Tuesday, 31 May 2011

New life breathed into Gravetye Manor garden, with Tom Coward at the helm

Gravetye Manor, former home of William Robinson
Following in William Robinson's footsteps can't be easy, but if anyone is prepared to face the challenge it's Tom Coward, head gardener at the legendary Arts & Crafts gardener's home, Gravetye Manor in West Sussex. Now a luxury hotel and part of the Relaix & Chateau chain, Tom joined the team when the hotel was bought last year and his brief is to restore the garden to its former glory. And he looks set to succeed because, just like the finest wines on the hotel's wine list, he has an impeccable provenance, having spent three years working with Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter before coming here.
Naturalistic planting in the borders adjacent to the house, following Tom's war on the bindweed
I first visited Gravetye Manor a year ago and although I loved the garden, it was painfully obvious that it had become tired and overgrown, due to years of neglect. Tom arrived in July last year and is the first to admit that his very first task was to wage war on the bindweed (Calystegia sepium) that had infested all the formal borders. Just nine months later, the garden is transformed and the magnificent borders adjacent to the house look incredibly healthy. The short term plan is to keep the area filled with bulbs and annuals, planted in naturalistic style until the bindweed is finally beaten.
Everywhere you look at Gravetye, there are charming features like the stone walls and pathways,
complimented by the naturalistic planting, which was Robinson's hallmark
There's little doubt that Gravetye is historically important, given that it was home to William Robinson for 50 years. So I was really encouraged to hear that the new owner is committed to restoring the garden to its former glory and has worked out an initial five-year plan with Tom Coward, which includes not just the restoration of the areas adjacent to the house that are seen by the hotel guests, but also the landscape features, kitchen garden and glass houses. Tom is more than happy with his brief, and aided by "four and a half gardeners", he's thrown his heart into the project.
View across the main garden, through the herbaceous borders
"Weeds and deer are the biggest problems here", says Tom, when you ask him what he feels about his new position, and he goes on to explain that although the garden looked good on the surface in the past, there had been neither time nor funds to address the underlying problems. Most of the first nine months on the job has been spent sorting out the weeds and erecting fencing to keep the deer out. Only now can he begin to think ahead.

Tom Coward, standing at one of the new kitchen garden
gates, made by a local Sussex blacksmith
One of the most interesting parts of the Gravetye garden is the walled kitchen garden, which provides many of the vegetables on offer in the gourmet restaurant at the hotel. Its use will remain the same, but ongoing work includes restoration of the garden, and replacing paths and gates. When I was there today, there were path samples in situ and a lot of work in progress, but Tom plans to make something really special out of this part of the garden so that visitors will want to visit the kitchen garden just as much as admiring the borders.


Another major restoration project is the glass houses.There are currently four Foster & Pearson glasshouses in the garden, as well as two original Victorian cold frames and a 60ft peach house. "These are the best ever made", enthuses Tom, "and the plan is to restore them to their original state". Another ambitious plan that looks well on the way to fruition, judging by the one that's already been restored.
Views over the surrounding countryside from the manor house
What impressed me most about my visit was that everyone involved in this project is extremely enthusiastic, from the staff on reception at the hotel, to all the gardeners at work outside - there were smiling faces everywhere and a very warm welcome. This is a really stunning garden, and promises to become even more so under Tom Coward's stewardship. Hotel guests get free run of the garden, but it's also open to outsiders on Tuesdays and Fridays - my advice is to take lunch at the hotel and wander around the gardens afterwards. It makes a perfect day out and serious gardeners may also want to visit Wakehurst Place, which is just a couple of miles down the road.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Catch Toddington Manor while you can - a garden gem in Bedfordshire

View of Toddington Manor from the driveway
Imagine finding a magical garden that leaves you surprised, astounded and really happy that you found it. That's what I felt when I visited Toddington Manor in Bedfordshire - a chance find that turned out to be one of the best I've seen in two years of garden visiting. But I'm afraid that's where the good news ends; the bad news is that unless you get there in the next few weeks, you won't be able to see this lovely garden, because it's closing it's garden gate at the end of June.
The Rose Garden with its central pond
Within less than a mile of the M1 (and you can actually see the traffic on the highway from the garden), is a country haven of extraordinary beauty. Present owners, Sir Neville and Lady Bowman-Shaw moved to the property in 1979 and completely re-planned and replanted the garden. There has been a manor house on the site since 1560, although it was rebuilt in the 18th century. Part of the charm of the garden is that you get views of the house wherever you are and would easily be forgiven for thinking that you were at a different location every time, so wide is the range of architecture.
The croquet lawn inside the walled garden
From the moment you walk in through the garden gate into the walled garden, you enter a magical world - a quintessential English garden - immaculately maintained and filled with colour. The croquet lawn (above) is enclosed by a low hedge and has dramatic borders filled with peonies, delphiniums, clematis and roses (to name just a few), backed by larger shrubs. From here you enter the rose garden, with its central pond, with the stable block as a backdrop (above).
The herbaceous borders under the pleached limes
When you leave the walled garden, you arrive at the pleached lime walk (above), which has old-fashioned paving and is underplanted with magnificent (and slug free) hostas, ferns, blue delphiniums, euphorbias, and alliums, all in subtle shades of blue and purple to compliment the lush green plants. But what is most noticeable about the garden here is the way that each different area has its own theme and leads you naturally to the next part of the garden.
The pond adjacent to the manor - filled with irises
From here you move on into the wildflower meadow, or graduate back to the front of the manor, which overlooks iris-filled ponds and lakes. The immaculately tended 10 acres also includes a herb garden, orchards and woodland to explore, in addition to the herbaceous borders, rose garden and croquet garden. But for me the most charming part of this property was that it was completely deserted when I visited and I was able to wander around alone.
Looking back at the manor through the pleached lime walk and borders
Sadly, my photographs don't do this property justice because the weather was bleak on the day I visited and the colours are very sombre. But don't be put off by the lack of blue sky here because this is a really stunning garden and one to catch before it closes. It's open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays until the end of June, from 1.00 to 5.00, so hurry, hurry, hurry! Also close to several other good gardens including Ascott and the Swiss Garden (to be reviewed this week).

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Enjoy the heady scent of British roses ... and two new rose gardens!

Town Place in Sussex opens for the NGS on Thursdays and Sundays in June and July (see details below)
Roses are in bloom all over Britain! And what better chance to get out and visit rose gardens than over the Bank Holiday weekend, before the petals begin to drop, after this long spell of dry weather? This wonderful, scented flower has a long and colourful history and fossil evidence indicates that they are over 35 million years old. The cultivation of roses in gardens seems to date back 5,000 years to ancient China, where roses are depicted in early wall frescoes. 
Polesden Lacey, with its colourful rose pergola
You'll find many gardens participating in the National Gardens Scheme that have magnificent roses, but the property that gets my vote for spectacular blooms is Town Place in Sussex (top), where the roses are so abundant and dazzling, they'll take your breath away. It's a stunning garden and opens for six days during June and July for the NGS, so if you get a chance, do visit. This years dates are 12, 16, 23 and 26 June, and 3,10 July, between 14.00 and 18.00. Visitors are also welcome by appointment. 
Mottisfont Abbey is famous throughout the world for its collection of old roses
National Trust properties that boast spectacular rose displays include Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire which draws visitors from all over the world with its wonderful collection of old-fashioned roses, planted by world-class rosarian, Graham Stuart Thomas, in the 1970's; Nyman's Garden in West Sussex and Polesden Lacey in Surrey. I'm sure there are many others, but these are the three I've seen this month. 
St Mary's House at Bramber has a lovely rose garden and is adding all the time to its collection
St Mary's House at Bramber in West Sussex has a charming rose garden, planted in 2002 to commemorate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, which is being added to every year. This is a really lovely and little-known garden surrounding an immaculately restored Elizabethan house. Open on Thursdays and Saturdays throughout the summer months, this garden is definitely one to watch as work progresses.
The rose garden at Regent's Park London is now in full bloom, but wasn't when I visited in early May
Londoners can visit Queen Mary's Rose Garden in Regent's Park to get their fill of roses. It was too early for me to see them when I was there in early May, but I was stunned by the layout of this garden and can just imagine how fantastic the roses are when in bloom! I'm going to try and get to see them next week, but just in case I don't, do go and visit for yourselves and see how they're looking as the dry spell continues. 
Kiftsgate Court in Gloucestershire has fabulous roses, and a rose named after the garden
Kiftsgate Court in Gloucestershire is glorious to visit at any time during the summer months (and of course, you've got Hidcote right next door), and you'll be bowled over by the scent of the roses here on a hot day. You'll find the famous 'Kiftsgate' rose (Rosa filipes 'Kiftsgate') in bloom right now - an amazing sight - although garden owner Anne Chambers likens it to a triffid if kept unchecked! And if you want to see more old-fashioned roses, make a pilgrimage through the country lanes of Gloucestershire to Hunt's Court near Dursley (below). This has spectacular rose displays at this time of year!
Hunt's Court in Gloucestershire, has a magnificent collection of old-fashioned roses
And two other spectacular British rose gardens that shouldn't be missed are the new Bowes-Lyon rose garden at RHS Wisley (below), designed by Robert Myers. It features more than 4,000 roses alongside herbaceous plants, with 150 different types on offer ranging from old-fashioned roses through to modern cultivars. Also new is the rose garden at Savill Gardens, with its futuristic viewing platform, which allows you to view the roses from above.
The new Bowes-Lyon garden at RHS Wisley is due to open this June and promises spectacular displays

Thursday, 26 May 2011

See some of the best roses in Britain at Mottisfont Abbey

The rose garden at Mottisfont Abbey is famous throughout the world
Mottisfont Abbey's walled garden has been home to the National Collection of old-fashioned roses since the 1970's when world-famous rosarian Graham Stuart Thomas (who has a yellow David Austin rose named after him), re-designed the former kitchen garden at this former Augustinian abbey for the National Trust. Four decades later, the rose garden is one of the most famous in the world and draws visitors from far and wide to marvel at the wonderfully scented garden. Not surprising when you see what's here ... particularly at this time of year!
The box parterre at Mottisfont, desinged by Norah Lindsay
The Abbey, which dates in part to the 13th century provides a striking backdrop to a 21-acre garden -designed in part by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe. It sits on the banks of one of the best fishing rivers in England - The Test. Norah Lindsay was also involved in the garden design here, with her geometric box parterre (above), which is planted with spring and summer bedding plants (although not on the day I visited!). Today it's the famous rose garden that draws visitors from all over the world to Mottisfont.
Entrance to the walled garden, where all paths lead to a central pool
There is little doubt that the walled garden at Mottisfont that will take your breath away, not just because of the roses, but also the exuberant planting. It is divided into four sections, with a circular pool at its centre and paths fan out from the pool, which acts as a central axis. On two sides, the paths are pergola covered (below). But there is hardly an inch of earth to be seen anywhere by this time of year - all you can see is a veritable sea of perennials stretching before your eyes.
Paths fan out from the central pool in the walled garden and two are pergola covered
But at this time of year, it's the roses that steal the show. They are so popular that the Abbey opens in the evenings during June so that you can view them! In his description of the walled garden, Patrick Taylor, well-known British garden critic said: "In late June the exuberance of flower, colour and scent provides one of the most memorable experiences of any garden in the country". High praise indeed!
"Exuberant" planting in the walled garden, to compliment the rose collection
Mottisfont Abbey is open seven days a week at this time of year, from 10.00 to 17.00. Evening openings are scheduled for 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26 June, when the garden stays open until 20.00. Last admittance is half an hour before closing. Free entry to National Trust members. But do check NT website for details as the roses are already in full bloom and there may be additional evening openings added at the beginning of June. Mottisfont is near enough to the Sir Harold Hillier Garden to visit both in a day and you certainly won't be disappointed.
View of the abbey, which dates back to the 13th century

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Wheelchair Garden Walks © Nyman's Garden, West Sussex

The fountain and topiary in the Walled Garden, viewed from a distance
At the risk of being politically incorrect, I'm starting a new Galloping Gardener © section today, where I'll feature gardens that are wheelchair friendly! Since starting this blog nearly two years ago, I've visited well over 200 gardens, but never given a second thought to what it must be like to visit if you're not able to walk around them. My husband also loves to visit gardens and has been a long-suffering passenger on many of my garden forays, but because of a debilitating illness, he is now using a wheel chair for longer distances. Suffice to say that with me learning to push him, it's put a whole new aspect on garden visits! 
My long-suffering husband
Our first visit was to somewhere local - Nyman's Garden - which is just a short drive up the A23 from our home. We've been there many times before and knew there'd be plenty in bloom at this time of year, but we've never tried to navigate the grounds in a wheelchair, and with me as a novice driver, this promised to be quite a challenge! 
    All started well and I loaded the wheelchair into my car, thinking that this would be a simple task. I thought of Nyman's as completely flat and couldn't imagine that any parts of the garden would be inaccessible. But on arrival, the first problem was getting the wheelchair out of the car. Somehow, it had locked itself solid into the back and if it hadn't been for help from some passing visitors who saw my predicament, we might well still be struggling!
    The next potential obstacle was getting my husband through the garden entrance - at Nyman's it's a charming, rustic hut, with double doors. Normally you open only one door, but with a wheelchair, you need both. But again help was at hand and an onlooker ran to unbolt the second door. 
Nyman's has several remarkable features including the walled garden, with its wonderful borders; the Pinetum; the rose garden, which is just coming into full bloom; and the croquet lawn garden, with its wonderful pergola. There is also a wild garden and a rock garden. All except the Pinetum, the wild garden and rock garden are accessible by wheelchair, even if it is hard work pushing over the gravel pathways. It would also help if the wheelchair routes were clearly signposted! We took several wrong routes and had to backtrack when we encountered steps.
Nyman's magnificent wisteria-clad pergola in full bloom
The pergola is exceptional at this time of year, with the wisteria in full bloom, and visiting today made me realise that I'd overlooked it in my Perfect Pergolas feature, which many of you have visited. We particularly appreciated the monthly "Plants of Interest" information sheet we were given on arrival, which included a map of where the flowering plants were in the garden. 
The rose-covered dovecote viewed through immaculately clipped hedges
But what really amazed me about our visit, was the number of people who offered to help, especially when I found I'd taken the wrong route or found myself confronted by steps or an incline. You'd be amazed how even the slightest incline poses a challenge when pushing a wheelchair! But these are all the aspects of garden visiting I'm going to feature on a regular basis in future. We loved our day out and the verdict was: A great garden for wheelchair users; plenty to see and most areas accessible!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Galloping Gardener Walks © - A day out in Cumbria - Levens and Holker Halls and Sizergh Castle

Levens Hall, billed as one of the "best topiary gardens in the world"
Cumbria has more than its fair share of beautiful, and unusual gardens - starting with one of the best topiary gardens in the world! But there are also two other remarkable properties within spitting distance that you should add to your list of "Must See Gardens" in this area of outstanding natural beauty - Holker Hall and Sizergh Castle. It may be a little ambitious trying to visit all three in a day, but you'll definitely cover them in two and the area is so rich in gardens that you'll be able to fit in others en route.

Start at Levens Hall (top), billed as one of the best topiary gardens in the world and deservedly so. You'll be amazed by the surreal and immaculately scissored shapes and the magnificent underplanting. Click the link to see more of this wonderful garden!
Italianate water cascade at Holker Hall
Then move on to Holker Hall with its 200 acres of landscaped gardens, complete with Italianate water cascade and fountain and the formal garden adjacent to the house. This is really a spring garden, but the landscape retains its beauty in summer and part of the joy of this part of the world is the rolling hills that you drive through en route to the gardens. Chances are that you will keep making exclamations of surprise as you view the landscape ... I did! And you'll get views of the sea en route here.
Your first view of Sizergh Castle gives you no indication of the wonderful gardens!
But make sure you don't miss out on Sizergh Castle, just a short drive from Levens Hall. The castle was originally built to protect the local inhabitants from invading marauders, but today is a peaceful haven with stunning gardens, including a Rock Garden added in the 1920s, an immaculately maintained Dutch garden, vegetable gardens and the chance to walk in verdant countryside. I was amazed to see this garden gets little more than a cursory mention in "The Good Gardens Guide". But rest assured, it's well worth visiting!
Austwick Hall - charming country hotel with wonderful garden
And if you're looking for somewhere to stay in the area, my recommendation is Austwick Hall at nearby Settle - a delightful house with its own stunning garden and rooms and food to die for! You'll find fantastic bluebell displays in springtime; glorious borders throughout the summer; lovely views over the surrounding countryside and hospitality that's hard to beat. I enjoyed my stay here so much that I'm planning to use this charming hotel as my base for all future visits to the Lake District.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Sizergh Castle - a garden full of surprises!

Sizergh Castle is a real hidden gem in the heart of Cumbria - with a building that dates in part to the 14th century and glorious gardens - particularly the rock garden, added in the 1920s. Home to the Strickland family for more than 700 years, it now comes under the stewardship of the National Trust, but seems to attract relatively few visitors to the garden. Most come to see the castle, which is a pity, because the garden is exceptional and full of surprises.
The Rock Garden, added in 1926 by Sir Gerald Strickland
Sizergh is not helped by the paltry listing it gets from "The Good Gardens Guide", with nothing more than a six-line entry at the end of the Cumbria section! It certainly deserves a full entry and I would have thought a star would have been in order, especially if you're in the area visiting the other gardens like Levens Hall and Holker Hall, which both get two-star gradings and are within spitting distance.
The Rock Garden is filled with ferns and conifers - which make for a glorious colour palette
The garden here is divided into distinct parts, with the Rock Garden at one end of the property and the Dutch Garden at the opposite end. The Rock Garden was planted in 1926 by castle incumbent, Sir Gerald Strickland, who planted conifers here along with ferns. The result, nearly a century later, is an astounding combination of vibrant colours and verdant greens - crowded into a delightful one-acre plot with the castle as a backdrop. Today there are nearly 75 species of conifer here, including many dwarf varieties, that have somewhat outgrown their category. But all this makes for a striking colour palette, particularly in springtime and autumn.
   There is also a working kitchen garden, complete with scarecrow (left); a wildflower bank, which is noteworthy in springtime when the daffodils are in bloom; and a Dutch garden, planted with Prunus 'Tai Haku' for further dazzling blossom effects in spring. This leads on to the South Garden.
The Dutch garden, with immaculately clipped topiary and stunning blossom in springtime
The Dutch Garden (above) has impeccably clipped box hedges and an avenue of flowering cherry trees, which sadly, I missed. Part of the charm of this property is the surprises you find round every corner, and then of course, you've got the castle, originally built to defend the surrounding countryside from invasion. Today, the only invasion you're likely to encounter is the hordes of summer visitors, who arrive in coaches. 
Looking out over the lake and surrounding countryside at Sizergh
But if you are in the area, this really is a garden worth visiting. It's quite different to the other gardens I've featured from my trip to Cumbria, but definitely one for the "Wish List" if you're heading north of Manchester this summer. Open daily from March until the end of October from 11.00-5.00. Free admission to National Trust members.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Gresgarth Hall - Lennox-Boyd directs a plant ensemble in Lancashire!

Gresgarth Hall, Lancashire - home of well-known garden designer, Arabella Lennox-Boyd
Gresgarth Hall - the Lancashire garden created by internationally-renowned garden designer and former Chelsea Gold medal winner - Arabella Lennox-Boyd - opens to the public once a month from April to October and, as I happened to be in the area earlier this month, I couldn't resist taking a look, especially as it was so close to Levens Hall, with its fantastic topiary garden. One of the most striking features about this garden is its verdant and luxurious feel - everywhere you look there is greenery.
The Terraces adjacent to the Hall were the first areas that Arabella created in the garden
This garden showcases Arabella's talents, helped by a wonderful location on the banks of a tributary of the River Lune. The result is a perfectly manicured landscape, with a series of different areas, created to divide the 12 cultivated acres into a series of garden stage sets - any one of which would provide a perfect garden design for those of us with smaller plots! As you'd expect, with so few chances to see the garden here, it gets pretty crowded on the days it's open, so armed with map, I set off in search of photos that didn't include the floral-skirt brigade clucking over planting arrangements!
The bridge that spans the Lune tributary, known as Artle Beck - leading to the Serpentine Walk
There is certainly plenty to see here, although you may feel slightly intimidated by the sheer volume of planting, gardening and perfection! This is not a garden that a mere mortal could maintain, just in terms of the work load to keep it looking like it does. Admittedly, I was lucky because it was perfect weather on the day I visited, and there had been plenty of rainfall in the preceding days, so the garden looked remarkably green and fresh. 
View from Spring Walk looking towards Mill Yard
Visiting Gresgarth is like going to the theatre. Act I is the terraces adjacent to the house and a bridge leads from here to the Serpentine and Hamamelis Walks the other side of the river. Once you've admired the house from afar, you can wander up Spring Walk towards Mill Yard where teas are served. Behind the yard there is a kitchen garden and potager. And from here you start Act II  with the Water Garden, the Wild Garden and the Lilac Walk. Act III is a grand finale with immaculate herbaceous borders. 
One of many herbaceous borders at Gresgarth
There's certainly plenty to see here and it's undoubtedly a plantsman's paradise, with more than 6,000 trees and shrubs on view. I enjoyed my visit, but found myself wondering just how many gardeners are needed to retain this stage set, where it seems that every plant has been auditioned to see whether it makes the grade for the command performance each month. But do go and see the show for yourself - Gresgarth Hall opens once a month during the spring and summer months and tickets are £7.00. 

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Subtle spring shades at Holker Hall, Cumbria

The 16th century house is surrounded by a balustraded terrace and compartmentalised sunken garden§
Holker Hall (pronounced Hooker) in Cumbria is quite a find, although essentially a spring garden. The house overlooks hundreds of acres of rolling landscaped parkland, while the 23-acres of formal gardens adjacent to the 16th century hall have been largely re-designed by current owners, Lord and Lady Cavendish, who arrived here early in the 1970s. The re-design means that visitors are caught up in an eye-catching colour display the moment they enter the gardens and must go further afield to discover the woodland areas, which have their own subtle and distinct charm.
Entrance to the Elliptical Garden
You enter the gardens through a courtyard and arrive in the Elliptical Garden adjacent to the house - this is a formal garden with flower beds enclosed by yew and box hedges, best seen in springtime when the tulips and alliums are in bloom. It is divided into four colour-coded beds and the effect in early spring is stunning. But this is quite labour intensive for the gardens, who must change the bedding plants to keep the displays vibrant throughout the visitor season.
From here you move on into the Summer Garden (above) with its formal, boxed lawns and central arbor. You can also get glimpses of the family's private garden from here. The design of this part of the garden naturally draws you in towards the gate in the distance, where you'll find the wildflower meadow and labyrinth. But in all likelihood you'll be drawn towards the Neptune Cascade first, given it's spectacular colours in springtime with the rhododendrons, azaleas and himalayan poppies in bloom!
The Cascade, topped by a figure of Neptune
The Neptune Cascade (above) comes as a real surprise here! You emerge from the formal gardens and suddenly find yourself in front of a rhododendron filled glade, with the huge water feature ahead of you. It's hard to say whether it's more impressive with the trees are in bloom, or as the petals fall to the ground (below), when there is a complete carpet of pink rhododendron petals. But whatever your preference, don't stop here, because there is still more garden to see!
The carpet of rhododendron petals signal the end of spring at Holker Hall
Once you've seen the Cascade, don't forget to find the Sunken Garden (below), across another stretch of meadow, with its impressive pergola and many old-fashioned roses. The pergola leads to open groves of plants and eventually back to the house. It's easy to think you've seen it all before you arrive at this traditional part of the garden, where the roses are complemented by herbaceous underplanting.
The Sunken Garden, filled with alliums in May, followed by old-fashioned roses in June
Holker Hall is open from April to the end of October every day except Saturday, from 10.30am-5.30pm. Easily accessible from Levens Hall, with its magnificent topiary, you could do a lot worse than visit both gardens in a day! There is a Garden Festival held here every year - check website for details and for other events on offer throughout the season.