Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Daffodil heaven at Godinton House, Kent as NGS Yellow Book launches for 2012

First view of the sea of daffodils from the walled garden at Godinton
I don't know whether I'm seeing things, but it seems there are more daffodils this year than ever before! Parks and public spaces are full of them, as are the hedgerows, and nothing brings spring closer than seeing those yellow and white heads bobbing in the wind. But if you want a day out that will really make you see yellow, head for Godinton this weekend, which is open for the NGS on Sunday (2.00-5.30), and you'll be absolutely astounded!
Part of the charm of Godinton is the fine Jacobean House, which overlooks the gardens
Today also marks the launch of the National Gardens Scheme "Yellow Book",  which lists the thousands of gardens around England that open for charity during 2012. There are more than 3,700 properties listed by county, and owners choose when to open to showcase their gardens at their best, with funds going to the charities that the NGS supports, including Macmillan, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Help the Hospices, Cross Roads Care, The Queen's Nursing Institute and Perennial.
The garden at Godinton covers 12 acres, and at other times of year, it's the walled garden that draws visitors, with its champion collections of delphiniums in June (open for NGS on Friday 22 June 11.00-20.00). The garden is open daily (2.30-5.00) from now to the end of October and admission is £5.00. Other features include the Italian garden and spectacular roses later in the season.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Glorious spring gardens III - Vann, Surrey

First view of Vann, as you enter through the front garden
Always a joy to visit, whether it's spring or summer, Vann - the only property in England with a Gertrude Jekyll water garden - opened its doors this week for the National Gardens Scheme (NGS). This happens to be one of my favourite gardens, but I've never visited this early in the season before, and was delighted by what I saw today. Great drifts of hellebores, daffodils and fritillaries nodding their heads in a slight breeze in this unseasonally hot March weather.
The large pond overlooked by the house at Vann, which feeds the Jekyll water garden below
This is Gertrude Jekyll's only water garden, which she laid out and planted personally in 1911. It is a series of small ponds fed from the large pond at the top of the garden (above) criss-crossed with bridges and walkways. But it is the style that is truly Jekyllesque, with great drifts of plants as far as the eye can see, arranged in blocks of colour and texture.
Gertrude Jekyll's water garden in early spring
Although it's a little early in the season to see the water garden at its blousy summer best, now is the time to see its structure and part of its charm is the bright, early season colours, with lingering hellebores, and spring bulbs in abundance. Later in the year, the garden becomes a wonderful, verdant jungle (below). During the season, current owner, Mrs Caroe opens every Wednesday until the end of July giving avid Jekyll fans the chance to see the water garden flourish as the seasons change.
The water garden at Vann in mid summer
Vann is a true example of house and garden complementing each other. The house (not open to the public), dates in part to the 16th century, but was added to by former owner and grandfather of the present residents - W.D. Caroe - the Arts and Crafts architect, who was clearly influenced by Edwin Lutyens. Both the towering chimneys and the Bargate stone pergola are reminiscent of Lutyens work elsewhere in England. 
     Vann opens throughout the season for the NGS - check website here for details. Definitely a garden worth visiting if you haven't seen it yet and to see further pictures later in the season, click here. Easily combined with Ramster (opens April) or Loseley Park (opens May) if you want to visit other gardens in the area.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Official start of Spring today!

Spring has arrived - it's official! At 5.14 GMT this morning, 
spring began in the northern hemisphere. 
"You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep 
spring from coming." 
Puebla Neruda
"A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze."
William Wordsworth
"Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment."
Ellis Peters
"Spring. An experience in immortality."
Henry David Thoreau
"Spring is when life's alive in everything."
Christina Rosetti

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Glorious spring gardens I - Borde Hill, West Sussex

View across the Rose Garden, which comes into bloom in June
I featured Borde Hill earlier this month when writing about spring garden walks in Sussex and then realised that I hadn't visited for two years. So as Mother's Day dawned, I left everyone sleeping at home and headed off to see how the garden was looking early in the season. I'm glad I did, because the sun was shining and the garden was looking glorious - with a fantastic display of camellias, early-flowering rhododendrons and magnolias - and the promise of what's to come later in the season.
The Tudor mansion was built in 1598 and has been home to the Clarke family for four generations
The Tudor mansion (above) which lies at the heart of the estate, was built in 1598, and has, for the last  four generations been inhabited by the Clarke family. The garden dates back to the late early 19th century, when Colonel Stephenson Clarke (like many other local landowners) sponsored some of the Great Plant Hunters' expeditions to the Far East and South America in his search for rare and unusual plants to grace his estate. His efforts are reflected in the large number of Champion Trees that survive at Borde Hill - one of the largest private collections surviving in the UK - with more than 70 specimens.
The pool at the centre of the Italian garden
Most noticeable at this time of year are the early-flowering magnolias, which are simply stunning. And considering how early in the season it is, there's already a blaze of colour at Borde Hill, with many camellias in bloom, rhododendrons, daffodils, helebores, remains of the snowdrops and even some tulips in bloom in the Azalea Circle!
View of the Rose Garden from the Mediterranean Garden
   One of the most striking features of  Borde Hill is the undulating parkland surrounding the property and the fine views over the Sussex Weald. There is more than 200 acres of National Heritage Grade II listed parkland, providing wonderful walks for visitors. The house is carefully positioned to maximise on the views and is surrounded by 17 acres of private gardens divided into a series of carefully-planned areas, including an Italian, Mediterranean, Rhododendron and Rose garden. And then at the far reaches of the property there are camellia and azalea rings which provide glorious colour displays early in the visiting season.
  The Clarke family have worked hard to turn this into a truly spectacular garden during the last ten years and spent both time and money improving facilities at the property. Gone is the basic entrance hut, and today you will find an impressive entrance. They have also strived to provide year-round plant interest at the property and the Rose Garden, which was  re-planted in 1996 and then re-arranged to provide a more harmonious colour palette in 2011, promises to be spectacular this summer. 
Now is the time to see magnolias and camellias. April and May herald impressive displays of azaleas and rhododendrons, and the bluebells appear later in May. Visit from June to September and you'll find the Rose Garden in bloom, together with colourful borders. I'm glad I visited today and plan to return later in the season to see how the garden is looking. It's well worth checking the Borde Hill website to see what other events are on. 
The garden is open daily until late autumn, from 10.00 in the morning and cost is £8.00 for an adult and £5.00 for a child. Family tickets (2 adults and 3 children) cost £25.00. Members of the Historic Houses Association visit free.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

"Galloping Gardener Walks" © - Best of the Spring gardens in Sussex

Borde Hill - which opened last week for the season
Spring is definitely in the air and gardens around the country are beginning to show signs of life! Most of us have already noticed daffodils and crocuses as we move around the country, and there are plenty of shoots on the trees too. Galloping Gardener Walks © is aimed at readers who want to visit more than one garden in a day and is featured under the "Days Out" section under the header. Each GGW features gardens within a specific geographical area, together with a map, so you can plan days out now that the weather is improving.
Spring colour displays at Borde Hill - don't miss them!
Today focusses on West Sussex, which has more than its fair share of remarkable spring gardens, starting with Borde Hill Garden near Haywards Heath. This is a truly magnificent estate, with more than 200 acres of parkland and 17 acres of formal gardens divided into garden "rooms". It opened last week and its season starts with astounding displays of magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons, followed by abundant spring flowers. Later in the season come the roses - another fantastic eye candy show - not to be missed! Borde Hill is a member of the Historic Houses Association, so members get in free.
High Beeches has wonderful woodland walks and you'll be dazzled by the spring colour displays
Just as good for spectacular spring displays is High Beeches - just a short drive away - a wonderful woodland garden filled with astounding colours in the next few months. This is a garden to savour, with its wonderful magnolia glade, and bluebells to die for when they come into bloom! Great for walks and for letting the children run free! Also a member of the HHA.
Nymans - a garden for all seasons - there's always something in bloom, although the Sunk Garden (above)
is currently under redevelopment
And just a stone's throw away from High Beeches is Nymans Garden - truly a wondrous sight at any time of year and famous for its ruined house, wonderful walks through unspoiled woodland and famous walled garden, which changes face throughout the seasons. The good news is that Nymans is open seven days a week, so no more arriving on a Monday or Tuesday to find it closed! National Trust members visit free. A great garden to enjoy in the spring and one you'll want to return to later in the season. Renowned for its spectacular wisteria displays and fragrant rose garden later in the season, there's always something in flower here.
Great for all the family with its wide open spaces - Nymans Garden, West Sussex
For overseas visitors the National Trust offers a Touring Pass, which is valid for seven or 14 days and gives unlimited entry to Trust properties. The pass must be purchased in advance, but represents excellent value for money if you're planning on visiting more than a single property. For those of us who live in Britain, membership of the National Trust is also a great asset for garden visitors. And, as I add more Galloping Gardener Walks © to the list, I'll file them under the "Days Out" page under the main header, so you can check to see what gardens there are in your area.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Mother's Day treats at UK Gardens - Mum goes free!

A sure sign of spring, when the daffodils begin to flower
There's no doubt about it - spring is in the air and the daffodils are beginning to bloom around the country. The nights are still cold, but if you listen, you'll hear the birds singing and on sunny days, the countryside looks as though it's waking up after winter, with the last vestiges of snowdrops in the hedgerows and crocuses adding colour to the landscape. All sure signs that the cold weather is behind us at last!
Painshill Park, Surrey
There's just a week to go and it's Mother's Day, so what better gift for families to give Mum than a visit to a British garden this year? The best news is that several around the country are offering free admission to mothers on Sunday, 18th March. National Trust properties offering free entry include Painshill Park in Surrey; Scotney Castle and Sheffield Park in East Sussex; and Mottistone Manor, Isle of Wight. All will be wearing their spring colours for this special day.
Sheffield Park, East Sussex
Many of the Cornish gardens are already in bloom, with fine displays of camellias and magnolias, including Caerhays Castle and Trewithen, but Trebah is the one that's offering free admission to Mums next Sunday to celebrate their special day. Nestling on the Roseland Peninsular, this is a spectacular garden to visit at any time of year, and has the added bonus of beach access if you're taking the kids along. 
Trebah Cornwall - famous for its spring flower displays and fernery
The Savill Garden is also making a special effort for Mothers next week by offering free entry next Sunday. This garden is part of the Royal Landscape and particularly famous for its fabulous rhododendron displays and autumn colours - you'll also find plenty of spring bulbs in bloom here. 
Savill Garden
Scotney Castle, East Sussex

The National Botanic Garden of Wales offers colour throughout the year, thanks to its magnificent glass house (below). It is also celebrating Mums next weekend by offering them the chance to enjoy the gardens inside and out, free of charge on 18th March. And I suspect that if you visit once, you'll return, because this garden is quite exceptional!
National Botanic Garden of Wales - where there's always something in flower in the massive glass house
Other venues around the country making a special effort for mothers include Ripley Castle in North Yorkshire and the Trentham Estate in Staffordshire. I haven't visited either, but both are on my Wish List for later this year. In most cases, free admission is dependent on being accompanied by a paying visitor.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Glimpse of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the Pink City's gardens!

The Tuk Tuk is a way of life in India - a sturdy three-wheeled vehicle used by both tourists and locals
If you've seen the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, there are several particularly poignant moments during the movie - not least the scenes on the bus at the beginning, where the driver overtakes into oncoming traffic; the vibrant colours throughout; many chaotic traffic scenes; and tuk tuk rides - the inimitable form of three-wheeler Indian transport that carries a maximum of four tourists, but up to 20 locals! 
View from Kanak Ghati gardens, on the outskirts of Jaipur
Filmed mostly in Rajasthan's beloved "Pink City" - Jaipur - it is the story of a group of English pensioners seeking a new life overseas and their various escapades on arrival at a hotel that doesn't quite live up to the brochure description! How often has that happened to any of us who travel? Jaipur is certainly becoming one of India's most sophisticated cities and draws tourists like magnets to its attractions, which include Amber Fort, the City Palace complex and some wonderful gardens.
Sisodia Rana ka Bagh (Sisodia Garden), a terraced garden en route to Amber Fort
Sculpture maidens at Kanak Ghati
En route to Amber there are three gardens, which afford tired travellers the chance to catch their breath after the hustle and bustle of the city, with its tourist touts and elephant mahoots, who are particularly vociferous.  There's Kanak Bagh and Kanak Ghati on the shores of the lake known as Man Sagar, which overlooks the Water Palace, destined to be a hotel, but which has problems getting the necessary permission for change of usage, so now sits empty in the middle of the lake. 
Kanak Bagh, on the shores of Man Sagar, just six kilometres from Jaipur city centre
You'll also find the delightful terraced Sisodia Garden (Sisodia Rana ka Bagh) built in 1728 by Maharaja jai Singh for his queen - Sisodia - who came from Udaipur. All offer a leafy break from the frenetic pace of the Pink City and all are accessible by three wheeler if you fancy the ride!
Orderly tuk tuks in Rajasthan

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Indian Odyssey 2: From Palaces to Poppies

Udai Bilas Palace looks out over the lake at Dungarpur and has a private temple which is lit up at night
From palaces to poppies, Rajasthan has it all and whilst travelling with John Brookes in Rajasthan last month, we stayed at several of the first and saw acres of the second! Once we'd acclimatised to the unusually cold weather on arrival and shivered our way round Udaipur, we travelled south to Dungarpur, close to the Gujarat border. 
This is a glorious, unspoiled area, with some of the best bird watching in India. The only place to stay is a palace on the shores of the lake in this thriving town, some two hours drive from Udaipur - the charming Udai Bilas Palace hotel run by the ruling family. The architecture will enchant and another major attraction is the Juna Mahal palace (below) with seven storeys of ecclectic architecture and art, rising high above the town. Don't miss this if you're in Dungarpur - buy tickets at the hotel and will be astounded by the intricacy of the decoration and the vibrant colour schemes within. But equally impressive is the decor at Udai Bilas, where you'll encounter the occasional taxidermed tiger (left).

Juna Mahal Palace, Dungarpur 
This is a place to enjoy views over the lake and lounge at the infinity pool. We spent two days relaxing at Dungarpur and met many like-minded travellers. Both artists and birdwatchers are drawn to this place, which has stood still in time. There are endless lakes in the area which attract migrating birds and I shall return to what we saw in a later blog entry. Definitely one for the wish list when in Rajasthan!
John Brookes surveying the view at Chittaurgarh's hill fort
With batteries recharged, we left here for Chittaurgarh, a city some some four hours drive north, which has one of the most impressive hill forts in Rajasthan, covering nearly 700 acres of hilltop. 
Cows, baboons and tourists mingle at Chittaurgarh fort
The ruins, which include temples, palaces and towers, are well worth stopping to see and you'll find cows and baboons mingling with the tourists here. Most visitors make a brief half-day stop here before heading on to their next destination, which in our case was the magical palace at Bijaipur. This palace has a charming cottage garden, laid out by the present owner's grandmother, which I reviewed last year. 
Bijaipur Palace, Rajasthan
The Bijaipur palace lies in the heart of India's opium growing region  - and you'll see acres of white poppies at the roadside, guarded by farmers. India produces nearly half of the world's opium required by pharmaceutical companies, and both growth and production are strictly controlled by the government. But for the tourist, the bobbing white heads at the side of the road make an impressive display!
Opium poppies in flower at the side of the road in Rajasthan
John Brookes has his own garden blog and you can read his interpretation on our India travels together here.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Indian Odyssey with John Brookes I

On a freezing day in early February (just one day after most flights were cancelled from London Heathrow because of snow), I left for India with well-known British garden designer, John Brookes (above), in search of plants in Rajasthan. We travelled for 10 days together. We visited palaces and watched poojas; saw gardens and gurus; climbed temples and tourist spots; but the primary purpose of our voyage was to see what grows in Rajasthan. 
Soft landing at Tikli, where Martin and Annie Howard have created a beautiful garden
John is no newcomer to the world of Mughal gardens and lived for many years in Iran, so one of the aims of our trip was to visit many of the little-known gardens of Rajasthan, to see how modern India has adapted to the world of gardening; what plants are growing and whether the gardens feature in tourist itineraries today. John will be recording his views on his own blog, and I shall also cover our travels here, but there is one aspect of our trip that will stay with us forever .... the huge number of steps we had to climb at every destination! 
I doubt that either of us can count the number we climbed on our 10-day tour, but there were thousands. And to enjoy the true spectacle of Rajasthan, you have to scale stairs of all types to  enjoy the views and appreciate the vastness and majesty of this land. There were days when we felt we could climb no more, but we did! John was positively heroic and never once complained! But  one aspect of the trip that surprised us both were the low temperatures we encountered on arrival. Gone were the balmy days you'd expect in India in February, and we spent the first week of the journey huddled up in sweaters and blankets, surveying frost damage.
The most photographed hotel in India? Taj Lake Palace at the heart of Lake Pichola in Udaipur
Experienced Indian travellers will know only too well how hard it is to find a flight that gives you a soft landing! Most arrive in the middle of the night and tip you out at Delhi feeling like a stunned mullet in the early hours of the morning, as did ours. But we travelled straight to Tikli, near Gurgaon and spent the next day relaxing with Martin and Annie Howard in their lovely home and John and Martin spent several hours in the garden together. And, once rested, we flew on to Udaipur to start work. This glorious lakeside city, which has featured so often here on my blog, is enjoying a good season following last year's monsoon and our ruffled flight feathers were soon smoothed by serene views of Lake Pichola from our hotel.
Views over the surrounding countryside from Udaipur's Monsoon Palace
No visit to Udaipur is complete without a visit to the Monsoon Palace outside the city, where you can appreciate the true scale of this lakeside city from above, but most spectacular is the sunset, and although we shivered our way through it, warmer weather was on the way, and we wouldn't have missed the spectacle of the sun disappearing from sight. We spent two days in Udaipur and visited all the major sights, including City Palace and its gardens,  as well as Saheliyon ki Bari, which I've reviewed previously.
John watching the sunset in Udaipur

Fortunately, the weather began to warm up a little after our first couple of days in Udaipur and we were able to exchange sweaters for seersucker and stride out into the sunshine to enjoy the sights. In the next part of our journey, we move onto more palaces and gardens of Rajasthan.
Saheliyon ki Bari, Udaipur