Saturday, 30 July 2011

Goodbye July - Visits to both Hampton Courts and much more

It's the end of July and hard to believe that we're moving fast towards autumn. But it's been a great month for visiting gardens, new people and new places, starting with Hampton Court flower show. Lots to see there and some really interesting concepts like the "Excuse me while I kiss the sky" garden (above).
How Caple Court, Herefordshire, which has a decaying Arts & Crafts garden
I saw several gardens for the first time this month and was lucky enough to spend a few days in Herefordshire, where I visited Hampton Court, Hergest Croft, How Caple Court, Westonbury Water Mill Gardens and Little Malvern Court in nearby Worcestershire. All well worth visiting!
Painswick is the only Rococo garden in Britain - open all year and well worth visiting
Then there were visits to Painswick Rococo - the only garden of its kind in Europe - and Restoration House in Kent. Other highlights this month included my visit to Driftwood - one of the most interesting small gardens I've ever encountered; the opening of Sussex Prairies' new Art in the Garden exhibition; and my glorious new sculpture in my garden by Robin Johnson of Driftline (below).
Art in the Garden at Sussex Prairies - well worth a visit if you're in the area
New acquaintances included internationally renowned garden designer John Brookes; fellow Sussex garden blogger, Roz of Sussex Gardens; and garden designer, Caro Garland, who has her own blog. 
Denmans - the glorious garden created by internationally-acclaimed garden designer, John Brookes
I'd hoped to make it to Seattle to join fellow garden bloggers at the Garden Bloggers Fling, but sadly my husband's ill health put paid to that. The same applied to my planned visit to Highgrove, but in the event, I would have been miserable, since cameras aren't allowed! But perhaps I'll make it next year.
The amonite in my garden, created by Robin Johnson

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Funky Friday - Art in the Garden at Sussex Prairies

Regular readers know that Sussex Prairies is one of my favourite gardens and that owners Paul and Pauline McBride are designing the garden at Disha Hospital in India. This weekend sees the opening of their "Art in the Garden" exhibition, and here's a selection of some of the exhibits on view.

Open the first weekend of every month, plus Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from now until October, this is a garden to visit if you can! I haven't seen all the exhibits yet, but will be there tomorrow for a sneak preview and promise to post more pictures next week. And for all of you who've commented on the header ... yes, it's Sussex Prairies!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Secret gardens of Kent - Rochester's Restoration House

Restoration House is within the old city walls of Rochester
Restoration House in Rochester is one of Kent's best-kept garden secrets! It was built in 1587 - a handsome brick house at the heart of this thriving cathedral city - and it's said that Charles II stayed here on 28th May 1660 at his Restoration. Hence the name. But for garden lovers this is a hidden gem waiting to be explored, along with the rest of the city. Privately owned and maintained, the garden has been open to the public since 2000 and extends to just under an acre.
The pond is based on the design of a Queen Anne Mirror
Restoration House is famous not just for its Royalist connections, but was also immortalised by Charles Dickens in "Great Expectations" as the Satis House where Miss Havisham lived. Little history is known about the garden, but it is the current owners who have done most of the work here. They arrived in 1994 and have created not just the magical garden at the rear of the house, but have also rescued  an adjacent plot from the clutches of property developers and are planning to extend the garden.
The elaborate parterre is a replica of a Jacobean door design
".... continual entertainment to the eye ..."
At the rear of the house is the garden, which is divided into levels by mellow brick walls. Close to the house there are low box hedges and a network of brick and stone paths. Particularly impressive is the ornate parterre which replicates the design of the Jacobean doors at the front and rear of the house. Elsewhere in the garden there are Gothic arches, an ornamental pool, well-stocked fruit, vegetable and cutting gardens and even a miniature wildflower meadow! This really is an idyllic little sanctuary within the city walls of this ancient city.

And then there are other innovations like the brick greenhouse, roofed in fishscale glass tiles which are replicas of those discovered at an ancient discovery at Heligan Gardens in Cornwall. Elsewhere there are immaculately clipped hedges and a long border filled with maturing shrubs and wonderful colourful perennials. This is certainly a garden to savour and the more you look, the more detail you will see.

The owners were determined to follow Batty Langley Principles of Gardening 1728 when they embarked on this project: "The end and design of a good garden is to be both profitable and delightful: where should be observed, that its parts should be always presenting new objects, which is a continual entertainment to the eye, and raises a pleasure of imagination".
Well stocked fruit, vegetable and cutting gardens are a feature here at Restoration House
In 2007, the site adjacent to Restoration House was stripped in preparation for a housing development, but then a Tudor wall was brought to the notice of English Heritage and Listed Grade II, which halted the development and gave the owners of this property a chance to acquire the site. They plan to develop a further garden here once restoration of the wall has been completed, but to do this they need to raise considerable funds. But this is certainly a project to watch and if the existing garden is anything to go by, I'm sure they'll succeed.
There's even a mini wildflower meadow here in the garden!
It's worth making a special trip to Rochester to see this garden, and you could easily spend a whole day exploring the rest of the city, because there's plenty to see here. Restoration House is only open on Thursdays and Fridays (June to September) from 10.00-17.00, but if you're looking to combine it with another garden, head for The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle, which couldn't be more different!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Secret Somerset Gardens I - Lytes Cary Manor

The Apostle Garden at Lytes Carey
Somerset has some spectacular garden secrets lurking in between the folds of its hilly terrain, including Lytes Cary Manor - within easy reach of the main road to Devon and Cornwall -  and an ideal pitstop it for garden lovers who need a break from the road. This is the former home of medieval herbalist Henry Lytes is all too often overlooked as visitors rush to better known properties nearby including Montacute, Tintinhull and Barrington Court, but it's a hidden jewel!
The croquet lawn at Lytes Carey
This four-acre property is a spectacular example of an Arts & Crafts style garden saved from ruin in the last 100 years and restored to its former glory. It's an architectural gem too with its 14th century chapel, and well-restored15th century Great Hall and was once home to the medieval apothecary, Henry Lyte, who compiled "Lytes Herbal" in the 16th century. But it has not always been as glorious as it is today because it fell into ruin in the 19th century and if it hadn't been for Sir Walter Jenner and his wife Flora, who moved here in 1907, the property might not be here today.
Jekyll-style planting and colour schemes at the rear of the manor
Walter Jenner was the son of Queen Victoria's physician, Sir William Jenner. He and his wife rescued Lytes Cary from dereliction by restoring the house and laying out the garden that survives today, using local limestone to build the walls that divide the land into garden rooms and planting extensive yew hedging to protect the plants from the ravages of the weather in this open farmland area. They bequeathed the property to the National Trust in 1949 and since then the garden has been further restored and planted using Gertrude Jekyll colour schemes and style.
The main border at Lytes Cary, designed by Graham Stuart Thomas
The National Trust then let the property to tenants - Jeremy and Biddy Chittenden - who happened to be passionate gardeners and the garden underwent further transformation and finally opened to the public in the 1960s, on Biddy's recommendation. During this period she worked closely with the NT's first garden designer, Graham Stuart Thomas, who designed the main border (above) in 1965. For the next 30 years the property remained under the stewardship of the Chittendens and they continued to improve the garden until Jeremy's death in 1997.
The garden is divided into rooms using local limestone walls and hedging
Part of the charm of this garden is its intimacy and you feel as though you are at a private house, rather than a property that belongs to the nation. The Apostle Garden at the front of the manor takes its name from the 12 topiarised yew bushes originally planted by the Jenners; the Long Border was added in 1965; the White Garden was completed by Biddy Chittenden in 1998; and elsewhere in the garden there is a pond area, vase garden, hornbeam arch and a delightful orchard where visitors can picnic. But wherever you are, a sense of intimacy pervades. This is undoubtedly a very special garden.
The Vase Garden, also inspired by Graham Stuart Thomas
The house too is a veritable historical treasure trove and the Great Hall has magnificent panelling and impressive wooden rafters. Elsewhere you'll find textiles, china and glass to make you gasp, so do take time to look inside as well as out here at Lytes Cary. Open daily from March until the end of October, 11.00-17.00 (except Thursdays). There is a special topiary weekend coming up at the end of the month - Saturday and Sunday 30th and 31st July, with the Gardener in Charge leading tours and focussing on maintenance of hedges and topiary. Free entry to National Trust members.
Making an entrance through the Apostle Garden

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Painswick Rococo - a garden with attitude in Gloucestershire!

The eye-catching Excedra at Painswick Rococo
I'm sure the owners of Painswick Rococo Garden get tired of seeing this view, but it's such a hallmark of this unusual property, I doubt anyone leaves without taking a snap of the "Excedra" (above). Like the rest of the gardens here, this structure is surrounded in mystery. Nobody knows who designed Painswick; why the strange structures integral to its reputation are here; or indeed how it survived the many years of neglect before it was rediscovered and work began on its restoration in 1984.
The Excedra is clearly visible everywhere in the valley and reflected in all the ponds in the garden
There's more conjecture than fact about the history of Painswick. The original garden was created in the 1740s by the man who owned the property - Benjamin Hyett - but nobody knows who designed it. And, as the only surviving Rococo garden in Britain, there's no other property to compare it with. But a vital part of its survival is a painting of the garden, dated 1748 by local artist, Thomas Robins - which has been invaluable in its restoration. There are no other records at all. 
The Red House at Painswick
Rococo is a term used to describe the ornate style of architecture, art and furniture popular in the early to mid 18th century, but it was a short-lived movement, reflected here at Painswick in the architecture. There are no other gardens like it in Britain, and it makes for a memorable visit, from the moment you arrive and wonder where you are going; to your first view of the green valley below, which unfolds as you walk around it; and the extraordinary collection of buildings in the valley. 
First view of the valley below when you enter the garden
Fortunately for garden lovers, the six-acre valley garden was rediscovered in the 1980s and an ambitious restoration programme was begun to return it to its former glory. This garden is famous for its snowdrops in winter, its glorious tulips in spring and its fabulous central kitchen garden in summer. And then there's the maze, designed by crossword compiler, Angela Newing, which spells out "250" years, planted in 1998 to commemorate the original Robins painting and with spectacular views over the Severn valley.
The Painswick maze, planted in 1998 to commemorate 250 years
Part of the charm of Painswick is the way in which you feel as though you're lost in a secret valley here, protected from the outside world. Wild flowers grow free and there are winding woodland paths at the edge of the valley, although the centre of the garden is "gardened" and the area around the Excedra is filled with flowers. Wherever possible, new planting since restoration, has been with plants that were available in the 18th century.
The Excedra overlooks the whole garden and is a good spot to stop and reflect
Painswick is certainly a unique garden and one I intend to return to many times. Open from January to mid-October, from 11.00 -17.00 and with its annual "Art in the Garden" sculpture exhibition opening on 1st August - so one to put on your Wish List if you're anywhere nearby! Close enough to combine with Misarden Park or Cerney House if you're there on the right day of the week.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Little Malvern Court - catch it if you can this week!

View of Little Malvern Court from the garden
Little Malvern Court - a former Benedictine monastery - perched on a hillside overlooking the Malvern Hills, has a wonderfully romantic garden surrounding a house that positively creaks with history! Parts of the 10-acre plot were redesigned by Arabella Lennox-Boyd of Gresgarth Hall in 1982, and further work was carried out by Michael Balston, who was involved in the redesign of the Gardens of the Rose, which I hope to visit this week.
There are a series of garden rooms adjacent to the gabled house and church
The house has been home to the Berington family by descent since the dissolution of the monasteries in England in 1539. But it is the recent inhabitants who have taken on the restoration of the property and it was Tom and Olguita Berington who moved here in the 1950s from St Louis, Missouri, who brought in garden designers and restored the fabric of the ancient parts of the property. 
The lakes in the grounds are linked by weirs
The result is a fascinating house, which opens to the public for a short season in the spring and early summer and a garden that has been "decorated" close to the house as a series of rooms, and left to mature elsewhere on the plot. There are many fine trees here and several small lakes that have replaced the fish ponds that were here in medieval times. I'm told this garden is spectacular in springtime when all the bulbs are in bloom, but it was looking good in June when I visited too, with all the old-fashioned roses in flower.
The rose arch in the garden near the house
Close to the house there are many immaculately clipped hedges and rose-covered pergolas, and clever use has been made of the hedging to draw you eye to other parts of the garden (above). Immaculately maintained and much use has been made of pale colours, which work really well against the large amount of hedging. There is also a horseshoe of pleached limes set around a lawn - so simple, but very effective!
Definitely a garden to put on your Wish List if you're going to be in the area, but opening times are very restricted - Wednesdays and Thursdays only, from 2.15 to 5.00 pm (April to July only) and the bad news is that it closes its doors at the end of this week, so you may have to wait until next year. But for me this garden made a perfect dessert to those that had gone before - Hampton Court, which served as the starter and Hergest Croft, which provided the main course! 

Friday, 15 July 2011

Hever Castle statuary gets a facelift ... and the roses are blooming!

Entrance to the moated Tudor castle in Kent
There's nothing better than the heady scent of roses, and the rose garden at Hever Castle in Kent is looking quite spectacular right now, as are all the newly-restored statues in the Italian garden. This is a good garden to visit at any time during open season (March to October), but particularly handsome now as Stage I of the statuary restoration programme has been completed and the gardens are in full bloom. 
Immaculately mown lawns and stunning vistas are par for the course at Hever
The moated Tudor castle was once home to William Waldorf Astor, and the recent statue restoration work was carried out by a specialist team who came from his other great home, Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. Hever Castle was also the childhood home of one of Henry VIII's many wives - Anne Boleyn. Astor purchased it in 1903 and spent considerable money and effort restoring the property, renovating the gardens and adding a 38-acre lake. Once work at the castle was complete, he gave Cliveden to his son and new wife as a wedding present.
The pergola at Hever has camellias, wisteria, Virginia creeper and roses
The pergola runs one full side of the Italian garden at Hever and is one of the most impressive in England, with its shady grottoes filled with damp-loving plants including hostas, polygonums and astilbes; its views over the four-acre garden it borders and the huge man-made lake at the end of the property. There is always something flowering here, starting with camellias early in the year, and followed by wisteria, Virginian creeper and roses.
One of the many rooms in the Italian garden, incorporated into the design to display Astor's sculpture collection
The gardens at Hever are certainly impressive and it's not just their scale and planning that sets them apart from other properties in the area, but also the way they are maintained, with the plants in the garden rooms on the North side of the Italian garden being changed throughout the season. Elsewhere in the grounds the plants remain static and the gardens have reached maturity. Near the castle, the theme is predominantly Tudor, with yew topiary chessmen, a yew maze and the Tudor village constructed by Astor during his time here.
The topiary chess set forms part of the Tudor gardens, in keeping with the moated castle
The walled rose garden is spectacular now, with more than 4,000 rose bushes in bloom. The latest addition to the collection is the property's own Hever Castle rose, introduced at Hampton Court Flower Show in 2010 and planted in situ by well-known British actress, Judi Dench. The scent of the roses is wonderful and all you see as you look into the garden is a sea of colour.
The walled rose garden has more than 4,000 plants as well as its own "Hever Castle" rose
Hever is open daily throughout the season from 10.30 (gardens) and midday for the castle. But it doesn't come cheap, with an entry fee of £14.00 for an adult for house and garden (£11.50 for garden only). At this price, it's worth joining the Historic Houses Association, priced at just £40 annually, because members get in free and can then enjoy all the other garden properties in the portfolio. Hever has good facilities for disabled visitors/wheelchairs, with special parking close to the castle.