Thursday, 30 June 2011

Star-studded footsteps in June - from wilderness to World Gardens

Sussex Prairies - open every week throughout the summer Wednesday through Friday
June has been another thrilling garden-visit month and I've dropped in on 27 English gardens on my travels, including six wonderful new gardens in Herefordshire (to be reviewed in July); two charming Kent cottage gardens  - Smallhythe Place, former home of Ellen Terry and Old Buckhurst, a garden created out of a hilltop wilderness (also for review in July); and finally marvelled at the World Garden, created by Tom Hart-Dyke, modern-day plant hunter who spent six months in captivity in the South American jungle, after a plant-hunting expedition ended in disaster!
Little Malvern Court, Worcestershire (to be reviewed)
I've seen Marilyn Monroe; met John Brookes; and walked in the footsteps of Christopher Lloyd; sat in the garden where Virginia Woolf once sat and taken time to reflect on where to go next. I've encountered extraordinary gardens in Essex that I didn't know existed, including Green Island and Spencers; finally made it to Painswick Rococo in Gloucestershire (waiting for review); and managed to revisit some of my all-time favourites including Vann and Sussex Prairies.
Old Buckhurst, Kent - a charming garden created where there was none (for review in July)
July promises a new round of adventures including Hampton Court Flower Show, which starts next week. It's neither as well-known nor as crowded as Chelsea and I'm looking forward to seeing the show gardens there. I'm also going to Highgrove - Prince Charles' much talked-about garden - for the first time, although I won't be posting pictures because cameras aren't permitted!
The Japanese garden room at Green Island in Essex
Other treats to look forward to next month include more Gloucestershire gardens as I head up there to see what's in bloom; and some first time visits to gardens in the middle of England, including plots in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and, if I get the time, a little further north. Thank you all for visiting and for all your comments, and I hope you'll join me for more gardens in July. And if you'd like ideas on where to visit, you can always check out the UK Garden Visit listings.
Denman's Garden, West Sussex - home of John Brookes

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Art in the garden at Sussex Prairies

On show at Sussex Prairies now - just one of many wonderful exhibits! Open this weekend.
And the best news of all - open Wednesdays, Thursdays & Fridays throughout the summer!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Stunning open gardens without crowds to mark 30th anniversary of British designers!

Ecclesden Manor in Sussex - open for  the Society of Garden Designers last weekend
Open gardens have become very popular in England and Wales, due to the success of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), which now boasts a portfolio of more than 3,700 gardens. But in reality, while the cause is more than worthy - because entrance fees are distributed to the various cancer-related charities supported by the NGS - some of the gardens are disappointing. Readers will know what I think of over-rated NGS gardens from previous posts! So imagine my delight when I encountered a new open-garden scheme last weekend, where the first garden I saw shot to the top of my "Best 10" this year!
You're met by swathes of lavender at the gate at Ecclesden
Ecclesden Manor in West Sussex is not just an astounding garden, but rarely opens its gates unless there's a worthy cause. It opens annually for the Lifeboat Charity (RNLI), to raise funds for the local lifeboat, but also opened for the first time this year for the Society of Garden Designers to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Sadly, I'm late flagging up this event for 2011 because I didn't know about it myself until last week. If I'd known sooner, I would have been on the trail in both May and June when more of the participating gardens opened their doors! Now I'll have to wait until September to see the wonderful gardens on offer. 
The water garden at Ecclesden, which reflects the house on a sunny day
The garden here was designed by John Brookes - well known English designer, who has his own garden near Chichester. I was lucky enough to meet John during my visit and will be going to see his garden and talk to him later in the week, so more on his ideas about design then. But Ecclesden is a truly charming plot and a fine example of maximising on the available space near the house, using classical gardening techniques, like the parterre with lavender and the impressive water garden (above), created in the style of 17th century Dutch gardens.
The garden here was designed over a five-year period and received the Sussex Heritage Trust Landscape Award in 2003 - an annual award scheme that seeks to recognise high-quality conservation and restoration projects in the county. Truly - a wonderful garden - and I'm glad that I made it last weekend!
**Also worth noting is the number of stunning gardens open next weekend (2nd and 3rd July) under the Garden Gadabout scheme, in support of the Sussex Beacon charity. This is a great chance to see private gardens in Brighton, Hove and surrounding areas.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

A plant feast to savour - The World Garden, Kent

The 19th century moongate that leads into The World Garden
I've had a wonderful week visiting gardens in Hereford and Kent, but this one made a real impression when I saw the moongate on arrival. This was just a fantastic start and once I was through the circular gate (which has been here since the 19th century) I was amazed by what lay in front of me - plants from all over the planet, divided into geographical areas. This is The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle in Kent, and it's quite simply amazing!
Ancient and modern in harmony - the steel Baobob tree sculpture sits in the heart of Africa
Created by Tom Hart-Dyke, plant hunter extraordinaire, and the man who was kidnapped on an orchid-hunting trip in Central America in 2000. He spent more than nine months in captivity before being released in time for Christmas. But since returning home he has created this  visionary international landscape within the walled garden of his parents' castle in Kent. Of course, it probably helps if you have some spare acreage within the grounds of a castle, but what this young man has created here is a tribute to his gardening talent. He first conceived the idea while being held hostage in South America.
Individual garden continents are contoured to represent the world's mountain ranges
Part of the charm of the garden is the views of the castle and church outside the walls. But within you will find themed areas including Europe, Asia, Australia, the Americas, Africa and The Canaries. Each area is planted with cultivars from the particular region and the overall effect is quite striking. You have a plant museum contained within the 500-year old walls of this two-acre plot. Tom plans to have 10,000 different plants here when the garden is complete.
You'll need a camera at the ready here to photograph all the unusual plants
Particularly impressive is the way in which the different regions are contoured to provide representations of the different mountain ranges around the world, like the Alps and Himalayas. And it's not just shrubs that represent the different continents, but also trees, so you'll find Chusan palms in the China section of the garden and eucalyptus in Australia. The National Collection of Eucalypts is held here, so do go and see these magnificent trees for yourself.
Lullingstone Castle - also open to the public on selected days
Most impressive of all is that each winter some 2,000 plants are lifted from the walled garden to protect them from the English winter, and moved to glasshouses and polytunnels elsewhere on on the estate - certainly no mean feat when you think of the winter we had last year in England.
    Whatever you do, don't miss the Cloud Garden here, which houses plants too sensitive to live outside (and certainly unable to survive an English winter!) - located next to the main garden and filled with interesting species that you're unlikely to see anywhere else in the UK.

The World Garden is open Friday through Sunday until the end of October, from 12.00-17.00. Well worth putting on your wishlist, and you might want to combine it with Titsey Place if you want to see a conventional working walled garden.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Definitely worth travelling to see - the "other" Hampton Court in Herefordshire!

View over the gardens towards the castle, from the top of the tower in the maze
Hampton Court in Herefordshire (not to be muddled with the palace in London) is complicated! It not only shares its name with another great garden in Britain, but also has a confusing history. There've been four major families involved in the estate since the 15th century; the castle has been totally rebuilt once, and restored several times since it first appeared. What you see there today is largely thanks to an American – Robert Van Kampen – who arrived in Herefordshire in 1994 and restored the castle to its former glory.
One of two identical pavilions designed by Simon Dorrell in the Flower Garden at Hampton Court
The gardens and all buildings within them, were designed by Simon Dorrell, who was virtually unknown when he undertook this commission for the Van Kampens. But he is now well-established as one of the two designers associated with Bryan's Ground gardens on the Herefordshire border (I couldn't get there this week, but for an excellent review, click on the link) and for the gardens currently under restoration at Bruton Court near Leominster. Definitely a name to watch out for as he leaves his mark on this part of the world! 
The formal rose garden at Hampton Court
The main gardens here at Hampton Court are walled, but divided into two parts. As you enter you find yourself in the Vegetable Garden which is now an ornamental kitchen garden complete with glasshouses, which leads onto the Flower Garden, which will take your breath away. Here there are pleached lime walks, canals and in the middle of each of the two canals, an octagonal pavilion constructed of brick and wood. Bold Arts & Crafts style borders run the full length of the kitchen garden walls and there's also a formal rose garden (above).
Herbaceous borders at Hampton Court are planted in Arts & Crafts style
The Flower Garden's herbaceous borders are in full bloom right now (above), and most visitors seem to spend as much time admiring these as they do the formal design elements of the garden, but make sure you don't miss the additional borders outside the garden walls, or the Dutch Garden, closer to the castle when you're here. The latter was being replanted when I visited this week, but still looked pretty impressive against the backdrop of the thunder clouds (below).
Stormy skies make an interesting backdrop to the symmetry of the Dutch Garden
There are 20 acres of grounds here at Hampton Court and I suspect that many visitors never get beyond the walled gardens, and judging by the empty maze, even fewer make it to the Sunk Garden! There's a tunnel that connects the two, but if the prospect of a dark passageway is too much for you, you can access the sunk garden by steps. Both are well worth searching out and once you get to the centre of the maze, you can climb the tower for a panoramic view over the gardens.
The Sunk Garden, which is connected to the maze by a tunnel
But rest assured, wherever you are at Hampton Court, you’ll hardly see a blade of grass out of place, a hedge needing cutting or any drooping dead heads! This garden is certainly impressive and goes high on my list of gardens worth making a detour for if you're anywhere within a 20-mile radius!! Open daily until the end of August from 10.30 - 17.00. And it's just one of six splendid gardens I've visited this week in my two-day gallop around this part of the world, so I've got lots of treats in store for readers in the next couple of weeks!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Greys Court - off the beaten track in Oxfordshire

The Knot Garden in May when the laburnum is in bloom
Greys Court, near Henley-on-Thames, dates back to the 14th century, and much of the charm of the garden is the fortified tower ruins you see while walking round. But despite the property's long history, there are no records for the gardens or grounds prior to the arrival of the Brunner family in 1937. To them it was a family home, and Lady Brunner made the three-acre gardens what they are today during her 65-year reign at the property. 
The fortified 14th century tower ruins make a striking backdrop to the garden at Greys Court
Although the Brunner's signed Greys Court over to the National Trust in 1969, Lady Brunner remained there until her death in 2003 and continued to play an active part in the maintenance of the garden. She was particularly fond of the White Garden, which she planted in the shadow of the ancient towers before the outbreak of WWII; and the Kitchen Garden, which was brought back into service to support the 'Dig for Victory' campaign, a war time effort to persuade civilians to use any spare land for vegetable growing to ward off food shortages.
The Kitchen Garden is filled with flowers and fruit, but the red pillars are somewhat incongruous!
Greys Court is also well known for its rose garden, even though the soil in the Chilterns is not ideal for rose growing, so it has been replanted twice in recent years - in 1982 and then again in 2002. But perhaps the best known feature here is the huge wisteria (below), planted in about 1890, which has now taken over a whole corner of the garden, and is almost triffid like, but quite spectacular when in bloom.
The huge wisteria, which is 120 years old and still flowering every year
Make sure you don't miss the Archbishop's Maze (below), which you can access through the rear of the Kitchen Garden. It was commissioned by Lady Brunner; designed by Adrian Fisher, who is recognised as the world's leading maze designer; and blessed by Archbishop Runcie in 1981 after it was completed. The design includes seven rings, representing the seven days of creation. Fisher has also designed mazes at many other English gardens including Longleat, Leeds Castle and Warwick Castle.
The Maze was designed by Adrian Fisher and blessed by Archbishop Runcie when completed in 1981
Greys Court is open from March until the end of September, Wednesday through Sunday, from 12.00 - 17.00. Close enough to London for a day trip, but there's also plenty to see in nearby Henley-on-Thames, or you could combine it with a visit to some Oxford Gardens.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Galloping Gardener's Pick of the Week © - Great Dixter, East Sussex

There are so many fantastic English gardens in bloom right now, I've decided to highlight one (or possibly more) each week, so readers who are close enough can get there to visit just as soon as possible and enjoy what's blooming! Great Dixter is looking fantastic right now, and is open all weekend, so if you see a break in those storm clouds, get there quick!
First view of the garden, peering through the hedge
Two alligators have appeared  in the Sunk Garden this year!
It doesn't matter how many gardens you've visited, because this garden can't fail to delight - former home of Christopher Lloyd, affectionately known to friends as Christo - it's one of the most enervating and uplifting you'll see! The planting is fantastic; the colours are wonderful; and it's guaranteed to lift your spirits after all the recent rain. 
   Looking at what was going on  in this amazing garden last weekend, one can't help but feel that new life is being breathed into the garden now that work is finished on the house, and you'll find several new touches, like the alligators in the pool in the Sunk Garden that weren't there in previous years.
   From the moment you set eyes on the timber-framed house and walk through the meadow garden at the entrance, you'll know this garden is unique. By all means take a tour of the house, but as you enter, keep an eye out for the plants on the porch, maintained in Lloyd's tradition. He constantly changed the plants here around from March to October to ensure "there's always a greeting as one goes into or out from the house."

It's all about exuberant planting - especially in the High Garden at Great Dixter
Head gardener at this wonderful garden is Fergus Garrett, who worked with Christopher Lloyd right up to his death in 2006. He continues to run the garden at Great Dixter just as he did when Christo was alive and was, until last year,  assisted by Tom Coward, who's moved to Gravetye Manor in Sussex - another must-see garden and home of another great former plantaholic and planstman, William Robinson.
Christopher Lloyd was a firm believer that "plants help each other"
If it's borders you're after ... the whole garden is one great exuberant display of shrubs, climbers, annuals and perennials, all mixed together in true Lloyd style. He maintained:  "Different kinds of plants grown in juxta-position help each other". Well, help or hinder, they all look pretty fantastic here!!
   Many visitors will have heard tell of the famous Long Border at Dixter (top), but in reality the whole garden is fantastic at this time of year and the High Garden (above) is like one huge border, hidden behind the famous peacock topiary. There is also a wonderful Orchard Garden and an Exotic Garden, although I was a little surprised to see so many roses in the latter!
The gardens at Great Dixter are open daily (except Mondays) from 11.00-17.00, until 28 October. The house is open from 14.00-17.00. There are also a series of Study Days at the gardens, headed by Fergus Garrett, so check website for details.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Marilyn Monroe arrives at Great Fosters! A Surrey garden rarely seen.

It's not often that Marilyn Monroe arrives to grace your front lawn! But she's arrived at Great Fosters (above) in Surrey as part of the Sculpture Al Fresco exhibition there from now until the end of August. This is a great opportunity to see the garden at this luxury hotel in Surrey and admire the 14 sculptures on display. (I've been waiting for over a week for a sunny day to visit, so apologise if the pictures here fail to do justice to the garden and exhibition, which I viewed in between heavy rain showers!).
Immaculate clipped hedges and topiary at Great Fosters
Great Fosters pioneered the concept of turning a country house into a hotel; has also maintained  its historic Grade II* listed gardens and is now stepping into the world of garden sculpture. Quite an accolade for a property that nearly got cut off from the outside world by the intrusion of the M25 when it was built. So you won't be surprised to hear this garden here has been on my Wish List for some time.
The sunken rose garden has lily pond at its centre
It's an interesting property - now a luxury hotel - but once a former hunting lodge, with a notable Arts and Crafts garden created in 1918, but recently restored by the current owners and sympathetically enhanced. Close to the hotel, the garden is traditional, with a knot garden, pergola and sunken rose garden - all immaculately maintained and bounded on three sides by a moat that dates back to Saxon times.
The landscape at Great Fosters incorporates lakes, wild areas and a fantastic amphitheatre designed and executed by Kim Wilkie. This feature is a stroke of genius, designed to "protect the property from the intrusion of the M25 motorway", and it's only when you get close enough to inspect it that you realise just what an eyesore and ear assault the road is.
Exhibitors at Sculpture al Fresco include Rick Kirby (top left); Carole Andrews (top right);
Alexander Hoda (bottom left) and Richard Trupp (bottom right)
Sculpture al Fresco is a a collaboration between Great Fosters and Marcelle Joseph Projects, and is showcasing the work of nine sculptors: Richard Hudson, Rick Kirby, Carole Andrews, Richard Jackson, Emily Young, Nikolai Winter, Richard Trupp, Giles Kent and Alexander Yoda. It certainly works as a concept because there's another land at the hotel to give each exhibitor a personal space, and some of the finest new features of the garden are highlighted by the exhibits, like the amphitheatre, where Hoda's "Dancers" take centre stage.
The pergola, leading to the double-lime avenue
Parts of the building at Great Fosters date back to the 16th century, but it's been a hotel since 1927. The gardens adjacent to the house were refurbished just after WWI by W.H. Romaine-Walker, working in collaboration with G.H. Jenkins. There's a fine courtyard area at the entrance to the property (currently graced by Miss Monroe), but it's the gardens at the rear of the property that will interest garden lovers, with the intricate knot gardens and topiary displays bounded by the moat. There's also the pergola (above) and modern interpretation of a Japanese bridge (below), which lead you to the double-lime avenue, which in turn leads to the spectacular amphitheatre.
The wisteria-clad bridge over the moat at Great Fosters

The result at Great Fosters is a pleasing relationship between ancient and modern. This is definitely a garden to savour, so do make the effort to get here while "Sculpture al Fresco" is showing. The exhibition is open daily 10.00 -18.00, until 28 August and there's no charge to view. If the weather's good, you can treat yourself to lunch in the garden!
Last view of Marilyn before leaving Great Fosters ....
For real sculpture vultures, the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden is only a stone's throw away on the M25, although only open on Fridays and weekends (at other times by appointment). I'll be reviewing the new exhibition, which includes work by Richard Jackson, Rick Kirby and Emily Young, just as soon as I can get there!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A garden delight at Gilbert White's House!

Gilbert White's House overlooks open fields, where he once grew crops
The garden at Gilbert White's House is a real surprise - a hidden treasure that rarely appears in garden guides - nestled in the heart of a perfect English village in Hampshire. There are no formal gardens here, just a lovely English landscape that leaves a lasting impression once visited. This was Gilbert White's home, a man who's painstaking records, published as The Natural History of Selborne (1788) - is one of the most re-printed books in the English language. 
View of the house from the "Six Quarter" garden
Gilbert White was born in the village in 1720, and died in the house that bears his name 66 years later. The house is actually called The Wakes, but is simply referred to as Gilbert White's House today. Nestled in the heart of Jane Austin country in the village of Selborne - which looks just like an English village should, with its thatched cottages and narrow High Street - Gilbert White was a skilled gardener, who grew not just fruit, vegetables and flowers, but also a huge range of crops in the open fields near the house - some 300 species - all recorded in his Garden Kalendar, from 1751-1767.
The garden is still being restored, but this is part of its charm
The house remained in private ownership until the mid 1950's and successive owners made considerable changes to the property and the gardens, so what's there today is a reconstruction of Gilbert White's garden and a testament to the famous naturalist and author. The gardens are tended by a team of volunteers known as the "Wakes Weeders" and it is only recently that an overall plan has been agreed for the long-term restoration of the garden. 
View over parkland and replica of Gilbert White's "Wine Pipe" seat
There are no formal gardens here, although you'll find a charming "Six Quarter" garden, divided into six beds which is a showcase for the shrubs and plants mentioned by Gilbert White in his journals. There is also a wild flower garden, herb garden and kitchen garden. But most impressive and enjoyable is the large tract of parkland in front of the house, with the Wine Pipe walk (above). Gilbert White's original barrel seat, known as the Wine Pipe is long gone, but there is a replica in place today. The adjoining land is owned by the National Trust, so this is a view that's here to stay.
Notwithstanding White's formidable reputation, his house and garden are well worth making a detour for on a sunny day, if you want to wander through an idyllic English village and stroll through a lovely English garden with an interesting history. Close enough to Midhurst to combine with Woolbeding House if you're there on the right day of the week, or you could carry on see the roses at Mottisfont Abbey. Open daily during June, July and August from 10.30 am - 5.15 pm.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

When small is beautiful ... three cottage gardens to visit in a day

Smallhythe Place in Kent, former home of actress, Ellen Terry
If you fancy a day out touring small gardens, you'll be hard pressed to beat the three featured here today in Kent and East Sussex - all have an interesting history and famous former residents, and the gardens, maintained by the National Trust, are delightful. Start with Smallhythe Place in Kent, former home of actress, Ellen Terry, which is famous for its roses. There's even a yellow rose named after her, but sadly it wasn't in bloom when I visited, although notices at the door claimed that it would be "blooming soon". 
The rose garden at the rear of Smallyhythe Place, where you'll find the "Ellen Terry" rose if you're lucky
Located in Kent, which is known as the Garden of England, this is a wonderful destination for foreign visitors, because you'll be treated to stunning countryside en route to Smallhythe and a classic timber-framed house on arrival, which looks as higgledy piggledy as a witch's cottage in a fairy tale! Add a garnish of roses on the front facade, and I suspect you've got your classic English cottage idyll here! 
Lamb House has the largest lawn in Rye - the garden is small, but wonderfully maintained
Lamb House in Rye, has the largest lawn in town and a charming small garden. This was home to Henry James, the well-known American author from 1898 until his death in 1916. Although he was no great gardener, he enlisted the help of his friend Alfred Parsons, to create the one-acre garden that survives today. Rye is a fascinating town - one of the original Cinque Ports and filled with interesting architecture and cobbled streets. Many of the houses on the approach to Lamb House have charming flower displays and window boxes, and you're left with the impression that the whole town is filled with flowers.
Lamb House is right in the heart of Rye, but the garden is secluded
The third small garden that housed a famous resident, and compliments the other two here, is Monk's House near Lewes, former home of writer, Virginia Woolf, who bought the house with her husband Leonard as a weekend retreat in 1919. The cottage garden here is charming and although it only extends to a little over an acre, it's filled to bursting with colourful perennials. It also has wonderful views over the South Downs and surrounding countryside.
Virginia Woolf was part of the Bloomsbury set, and her sister, Vanessa Bell, lived at nearby Charleston, another delightful garden just a few miles away. Sadly, opening hours at Monk's House are very restricted, and it is only open for viewing on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, although I did hear talk of extended opening hours when I was there at the weekend. All three of these gardens are visitable in a day and will take you through some of the prettiest countryside in southern England.
The cottage-style garden at Virginia Woolf's former home in Rodmell, East Sussex