricted opening hours at the property - Wednesdays and Thursdays only, for just three hours in the afternoon (plus Bank Holiday Mondays). But it was certainly worth waiting for, even if the crowds are slightly overbearing!
The Sunken Garden is filled tulips and alliums in April and May
The five-acre garden is divided into a series of linked garden "rooms" which surround a Grade I listed 15th and 16th-century brick house with impressive chimneys - a wonderful backdrop to the floral displays. Particularly impressive at this time of year are the tulips in the Sunken Garden (above), which was also filled to overflowing with cooing middle-aged ladies today, so most of my photographic attempts featured flashes of floral fabrics as well as flowers. But once the tulips are over, they are replaced by bedding plants for the summer months (the flower beds, not the ladies). 
There's abundant green foliage everywhere, plus a white garden, a Physic Garden filled with medicinal herbs, a parterre and a productive kitchen garden. Immaculate topiary is another noticeable feature at Chenies and there's also a yew maze based on an Isaac Newton mathematical theory of an icosahedron (which, for those of you who understand geometry is a regular polyhedron with 20 identical equilateral triangular faces, 30 edges and 12 vertices) and a labyrinth maze next to the Kitchen Garden. In other words, it's a fantastically complex design, which works well here.
Chenies Manor has had a long and interesting history and both King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I were visitors here in days gone by. The house is open to the public and you will be just as amazed by the interiors as you are by the gardens. Another part of this property's charm is the church (below), which overlooks the entrance to the house. The surrounding village is the epitome of English life and although in the heart of commuter belt, the big advantage is that the property is easily accessible from Central London if you fancy a day out.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Catch UK Tulip Festivals as quick as you can ... or you may be disappointed!

I've been talking about tulips for weeks and promising to feature them - so here we go! I finally got to see a real sea of tulips in East Sussex yesterday, and am posting pictures today with a clear message to readers - IF YOU WANT TO TIPTOE THROUGH THE TULIPS .. YOU'D BETTER DO IT FAST!
Sadly, I haven't had time to get to any of the venues I've posted here on the blog recently, but went instead to Pashley Manor in East Sussex to take these pictures. This is the 17th annual Tulip Festival at Pashley, but you must get there quickly to see these fantastic flowers in bloom. 
The strange weather conditions we've experienced all over the world this winter mean that many plants are flowering early (see my post last week on Tulips at the Palace) and if you wait until the official Festival, which starts on 27th April , you may be disappointed!
The timber framed house (top) is a magnificent backdrop for these tulips - some 22,000 bulbs, planted for the Festival. You'll find every colour here, but it's not just the individual flower heads that make this festival so special, it's the sheer volume of voluptuous blooms and the vistas across this unique garden.

For details of other English gardens holding Tulip Festivals this year, check their websites, but notable displays can be found at:
Abbey Gardens, Gloucestershire - mid-April to mid-May
Alnwick Garden, Northumberland - 30th April - 7th May
Chatsworth, Derbyshire - 6th - 10th May
Chenies Manor, Buckinghamshire - mid-April to mid-May

Dyhram Park, Gloucestershire - 1st - 30th April
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall - 23rd April - 2nd May
Pashley Manor, East Sussex - 27th April - 8th May
Stourhead, Wiltshire - 25th April - 8th May
Waddesden Manor, Buckinghamshire - 16th April - 2nd May

I'm hoping to get to Polesden Lacey next week to see how the tulips are faring there, and, if I'm really lucky I might just get back to Waddesden Manor .... so watch this space. Happy Easter to all!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Anyone for egg hunting at King John's in Sussex this Easter?

The Grade II listed Jacobean manor house forms a backdrop to the gardens
Today I stumbled upon a garden that opened my eyes wide - a quintessential English plot in the heart of the High Weald in East Sussex, with a stunning Grade II listed Jacobean manor house as the backdrop to eight acres of heavenly gardens. The really good news is the Easter Egg Hunt for kids this weekend, which takes place on both Sunday 24th and Monday 25th April, so that parents can see the garden while the children join in the Easter spirit!
King John's orchard is filled with wild flowers
This is King John's Nursery and Garden, just a stone's throw from Pashley Manor, and it's one of the most idyllic landscapes I've encountered yet this year, with its formal garden in front of the house; glorious wildflower meadow; lily pond and wooded areas; plus a brilliant nursery (which brought me here in the first place); and a shop filled with garden-related goods that you actually want to buy!
What really struck me about this garden is that it's laid out in such a way that it doesn't require armies of gardeners to keep it in check and there are large areas that look after themselves, thanks to careful planting. There's a woodland walk teaming with bluebells right now and strategically placed benches and seats that beg you to come and sit on them while admiring different views of the garden. It's really nothing short of heaven on a glorious May day!
One of several ponds at King John's which promise spectacular displays later in the season
I imagine the ponds are quite spectacular when they come into flower later in the season, and I shall certainly visit again later this year to see what else is in bloom. But I can't think of anywhere more perfect than here to take the children this weekend - the doors open at 10.00 on both Sunday and Monday, so Happy Easter egg hunting to all who visit over the holiday. And if you can't get there this weekend the gardens and nursery are open every day except Tuesday, from now until October.
Strategically placed seats invite you to sit and admire the garden ....
Other venues in the South with Easter Egg Hunts this weekend are Riverhill House in Kent, which also has some of the most spectacular bluebell displays in the country; and Michelham Priory, in East Sussex, which is always glorious in springtime. Happy Easter to you all and I'll be back with spectacular tulips over the weekend.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

"The Bad Tempered Gardener" - just what you want for Mother's Day!

It's finally happened ... I'm home in the UK and just in time to see some of the flowers appear in my garden! It's miraculous, exciting and I've got a spring in my step. Off to see some tulips in the morning if I ever wake up after a sleepless night on a transatlantic flight!
My euphorbias are blooming, my fruit trees are covered in blossom and I've even got bluebells all over the garden, so can't wait to get out into the bluebell woods locally - another must with the Easter weekend coming. The weather is absolutely glorious and there's already talk of a hosepipe ban, after several weeks without rain here!
And the most exciting news of all is that I've received a review copy of Anne Wareham's new book! I've been glued to the pages ever since opening "The Bad Tempered Gardener" this morning. I can't say more until the beginning of May, but I can direct you to Amazon to order a copy just as soon as it's published, so click on the book title link. If it's the only gardening book you get this year .. this is it!!
A peep into the magical world of Veddw - home of "The Bad Tempered Gardener"
Anne and her husband Charles are the gardeners behind one of my Top Ten Gardens in the World - magical Veddw in Wales, which I visited for the first time in May last year. For US readers this is a "MUST HAVE" for Mother's Day - Anne has a great way of saying so many of the things that we gardeners think, but don't have the ability to put into words! I'll be doing a full review very soon.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Royal tulips cause headaches at Buckingham Palace!

There's a problem at the Palace
And who knows what to do?
The plants are misbehaving
And royal staff are in a stew.

The regal band of tulips
That adorn the palace gates,
Have bloomed a little early
And are set to pass their best-bloom dates ...
Before the Royal Wedding, on April 29.

But in reality it's nature
Following her role
And a warmer Feb than usual
Has put the Palace in a hole!

For full story click on this link!
For details of English gardens holding Tulip Festivals this year, check their websites, but notable displays can be found at:

Abbey Gardens, Gloucestershire - mid-April to mid-May
Alnwick Garden, Northumberland - 30th April - 7th May
Chatsworth, Derbyshire - 6th - 10th May
Chenies Manor, Buckinghamshire - mid-April to mid-May
Dyhram Park, Gloucestershire - 1st - 30th April
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall - 23rd April - 2nd May
Pashley Manor, East Sussex - 27th April - 8th May
Stourhead, Wiltshire - 25th April - 8th May
Waddesden Manor, Buckinghamshire - 16th April - 2nd May

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Galloping Gardener Walks © - Go to heaven in Gloucestershire - Kiftsgate Court and Hidcote Manor

The Millenium Pool at Kiftsgate - where 24 gilded lilies reflect in the water
For a slice of heaven, head to Gloucestershire over the Easter break and soak up some of the wonderful gardens there. You'll be hard pressed to choose between which ones to see, but in the first of my Gloucestershire Walks, I'm highlighting two gardens that are so close together, you can walk from one to the other - Hidcote Manor and Kiftsgate Court. But do be warned, you may get caught in the crowds!
As you enter the garden at Kiftsgate, you'll be overwhelmed by the flowers!
Kiftsgate Court is one of the most lovely gardens I've seen on my UK travels, but is often overlooked in the rush to get to its neighbour -  Hidcote Manor - one of the most visited gardens in Britain. Both are magnificent gardens and you can make a perfect day out visiting the two together. If you arrive at Hidcote and it's too crowded, just wander over the road to Kiftsgate until the rush subsides!
The Shade Garden at Kiftsgate - quite dramatically different to the rest of the garden there
This is home to three generations of gardening women and famous for its own rose - the Kiftsgate Rose (Rosa filipes 'Kiftsgate'). The property sits on the edge of a hill and you'll easily spend half a day in this garden as you wander through the various garden rooms; stand and admire views over the Vale of Evesham and Malvern Hills; and wander through the glorious shade garden (above).
Ten acres of gardens surround the Cotswold Manor at Hidcote - former home of Lawrence Johnston
Hidcote Manor is no less glorious, but it's popularity means that you'll be hard pressed to find quiet corners to reflect. Former home of Lawrence Johnston, who helped his neighbours design the gardens at Kiftsgate, this is one of the National Trust's UK flagship gardens, comprising more than 10 acres of garden rooms. For weekly news and updates, visit Bertie Bainbridge's "What Ho Hidcote" blog. He's the beekeeper and a trainee gardener there, so has all the latest information on what's in bloom.
The famous red borders at Hidcote

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Galloping Gardener Walks © - Florida Treasure Coast's Hidden Garden Bounty

Head for Florida's Treasure Coast if you want to find some secret gardens that will delight! Starting in Fort Pierce with the Heathcote Botanical Garden, you'll find some real hidden treasure here when the James Smith Bonsai Garden opens in May this year. A charming small garden, immaculately tended by volunteers and soon to expand even further. 
Head north and you'll find another magical hidden water garden at nearby Vero Beach - home to the McKee Botanical Gardens - with its fantastic lotus and lily displays in the summer months. This is another charming, small garden that was saved by local volunteers when the great Florida real estate boom happened back in the 70s. Thank heavens they saved McKee - it's a real gem!
There's more secret treasure to be discovered at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. This 15-acre garden is currently under restoration, but if you love palms, go out of your way to visit - because there's many species here that will open your eyes wide!
Further inland, but away from the theme parks, you'll find spring colour at Harry P. Leu Gardens on the shores of Lake Rowena in Orlando. A peaceful 50-acre haven amid this bustling city, with the largest collection of camellias on the East Coast of the US (sadly I missed them!), but don't worry if you're too late for the winter blooms, there's plenty more to see here during the rest of the year, and we saw some wonderful floral displays on our brief visit.
And for another hidden treasure, seek out Port d'Hiver in Melbourne - a magical bed and breakfast with views over the beach, beautifully decorated rooms and a breakfast to make you want to stay forever! This property is included in the Select Registry Collection and we'll certainly return if we head back to the East Coast of Florida. You can read full reviews on the gardens featured here by clicking on the links in the text.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Galloping Gardener Walks © - Spectacular secret spring gardens!

Edenbridge House in Kent - open Tuesday to Thursday every week from 2.00-5.00 pm
Oh to be in England, now that April's there! It's spring time and I can't wait to get home! Friends keep calling and telling me about the weather, the gardens and the way all the bulbs are bursting into flower. I've had a great time here in Florida, but I do miss spring back home, and the moment my feet touch the ground there, I'll be visiting many new gardens, fresh with the flush of the season. But for now I just have to dream about them, like the rest of my readers!
Edenbridge House has its own Oast house (left) in the garden
Edenbridge House in Kent is one of the loveliest small gardens in England. It opens Tuesday through Thursday throughout the summer months from 2.00-5.00 and if you're in search of a quintessential English garden, this is one to put on your list. The glorious timber-framed house (not open to public) presides over one of the most lovely and immaculately-tended gardens in Kent. It's also right on the doorstep of Hever Castle, if you're heading out that way.
Tulips in bloom at Chart's Edge
Another equally glorious garden that's off the coach party track, is Charts Edge. You won't be able to combine this garden with Edenbridge House, as it only opens on Fridays and Sundays, but there are plenty of other lovely gardens in the area. This garden only opened its doors to the public in the last few years, but it offers everything you could want - wonderful planting; carefully placed sculptures and immaculate borders - especially the Rainbow Border which is in full bloom in April and early May. Real eye candy and not to be missed!
You'll find lovely woodland walks at Marle Place in Kent
Finish off your day with a visit to Marle Place - another secret garden that will enrapture you at any time during the garden bloom season. Home of a painter, who sells her work in the gallery there along with other artists, this garden has been created with real love, and offers absolute serenity in the heart of Kent. You feel as though you're in a private garden as you wander through landscape looking at sculptures, burbling streams and acres of glorious planting. Abundant planting everywhere, plus woodland walks.
Acres of alliums at Marle in May
And if alliums are your favourite (I'm crazy about them and will be doing a whole entry on where to see them in the UK next month), make sure you make it to Marle in May, when you'll find a whole meadow in bloom - definitely a sight to savour.

For more Galloping Gardener Walks©, where you can combine several gardens in a day, look at "Days Out" under the header. I'm adding more suggestions each week!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Beyond the Magic Kingdom! Going green in Orlando at Leu Gardens

The view over Lake Rowena from Leu Gardens
On the shores of Lake Rowena in the heart of the historic district of Orlando is a great green space that will lift your spirits if you're suffering from theme park overkill. Former home of Florida native, Harry P. Leu and his wife Mary Jane, this 50-acre haven is far removed from the rest of the city - an oasis in a consumer desert which will re-invigorate you if you've lost touch with reality!
Mary Jane Leu's rose garden 
Sadly, I was too late for the dazzling collection of camellias and azaleas, which bloom during the winter months (October- March). Leu Gardens is home to the largest documented collection of camellias on the East Coast of the US, but I was able to enjoy the rose garden created by Mary Jane Leu when she lived here. It still seems strange to me to see roses in Florida because I'm so used to thinking of English gardens, but is just as impressive as Mable Ringling's Rose Garden further south in Sarasota. There are more than 200 varieties of rose here, including grandiflora, floribunda, hybrid tea, shrub and climbers. 
Elsewhere in the garden you'll find tropical walkways interspersed with floral displays; a butterfly garden; vegetable garden (below); herb, butterfly, colour and white garden areas; a citrus grove; and a huge collection of palms, cycads and bamboo. And at the heart of the gardens, there's the Leu House Museum, former home of the owners - carefully restored to show the way life was lived at the turn of the 20th century.
When Harry Leu and his wife created this garden, there weren't any theme parks in Orlando. But Leu was looking for a profitable crop to grow at his own Magic Kingdom on the shores of Lake Rowena! He and his wife loved to travel and following a trip to India and Tibet, where he learned that a particular type of camellia produced a leaf that was used in tea making, he started growing the plant at his home in Florida. But he soon discovered he'd chosen the wrong species to make tea!
But some clouds have a silver lining and Leu so loved the sight of the camellias in his garden that he started collecting the species, and introduced plants from all over the world to add to his collection. In 1961 he gave his gardens to the city of Orlando - and today it provides a peaceful haven in the heart of a city that's become synonymous with all things imagined. This garden is a little bit of botanical magic in the middle of a make-believe world!