Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Relentless rain gives much needed boost to UK tulips!

The tulips at Dunsborough Park are well worth travelling to see this weekend - open Saturday and Sunday
It's peak tulip season and although gardeners around the country have been complaining that theirs are stunted due to the hot spell in March, and the lack of rain earlier in the year, there's a lot to be said for these joyous flowers that hold their heads high at this time of year.  Choose your venue and you see them standing like soldiers in lines, or interspersed with other plants and with all the rain we've had in the last few weeks, you may want to get out and see them this weekend, because there are some spectacular tulip displays on the menu.
Tulips standing tall in the walled garden at Dunsborough Park
Dunsborough Park in Surrey (above) is open on both Saturday and Sunday (28th/29th April) and offers a rare chance to see around this garden, which opens for just seven days each year - you can see thousands of tulips standing in line like soldiers in the walled garden (above) or take a stroll in the meadow (top) where you will see the deserters! But this is also an opportunity to see the rest of this garden, which has been restored by the current owners. Open both days from 14.00 - 17.00, entrance fee £5. Also open later in the year for the NGS (see website for details).
Abbey House Gardens in Wiltshire remain open throughout the year
It's unusual to find a garden as large as Abbey House Gardens at the heart of a bucolic country town, but head to Malmesbury in Wiltshire and you'll find really excellent tulip displays at this time of year. What impressed me most about the tulips here is the fantastic labelling, which gives you a chance to see what you'd like to grow at home. And you won't find them standing in straight lines either - they're mixed in with other plants. Abbey House is located next to the abbey ruins that it takes its name from and is open throughout the year, so if you miss the tulips, you can visit this five-acre garden at any time. Open daily 11.00-17.30.
More than 16,000 tulips are planted annually at Abbey House Gardens in Wiltshire 
Pashley Manor in East Sussex has long been a leader in terms of its tulip planting and you'll be amazed by the variety on offer at its annual Tulip Festival, which runs until 7th May, although you can expect to see some stragglers after this because of all the recent rain. There really is only one way to describe the tulips here - spectacular! And with more than 20,000 bulbs planted each year, you're guaranteed to find something here that you haven't seen before.
Pashley Manor plants more than 20,000 tulips annually for its Tulip Festival
The sheer volume of bulbs at Pashley means you will wander into each section of the garden and be amazed. Well worth making a special effort to get there! Open every day from 11.00-17.00 (click on this link for more pictures from last year's festival). Several National Trust properties are running Tulip Festivals this year, including Dyhram Park, Polesden Lacey and Waddesdon Manor, although I haven't managed to see them. Elsewhere, gardens worth travelling to for the tulips include Great Dixter, which is already well into bloom.
Tulips in bloom at Great Dixter
What amazes me about all these venues is the effort that goes into planting all these tulips every year. I cannot imagine how back breaking it must be to plant 15,000 bulbs for a display that lasts little more than a month. But when you see the results as a spectator, you can understand why they do it - a memory to savour on rainy days ... and we've had enough of those here recently!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

"Being at the right place at the right time" with Andrew Lawson

Andrew Lawson in the garden at Great Dixter
Last week I spent a day at Great Dixter with Andrew Lawson, the celebrated English garden photographer. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from a man who has captured more different gardens on film than I will ever have the chance to see and to hear a little of his story, as well as having the chance to listen to his advice on taking better photographs. Andrew knew and worked with Christopher Lloyd (who created the garden at Dixter) on numerous occasions, and had many anecdotes about both the man and his garden.
Light shining through the trees early in the morning in Cienfuegos, Cuba
Andrew says that "garden photography is all about being at the right place at the right time", and that a successful photograph depends on the quality of light. I'm sure that all of us who try to capture gardens as images will agree with him. There are days when it's impossible to get good photographs of gardens, however spectacular they may be, because a dull, overcast sky will bleach out any contrast, and the resulting pictures will be flat and uninteresting. And I'm certainly not sufficiently skilled to 'Photoshop' my way out of trouble!
Rain showers give plants a whole new perspective, especially if you can catch them on camera
Interestingly, Andrew Lawson did not start out as a photographer. He studied medicine at university and then went on to art school. He's an accomplished painter to this day. His foray into the world of garden photography began with a magazine commission when he was 40 and he hasn't looked back. He's captured hundreds of gardens on film, but is the first to admit that he never thought he could earn a living from his lenses. Now, nearly quarter of a million images later, he knows he was wrong.
"Being in the right place at the right time" - fallen rhododendron petals in late May
Quality of light is essential in garden photography, claims Lawson, and he is also a strong advocate of "atmosphere being determined by depth of focus". Time of day has a huge impact on the end result and he's the first to tell pupils that photographs taken at midday in the summer will not produce good pictures. First morning light and soft evening tones produce the best images. It's just a shame that so many gardens don't open till after 10.00 in the summer, because by then it's almost too late to get good photographs.
Gardens provide subject matter throughout the year - winter colours at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Hampshire
Andrew is a keen gardener himself  and is very enthusiastic about the concept of community and "Guerilla" gardening, or as he says, projects that bring everyone together. He spends a lot of time in his own garden, which opens every year for the NGS and if you want to see it for yourself, it's open as part of the Charlbury Open Gardens group next weekend - Sunday, 29th April from 2.00 - 5.30. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

Catch UK tulips between the April showers!

After a winter of weather discontent and a spring of drought, everybody is complaining about their tulips this year. British gardeners say they are shorter than usual, but few can dispute the fact that a really good display of tulips - even stunted - bring joy to the heart. So where better to see them than in gardens around England in the next few weeks? These are just some of the varieties on display at Great Dixter, where I spent a day this week on a photography course with Andrew Lawson, but for full details of other venues, see below. As I visit gardens with tulips in bloom, I'll post them here. Happy tulip hunting!

The following gardens all have spectacular tulip displays this month and next, although the recent weather may well have had some impact on their flowering. 

Alnwick,  30 April - 8 May
Chatsworth 4 - 8 May
Dyhram Park, Glos  1 -10 April
Polesden Lacey, Surrey 14 April - 13 May
Waddesdon Manor, Bucks 14 -29 April

Dunsborough Park, Surrey
 21/22 and 28/29 April
Pashley Manor, East Sussex 
25 April - 7 May

Other gardens where you will also see impressive displays:
Abbey Gardens, Wiltshire
Chenies Manor, Bucks
Great Dixter, East Sussex
Painswick Rococo, Glos

I'll be posting more about my day with Andrew Lawson next week, together with some of his helpful photography tips.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Wish List Gardens - Cothay Manor, Somerset

The moated gatehouse at Cothay Manor - visitors enter the gardens through the ancient wooden door
Gardens nominated as my "Wish List" candidates are really worth making the effort to travel a little further to see, and I start this series today with Cothay Manor in Somerset, which is now open for the summer. As English gardens go, this is one of my favourites because it's not only one of the most romantic I've seen yet, but is constantly changing throughout the seasons as different part of the garden come into bloom (so what you see here today may not be in bloom when you visit).
The Walk of the Unicorn in May (top) and June
Although getting to Cothay Manor requires nerves of steel to negotiate the narrow country lanes with their high-sided hedges, plus a good satellite navigation system, your efforts will be rewarded! You'll soon forget the winding approach and the rigours of reversing into passing places because this must surely be one of the most romantic gardens in Britain. You'll feel as though you've stepped back 500 years in history here in the heart of Somerset, when you see this wonderful house and garden!     
   Although the origins of the manor  are lost in the mists of time, there are records of a property belonging to the de Cothay family dating back to the 13th century. The current house was built in 1485, but the backbone of the garden is the Lt. Col Reginald Cooper's creation - he bought Cothay in 1925 and was close friends with both Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote and Harold Nicolson of Sissinghurst. He planted the 200-metre yew walk which remains the backbone of the garden here today, giving access to a series of garden rooms, planted in different styles. 
The flower filled meadow at Cothay
Your first view of Cothay is the moated gatehouse (top). You park your car in a field and then wander across a flower-filled meadow (above), and find yourself in 12 acres of stunning gardens, lovingly tended by owners Alastair and Mary-Anne Robb, who arrived here in 1993.  They have put their own inimitable mark on the property since moving here and perhaps the piece de resistance is the Walk of the Unicorn (above), where planting changes with the seasons. 
Green lawns and 90-year old hedges all add to the atmosphere of this property
Beyond the garden rooms there are acres of green lawn, punctuated with specimen trees and then there's Mary-Anne Robb's own cosseted addition - the Bog Garden - which straddles the River Tone and provides a shady plant haven on a hot summer's day. What is clear is that work here at the Manor never stops, particularly since the house was featured on Channel 4's "Country House Rescue", when the owners bared their souls to presenter Ruth Watson about the agony of running a house of this age! 
The gardens at Cothay change throughout the seasons - there are a series of rooms concealed behind the hedges 
Part of the charm of this garden is wandering through the various topiary entrances that give access to the garden rooms which have names like the Green Knight Garden, the Bishop's Room and Emily's Room (although I must confess that I don't know which is which because I haven't visited yet this year). Approach from different angles and find yourself in an area that looks completely different each time!
The gardens are open to the public four days a week - Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, plus Bank Holidays from 11.00-16.30 - until the end of September. Entry is £7.80 for adults unless you're an HHA member, in which case it's free. Definitely a garden to make a detour for if you're anywhere in the area and easy to combine with Lytes Cary.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Glorious spring gardens V - Doddington Place, Kent

The Sunk Garden at Doddington Place, with hedging that reflects the gables of the main house
April is a wonderfully theatrical month in terms of weather and yesterday was no exception. Blue skies interspersed with thunderous showers and you never know when you're going to get soaked because the patch of blue that looks like its coming your way suddenly changes direction and the heavens open, so not the easiest month to plan garden visits! Combine that with a garden in Kent which also has theatrical elements and you're guaranteed to have an interesting day.  
Old and new reflected in the Spring Garden, where a modern obelisk sundial designed by David Harber presides
Doddington Place, with its ten acre garden, wonderful views and extraordinary hedging, which has been likened to mountains, clouds and even gorillas, is certainly filled with theatre! Start with the substantial red-brick Victorian mansion (top), with its many chimneys and gables; add great walls of yew hedge planted by former owner, Mrs Douglas Jefferies, at the turn of the 20th century, which was left to grow during the war and is now clipped just once a year; plus a glorious woodland garden, sunken garden, and rock garden and all you need is the cast to fill the stage. That comes as the season progresses and the garden blooms! 
Folly Walk adjacent to the woodland garden
The house and garden are set in 850 acres of spectacular countryside and part of the charm of this property is the woodland area to the rear of the house and Folly Walk (above). Some 50 years ago the owners discovered there was deep acid loam in this part of the garden (most unusual for Kent since chalk is the norm), so many older trees were cleared and a vigorous underplanting scheme adopted. I plan to return to see the results in the next  few weeks because I'm told the azalea and rhododendron displays are spectacular.
The Sunk Garden with its immaculately clipped hedges reflecting the design of the Victorian gables behind
The Sunk Garden (above), adjacent to the house, is currently planted with tulips, but will later be filled with colourful perennials. The hedges here (only planted 16 years ago) are trimmed to reflect the gables of the house behind. And beyond this, there's the Edwardian rockery - another of Mrs Jefferies' projects - which has recently been revamped and restored by the current owners, with the help of their head gardener, Matt Jackson, who previously worked at Scotney Castle and was involved in overhauling the Quarry Garden there. 
The Rock Garden has undergone extensive renovation in the last few years and now has a contemporary feel
More than five hundred tons of stones have been removed from the rock garden so far and a huge amount of work has gone into replanting, to turn this space into a relaxed contemporary space in place of the rather dated rockery here before. This is all part of an ambitious restoration programme here at Doddington Place, which this year opens its doors on Wednesdays as well as Sundays throughout the season (11.00-17.00). Definitely a garden to visit now and return to as work continues! Combine this with a visit to Goodnestone Park if you're looking for a second garden to visit in the area. 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Galloping Gardener's best British garden memories after three years of blogging

"Gardens are a real gift of happiness and joy"
It's Easter 2012 and I've been blogging about gardens for three years! I'm the first to admit I've come a long way in that time, because I knew nothing and I really do mean NOTHING about gardens when I started. I'd never thought about them, certainly didn't appreciate the energy and love that went into creating them, and had no idea about structure, plants or the effect different soils and climatic conditions have on the way they grow!
Tremenheere - at the heart of the county that my father loved so much - we spent much time visiting gardens in Cornwall during his long illness and I learned that gardens are great healers for mind and spirit
My interest in garden visiting began when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. He was living in Cornwall and I lived in Sussex, but as his disease progressed, I spent more time with him in the West. And as we progressed through his illness (which had been diagnosed too late to save him), the pastime that gave us both the greatest pleasure was visiting gardens together. 
Cothay Manor in Somerset will always hold a special place in my heart. It's exotic, slightly chaotic and beautiful
We were able to savour the peace we found in those wonderful Cornish landscapes, sit together for hours and talk, and enjoy the plants that we saw together. And towards the end of his life, on the few occasions he was well enough to leave the hospice in a wheelchair, I couldn't help but notice how much good our garden visits did him. He came alive again, however ill he felt, and would return home to the hospice looking happy and relaxed. That was when I started blogging, during the long evenings that I spent alone at my hotel, between my visits to the hospice.
Great Dixter is one of the gardens that my husband and I visited regularly because it's close to our home - created by Christopher Lloyd, it now has iconic status because of its planting schemes ... and deservedly so
I hardly need tell readers how much I miss him, but he left me with a legacy that has continued to bring me pleasure even since - garden visiting - and there's rarely a day when I visit a garden that I don't reflect on those happy days we spent together at the end of his life.
Sussex Prairies, created by Paul and Pauline McBride, brings joy to my heart every time I visit
Three years down the road, I find myself in a similar situation again, but this time it's my beloved husband who is ill. He also learned the gift of gardens with me during my father's illness, and we then spent successive years enjoying gardens together - more than 100 here in the UK, plus many more in France when visiting friends and of course, in the US because we had a house there. As his illness has progressed, we've visited many gardens together with him in a wheelchair and what we've learned is however bad the situation is, gardens are a real gift of happiness and joy!
The Peto garden at Iford Manor - a surreal, steep, hillside plot filled with exotic statuary and a sense of pure theatre
Now garden visiting has become a way of life for me, and since giving up our home in Florida, I find the winter months very long, even though I'm lucky enough to spend some time in India working on my hospital project there. It's not quite the same as visiting gardens in Florida and California during the cold months, but gardens have now become such an important part of my life, that I spend the winter researching properties I plan to visit once spring comes.
Levens Hall, Cumbria is reputed to be the most magnificent topiary garden in the world - I visited with my husband last year on a tour of Cumbria, before he was confined to a wheelchair for garden visits
If I'm honest - gardens have brought me a huge amount of pleasure in the last three years - especially when dealing with the difficulties of illnesses suffered by those close to you. I know I can't make those people better, but I've learned that gardens have incredible healing properties, both for the people who are ill and for me as a carer. And it doesn't matter how bleak life looks at home because a garden visit will always put a spring back in my step and give me the courage to carry on.
John Brookes who created Denmans Garden, near Chichester, who has become a dear friend. We recently travelled to India together and visited gardens throughout Rajasthan. John is looking out over Chittaurgarh during our travels
And then there are all the wonderful people I've met along the way - garden owners, like John Brookes at Denmans, who recently travelled to India with me; Anne Wareham from Veddw, famous for her tongue (and creator of thinkinGardens), but charming when you get to know her and who's now a special friend; Paul and Pauline McBride of Sussex Prairies, who've travelled to India with me twice and taught me more than anyone else about perennials and planting; head gardeners and those who do the really hard work for them, plus garden photographers and fellow bloggers. Many of those friends, gardeners and photographers also have their own blogs.
Veddw captured my heart the first time I went there and met Anne Wareham and her husband, Charles Hawes for the first time. It has become one of my favourite gardens anywhere in the world because it has so much personality
In terms of photography, I've had the pleasure of working with Clive Nichols at Barnsley House; got to know Charles Hawes, who takes photographs that I covet (and is married to dear friend Anne Wareham); and am off to meet Andrew Lawson next week at Great Dixter. There are many others on my wish list who I long to meet to learn about their fantastic techniques, but I'm sure our paths will cross one day.
The famous laburnum arch at Barnsley House, former home of Rosemary Verey, where I spent a day working with Clive Nichols trying to improve my photography techniques! 
If I listed all the wonderful people I've met, you'd never get to the end of this post, but we all share a common interest and think nothing of getting our hands dirty, all for the love of gardening! And I've been lucky enough to make a lot of new friends too because I'm learning that gardening is no different to many other passions, whereby you graduate towards those you share the passion with. And special thanks go to my own wonderful gardener and friend, William, who has taught me about nurturing my own garden. Without him, I would never have understood anything about gardening and "growing"!
The Garden House in Devon - always a joy to visit en route to Cornwall
So to mark my wonderful adventures in the last three years, I've selected some of the gardens that I've really come to love during my travels - these are the ones that I return to regularly. Of course, it's a subjective choice, but each and every one is special to me. Many are in the south of England because that's where I live, and I need to be here to look after my husband. But I will be branching out in this fourth year of blogging in an attempt to satisfy my insatiable interest in visiting gardens.
This is me, taken on a garden visit last year by my beloved husband
Thank you all for your support in the last three years and Happy Easter.
Charlotte aka Galloping Gardener

Friday, 6 April 2012

Galloping Gardener Walks© Three glorious castle gardens in Kent

Hever - moated Tudor castle and former home of Anne Boleyn
Spring is in the air and what better way to get out and enjoy it than visiting gardens? Combine this with a bit of history and throw a castle into the equation and you'll have entertainment for all the family! Head to Kent - the "Garden of England" - and you'll find several fascinating castle gardens including Hever, Scotney and Sissinghurst - all steeped in history and boasting exceptional gardens. And all within a stone's throw of each other. 
Hever boasts one of the best pergolas in Britain
Hever Castle is a moated Tudor property and one-time home of Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII's wives, but was restored to its former by William Waldorf Astor at the beginning of the 20th century. His collection of statues is on display in the Italian Garden, which has one of the finest pergolas in Britain (above). This garden is immaculately maintained and has a series of garden rooms which are re-planted throughout the season, to guarantee constant, colourful flower displays and there's also a fine rose garden. Great for walks and there's a water maze for the children.
Scotney - another moated castle in Kent - with a charming garden within its walls
Scotney Castle is another moated property - sadly ruined - but the setting is idyllic and your first glance of the castle nestling in the valley will lift your spirits, particularly in springtime when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in flower. Within the castle complex, there's a charming small garden, but the real joy of this property is the extensive grounds and the views over the surrounding countryside. A great place for a picnic in high summer and plenty of space for the kids to run around. 
Climb the tower at Sissinghurst to see where Vita Sackville-West worked and enjoy views of the garden below
Sissinghurst is famous throughout the world, as the former home of Vita Sackville-West and her White Garden. Tends to get extremely crowded during the summer, as it's one of the most visited gardens in Britain, so try and get there early or late in the day, and don't forget to climb the tower and look out over the garden. You'll be able to see just how the garden is laid out and enjoy an eagle eye view of the various different "rooms" below. 
Climb the tower at Sissinghurst for fantastic views of the garden below
Both Scotney and Sissinghurst are National Trust properties and Hever is part of the Historic Houses Association, so are free to respective members. Galloping Gardener Walks© is an occasional series featuring garden properties within easy reach of each other, and designed to give readers ideas for visiting different regions around the UK and making the most of the properties there, if you're planning garden visits. For full reviews of each of the properties here, click on the links.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Orchids at RHS Wisley for Easter

If you're looking for a garden to visit over the Easter weekend, why not go to RHS Wisley? It's close to London and filled with spring flowers both outside and in. Enjoy all the spring bulbs and blossoms outside and enjoy the spectacular orchid displays in the glasshouses (see below). Open every day over the Easter weekend, and open at 10.00 on weekdays and 9.00 at weekends.