Monday, 28 November 2011

Galloping Gardener Choices 2011 - Great garden memories Part I

We're getting to that time of year again, when garden visiting here in the UK is becoming harder - winter's on the way and short of looking for good frosty scenes, there's not a lot to see ... although I will be going in search of good glasshouses and winter gardens in the next few weeks. So as we hurtle into December and I contemplate my Christmas tree, I'm planning to spend this month reflecting on some of the wonderful gardens I've been lucky enough to see this year. 
Winter colours at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Hampshire
January is always a tricky month for gardens in the UK - there's not a lot to see except frost and snow, but one of the places definitely worth visiting is Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire. It has a wonderful winter garden and many fine trees. This shot was taken early in January this year, and shows just how much colour you can achieve in a winter garden if you plan ahead with your planting.
The cottage garden at Castle Bijaipur, Rajasthan
February is another cold and grey month here, when I head off to work on my Udaipur hospital project! The gardens in Rajasthan are at their best in the winter months and this year I was lucky enough to travel with Paul and Pauline McBride of Sussex Prairies, in search of plants and ideas for the garden at Disha Hospital. One of the places that really surprised us was the cottage garden at Castle Bijaipur.
McKee Botanical Garden, Florida - saved from the axe by local supporters
In March, I'm usually in Florida with my husband, because he doesn't like the cold English winters, but we won't be going back next year. So I'm reflecting on some of the wonderful sights I saw this year when I visited Florida's east coast, and spent time at McKee Botanical Garden. This is a garden that looks set to become quite an eye opener in the next few years, as new life is breathed into a plot that narrowly missed the property developers' axe! It's only three and a half acres, but there's plenty to catch the eye and several other interesting gardens nearby.
The water garden at Woolbeding House, Sussex
April took me to Woolbeding Garden for the first time - former home of Simon Sainsbury, it was opened to the public for the first time this year by the National Trust.  It's a fascinating garden divided into two distinct parts - formal areas adjacent to the house and unusual water gardens across a Sussex meadow filled with sheep and flowers. Part of the charm of this property is that it's hard to access due to limited parking, so visiting can be a challenge, but well worth the effort if you can get there.
The laburnum pergola at the Dorothy Clive Garden is one to rival Barnsley House
In one of my first forays north of London this year, I called in at the Dorothy Clive Garden when the rhododendrons were in bloom in May. I certainly won't forget the glorious laburnum pergola there (above) - definitely one to rival Barnsley House! And there's plenty to see here throughout the year, so one to put on your wish list for 2012. I shall certainly be returning. 
The Japanese Garden at Green Island - one of a series of garden rooms at this remarkable property
June  took me to several new gardens in Essex that I'll be featuring in later round-up reviews this year, but one that sticks in my mind is Green Island, near Colchester - a stunning 20-acre triangular oasis, well off the beaten track. Particularly memorable is the Japanese garden, shown above in full bloom - one of a series of garden rooms at the property. But you'll find plenty to see here in the summer and part of the charm of this garden is the many acres of woodland.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Postcard from Florida - Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Weather is here and wish you were wonderful! This is probably my last trip to Florida, so I wanted to reflect on the garden that has given me the most pleasure here in the last five years - Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. Renowned for its orchids, and fantastic collections of epiphytes, there is always something in bloom there. I shall definitely miss my forays into this wonderful garden, but hope that other readers will remember to visit if they're anyway in the area.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Nek Chand's garden people

This is my third posting on Nek Chand's amazing Rock Garden in Chandigarh, and I make no apologies for giving this remarkable man so much coverage here on my blog! I've been trying to visit this garden for the last five years and shall definitely return next time I'm in India, because I know that no number of visits would ever reveal all the secrets of this extraordinary place. 
It's not just about the architecture, or the remarkable story of how this garden was developed, it's Nek Chand's incredible figures that make this place so unique. This is a magical kingdom, filled with thousands of people created from household waste products - an insight into how their creator sees the world. 
At every turn another figure will catch your eye - be it a soldier, dancer or mini warrior, staring out at you. There are thousands of animals too - monkeys, tigers, dancing bears, camels and elephants. And it's quite extraordinary to think that Nek Chand spent twenty years working alone in this garden creating all these figures before his work was discovered.
Visitors come from all over the world to visit the Rock Garden. And for me it's one of the great garden wonders of the world - certainly the most unusual site I've yet visited.

You can see more pictures of this amazing garden by clicking on the links below:

Saturday, 12 November 2011

When rubbish makes a garden unique! Nek Chand's Rocky Wonder II

When you arrive at the Rock Garden in Chandigarh, the first tiny taste of what awaits you are the sculpted water birds adorning the entrance wall (above). Arrive on a Sunday as I did and you will queue for an hour to get in, because the garden has become as popular with locals as tourists, but visit on a weekday and there is hardly anybody there. Nek Chand started creating this magical kingdom over 60 years ago, just as Chandigarh was under construction. He has worked here ever since, and now aged 86, he continues to visit every day, and is completely unaffected by his international celebrity status.
At the entrance to the garden, there are open courtyards displaying fossilised rocks
Narrow walkways lead through the garden
Nek Chand arrived in Chandigarh in 1951 - he was just 27 years old, newly married and, like many of his fellow countrymen, still reeling from the after shock of Partition in India. The ultra-modern city, designed by Le Corbusier, was under construction and was symbolic of change in a country that was shaking itself free of British Imperialism. 
     Chand studied the maps of the new city and realised there was a thickly-forested tract of land between Sukhana Lake and the high court building that was not scheduled for reconstruction. He had already started collecting fossilised rocks from the Kaushalya riverbed and he brought them here to his secret place; built himself a shelter where he slept at night; built fires of rubber tyres to ward off the snakes; and over the next 20 years created the magical kingdom that exists today. He cleared the land; built the temples, buildings and walkways; planted additional trees; and created the thousands of sculpted people and animals that make the garden so unique.
The narrow walkways at the entrance to the garden are topped with village houses and running streams
All went well until the mid-seventies, when an official discovered what was going on within the walls of Nek Chand's secret garden and, as he didn't own the land, he faced the possibility of eviction. But worse was the threat that his life's work might be destroyed. It looked as though all would be lost until Chief Commissioner, Dr M.S. Randhawa arrived to inspect the site. And, as luck (or maybe fate) would have it, he was an art lover who immediately recognised the extraordinary feat that Nek Chand had achieved in creating this garden out of nothing except natural materials and reclaimed rubbish. 
Thousands of local tourists flock to the garden at weekends and on holidays
Randhawa elected to champion the cause and provide Chand with a gang of workers and transport, so he could carry on with his work. The rest of the story is history and in the last 30 years, Nek Chand has continued to develop his life's work; been visited by international celebrities and politicians; and placed the city of Chandigarh even more firmly on the tourist map.
Keep looking up to appreciate Nek Chand's architectural skills!
Visit at a weekend and you will be overwhelmed by the number of local tourists (above) - every inch of this 30-acre garden is filled with chattering people who are truly amazed by the garden. The narrow pathways are overflowing with visitors, who stop and marvel every few seconds, as another extraordinary feature catches their eye. The first part of the garden is an architectural wonder, with canyons towering above; topped with temple-like structures and water flowing freely down rock faces.
Every wall in the Rock Garden is different, and equally eye-catching
Every wall is different, every surface constructed using domestic waste, like the socket wall (above left) or carefully crafted pebble designs, designed to appeal to the eye. And then there are the great gorges (below), where you must look up to appreciate Nek Chand's carefully-crafted facades and tall bridges that draw your eye down the garden. This place is a masterpiece - and for me, ranks alongside the Taj Mahal in terms of India's wonders!  
Keep looking up to appreciate the bridges overhead and midget-sized doors built into the rock faces
The reality is that Nek Chand constructed everything you see and designed an ingenious method of storing water in tanks so that the water would keep flowing, even in the dry season. You need to look up as well as around, in case you miss something, and occasionally, you'll see figures peering down at you - either sculpted or real, because the garden curators watch from above to make sure that nobody damages this great work of art. Many of the walls are built of coarse local rock, but then Chand has embellished the open spaces with bridges and constructed midget-sized doors high in the rock faces.
Pebble steps compliment the rocky walls and draw the eye upwards to viewing balconies
Monty Don featured this garden in his television series, "Around the World in 80 Gardens" - but it had already gained international repute long before this. Visit Nek Chand in his office and you will see pictures of him with Indian Prime Ministers and many other foreign politicians, as well as internationally-acclaimed film stars and musicians. But the fact remains that Nek Chand is a simple man - he has charm, talent and integrity and has not allowed his success to go to his head. I sat and took tea with him and was honoured to be in his presence. And words will never do justice to the amazing garden he has created!
For more pictures of the Rock Garden, click on the link. In my next feature, I will be looking at some of the amazing figures created by Nek Chand, during his sixty-year reign here.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Garden Wonders of the World! Nek Chand's Rock Garden, Chandigarh

The Rock Garden spreads over 30 acres in Chandigarh and is a combination of architecture, plants and sculpture
In all my garden travels, I have never before seen a garden like Nek Chand's Rock Garden in the visionary city of Chandigarh, north of Delhi in India. I was lucky enough to spend several days there and to meet the creator of this extraordinary Garden Wonder of the World. It's an amazing combination of architectural and artistic talent, but is the work of a single man, who worked for several years without anybody being aware of his endeavours. 
Shri Nek Chand, creator of the Rock Garden
The story behind the Rock Garden is so unusual that it will take me several weeks to walk readers through this wonderland, and as our gardens in the western hemisphere take on spectral winter forms, I shall feature both the gardens and the sculptures that Nek Chand has created out of recycled rubbish. It is an incredible story and I hope you'll enjoy it! But words alone cannot do this tale justice, so much will be told by the pictures you see.
Throughout the garden there are thousands of figures sculpted from recycled rubbish
The city of Chandigarh was designed by the Swiss architect, Le Corbusier and is the capital of the north-western provincial state of Punjab in India. Nek Chand arrived here after partition in 1947. He is the first to admit that he still misses village life as it was prior to all the political changes in India, and says: "The memory of those times still haunt me. The trauma of partition shattered me and I could not recoup my equilibrium and zest for life until I was able to create this garden".
A collection of figures created from recycled sanitary ware
Nek Chand was born on the 15 December 1924; was educated in India; and had no formal education beyond High School. He worked for many years as a road inspector and during his travels he collected rocks and discarded industrial and domestic rubbish. He began work on his vision back in the 1960's, although nobody discovered the secret garden for more than two decades. Then came the question of what to do with the magical hidden world he had created in the northern corner of Le Corbusier's city - on public land - and without official sanction!   
There are more than 20,000 individual figures in the Rock Garden - both people and animals
The garden he has created here demonstrates his incredible abilities as both architect and landscaper, sculptor extraordinaire, and visionary artist. Fortunately the authorities recognised the importance of what Chand had done, so the Rock Garden is here to stay. It now attracts millions of visitors and has become one of India's great tourist attractions. I'll walk you further through the gardens in the next few weeks, because I need time to sort my photographs and collect my thoughts about what I saw in Chandigarh. I have never yet seen any garden or creation like this anywhere in the world. But I shudder to think what would have happened if the authorities had trashed Nek Chand's work on discovery! 

Charlotte Weychan

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Magical Monday! Too long since last posting!

No postings for nearly two weeks, but worry not, I've just visited one of the most amazing gardens in the world and will be ready to tell you all about it in the next few days, so watch this space!!!