Sunday, 27 May 2012

Gertrude Jekyll garden under restoration at Tylney Hall, Hampshire

The Italian terrace at Tylney Hall, Hampshire, designed by two Scottish architects at the turn of the 20th century
Tylney Hall in Hampshire has a wonderful Gertrude Jekyll water garden which is currently being brought back to life by hotel group, Elite, which operates the Grade II listed house as one of its flagship properties. Original seat of the Tylney family, the property has variously served as a private house, a World War I hospital, a school and now as a luxury hotel. It enjoys a wonderful hilltop position near Hook in Hampshire, and opens for the National Garden Scheme three times a year. If you're reading this, you've already missed two of this year's openings, but anybody can visit this garden if they have lunch, tea or cocktails at the hotel. 
Wonderful springtime vistas from the terrace at Tylney Hall overlooking the Italian garden and lake
The house is set in 66 acres of Grade II listed parkland, which includes a large woodland area and many specimen trees, plus a fine collection of rhododendrons and azaleas currently in bloom, which the current owners are committed to replenishing, replanting and extending. The work is to be done in two stages over the next five years, with the planting of new inner and outer azalea circles in the parkland adjacent to the house. Work is already progressing well, with many new species already in place and flowering for the first time this year. Elsewhere in the grounds there are spectacular mature rhododendrons, providing a blaze of colour in springtime.
Part of the charm of the garden at Tylney Hall is the wonderful vistas and mature trees
There was a house here as early as 1700, but the red-brick edifice that stands there today was designed in 1900 by Scottish architect Seldon Wornum for Sir Lionel Phillips, a South African diamond merchant. Phillips also employed Robert Wier Schultz to further develop the property and gardens. Schultz added the impressive walled kitchen garden that survives today, complete with the orangery and outbuildings that now provide the charming garden rooms for the hotel. But his greatest feat was to enlist Gertrude Jekyll's help in planning the water garden.
The renovated walled garden, which now provides luxury accommodation for hotel guests
Schultz was savvy enough to recognise Jekyll's talents and growing reputation as a garden designer and enlisted her help to draw up plans and planting lists for the borders that once graced this garden and the water garden. But the great lady of English gardening never actually visited the property and it was Schultz who oversaw the planting. Yet the glory of this garden was short lived, because World War I saw it used as a hospital and at the end of World War II it became a school. The Italian garden was turned into a hard tennis court and the water garden became overgrown.
The pergola in the walled garden at Tylney
The ponds became clogged and statuary was damaged during the harsh post-war years when Tylney served as a school. Years of austerity and a change of usage meant that irreparable damage was done to the gardens and it was only when the property was bought in 1985 that new life was breathed into what had become a forgotten Grade II listed house and garden. The current owners are committed to restoring the garden to its former glory and under the stewardship of Estate Manager and Head Gardener, Paul Tattersdill, new life is being breathed into this wonderful garden. His next major project is to restore the borders to their former glory.
The Gertrude Jekyll water garden at Tylney is spectacular in May and June
Paul Tattersdill joined the team here in 1986 when the hotel opened. He works with a team of five other gardeners and although work is ongoing, he has restored the gardens to their former glory. The kitchen garden is immaculate, the Italian garden is dramatic, the water garden is enchanting and the parkland looks healthy again, with its great sweeping lawns, clean lakes and healthy woodland areas. This really is a wonderful garden and well worth making the effort to see. Combine it with nearby West Green House if you want to spend a whole day looking at gardens ... you won't be disappointed!
Tylney Hall, which has variously served as private house, hospital, school and hotel during its lifetime

Friday, 25 May 2012

RHS Chelsea ends tomorrow, but you can still catch Chelsea in Bloom

The White Company Window, complete with floral wedding dress
If you're still feeling gloomy about all the happy horticultural punters who succeeded in getting into the Chelsea Flower Show this year, when you stayed home because you had no ticket to the ball, there are still numerous Fringe events on offer around London. One in particular will appeal to those in need of retail therapy this weekend - because 28 well-known shops in and around Sloane Square are offering window shopping treats to anybody who wants to pound the streets in SW3.
Hackett has rose-jacketed sentries
All are participating in Chelsea in Bloom - an annual event that coincides with RHS Chelsea - where local retailers compete for a coveted crown by producing wonderful floral window displays to complement the flower show. This year's theme is the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, so you'll see plenty of regal displays and more than a few crowns as you mingle with the punters making their way to or from the Royal Hospital grounds, sporting their goody bags from the Show.
    This is the seventh year that retailers have participated in this floral festival, and the event has now become so well established that the RHS judging team give their time and energy to choosing a winner and runner up, based on the floral displays. 
   Many of the big names are there and you can expect to see a spectacular floral wedding dress at the The White Company (above), two rose-jacketed sentries standing to attention outside Hackett (left) and a giant corgi outside Ted Baker, plus crowns and sceptres everywhere. Peter Jones has a huge floral stamp with the Queen's head in its window; Tiffany's has flowers spilling into the streets, and Smythson's has adopted a delicate pink rose theme (below). It's certainly good fun and well worth a look.
Smythson window with floral bunting
If the heat's too much for you (and they are forecasting record temperatures again tomorrow), you can take a bicycle rickshaw and catch all the windows. Or else join one of the walking tours, which run from the information point in Sloane Square every half hour. Certainly a great opportunity to window show in every sense of the word ... and no obligation to buy!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

RHS Chelsea 2012 - Blooming Marvellous!

One of many eye-catching exhibits in the main marquee at Chelsea this year - enough to drive you crazy!
Clear blue skies and above average temperatures for May have left the punters panting at RHS Chelsea this year as the mercury edged up towards 30C today in London! There's already been a huge amount of coverage for all the Show Gardens in the press, but just as spectacular are the exhibits within the marquee at the centre of the show. So I'm featuring some of the displays that really caught my attention this year.
Glorious colours in the marquee at Chelsea
Fantastic plants on display at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden stand
An eye-catching display of tropical delights
You'll find plenty of clematis at Chelsea this year that you'll want for your garden
Two days to go and there's no sign of rain on the horizon, so more images from Chelsea tomorrow, when I'll be concentrating on the smaller show gardens. To see some of the medal winners, click here.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Highlights of RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012

Cleve West's Brewin Dolphin garden won Best in Show and a Gold Medal
Hotfoot from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, I'm featuring some of the stunning gardens on offer this year ... and the weather is hotting up this week, so all those thousands of visitors lucky enough to get tickets will be taking off layers of clothing as they walk around the 99th show this week. Winner of Best in Show and a coveted Gold medal was the Brewin Dolphin garden (above), designed by Cleve West.
Another view of Cleve West's garden, behind the impressive gates (above)
The garden looked glorious in the early morning sunshine today, although getting close enough to photograph it required Herculean effort. I arrived as the doors opened at eight, joined the queues waiting to get through the gates, and by 10.00 you could hardly move! The RHS Chelsea Flower Show has become one of the prized events in the British social calendar and many ladies don amazing attire and hats to attend, so people watching is almost as much fun as viewing the show gardens.
Furzey Garden by Chris Beardshaw won a well-deserved Gold medal at the show this year
The Furzey Garden (above), designed by Chris Beardshaw stole my heart, with its vibrant colours and inviting pathway leading to the thatched shelter. Also a Gold medal winner, this Chelsea success will hopefully highlight the wonderful work that Furzey is doing with young people with learning difficulties at its Hampshire home, using horticultural and nursery experience as the basis of its training projects. The show garden is a charming miniature reminder of the glorious Furzey Gardens in the New Forest - in bloom right now and well worth a visit.
Andy Sturgeon's M & G Garden won a Gold medal
Another garden awarded a coveted Gold medal is the M & G Garden (above) designed by Andy Sturgeon - an inviting oasis, with water, sculpture and pastel colours. Water is an important theme for many of the Show Gardens, as is sculpture, and what's most noticeable about most of the entries this year is the extensive use of meadow-style planting, interspersed with clipped hedging and strong architectural features.
Joe Swift's Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden also won a Gold medal
The Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden (above) was also awarded a Gold this year at Chelsea. Designed by Joe Swift, a much-loved garden television presenter here in the UK, this garden also uses water, strong architectural lines and massed planting to create a charming view for visitors. Will we be seeing a new garden architecture range at Homebase later this year, I wonder, to give shoppers the chance to emulate this garden at home?
Royal Bank of Canada's Blue Water Garden - winner of a Silver Gilt medal - designed by Nigel Dunnett
Another of my favourite Show Gardens was the RBC Blue Water Garden (above) because I found the combination of blue and white, interspersed with planting, extremely alluring. Designed by Nigel Dunnett, this garden won a Silver Gilt medal, but I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more about its creator in the next few months, because he's also the lead horticultural and planting design consultant for the London 2012 Olympic Park.
     If you've visited Chelsea this week, do let me know which your favourite gardens are. More news on the show tomorrow, when I take you round the themed gardens and inside the huge marquee. And if you didn't manage to get tickets, you can always visit Chelsea Fringe instead - there are events all over London for the next three weeks.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

If you didn't get tickets to Chelsea, enjoy the Fringe instead!

Gardening news this week will concentrate on the 99th RHS Chelsea Flower Show, so prepare to see endless coverage of the 16 show gardens competing for much-prized medals; alongside the lively reporting of Britain's gardening media, who will walk you through the show, interviewing the winners and much more. But don’t expect to get a ticket to see the spoils for yourself because Chelsea sold out months ago. This is the gardening event of the year and attracts visitors from all over the world - Chelsea is to gardening, what Ascot is to horse racing – a major event in the British social calendar. (I'm returning to Chelsea for the first time in six years and will be featuring the show gardens here later in the week).
Hammersmith's busy Hogarth roundabout has been turned into a flower meadow
But if you haven’t got tickets, don’t fret because this year sees the launch of Chelsea Fringe, brainchild of Daily Telegraph columnist, Tim Richardson, which offers a cocktail of unusual and quirky events around the capital that are open to all. And although you may not get to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, you’ll still have the chance to ogle eye-catching and original gardening sights, without worrying about losing your friends in the crowd.
Pothole Gardener at work in East London - master of miniature installations
The Fringe is offering plenty of quirky entertainment all over London, from the antics of the Pothole Gardener, who places miniature garden installations in unexpected places, to larger projects like the Floating Forest at Portobello Dock - 600 floating discs in the water outside the restaurant - one of many bars and restaurants with special themes and gardens prepared for the Fringe; walking tours with well-known characters like Richard Reynolds, the original "Guerilla Gardener"; and even a touch of garden artistry added to shopping areas including Chiswick High Street. Full listings are available on the Chelsea Fringe website.
And if you were planning on visiting RHS Chelsea for a little garden retail therapy, you can even find a range of fringe events here too as Chelsea in Bloom offers stunning window dressing displays around the area for the seventh consecutive year. Retailers including Cartier (above), Cath Kidston and L.K. Bennett and Tiffany, to name just a few, who are offering wonderful window displays, with a floral theme to entice customers into their shops during the show. 

**Do check individual websites for details before visiting any of the Fringe events, in case there are changes to the programmes. All photographs except Memories of Chelsea - 2006 are provided by the participants in the fringe schemes or sourced from the internet.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Normandy in bloom - fabulous French gardens

Foul weather forced me across the English Channel this week for a couple of days in search of French gardens. My eyes were opened wide because Normandy has some of the finest gardens I've seen in the last few years! So in the run up to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show next week, I'll be reviewing the gems that I found in France - both large and small.
All the properties I visited were within an hour's drive of Dieppe and although it's a little early in the season to see these gardens at their best, it's certainly whetted my appetite for future trips. So watch this space in the next few days and join me on my whistle-stop tour!
Mention French gardens and the one that comes to mind is Giverny (above) - one-time home of Impressionist painter, Claude Monet, but there are many other properties nearby that are just as spectacular and much less busy. Giverny is to France what Sissinghurst is to England in terms of crowds. Hope you'll join me as I bring you new ideas for garden visits a hop and skip from the south coast. A bientot!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Monet's garden at Giverny

Away looking at glorious gardens - but wonder how many readers know this view??
And yes, to all who commented ... it is Giverny. Full review to come.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Garden of Cosmic Speculation - open for just five hours a year!

The Universe Cascade at the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, which spews down the hill below the house
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation in the Borders area of southwest Scotland, has become something of a mystical destination since it only opens to the public for five hours each year. I was lucky enough to get there for the 2012 open day and despite crowds which cause a Chelsea football match to pale into insignificance, I'm glad I made it for a glimpse of this extraordinary garden created by landscape architect, Charles Jencks and his late wife, Maggie Keswick. It is quite unlike any other garden anywhere. 
Landforms and shaped lakes make the backbone of the garden at Portrack (pictures sourced from Internet)
The combination of the huge crowds (all as determined as me to see this garden phenomenon); the timing of the opening from midday until 17.00 (when the light is not at its best for photography); and "iffy" weather, with intermittent heavy, dark cloud, except for the first ten minutes of my visit, conspired to make photography extremely difficult. But helped by my son, who's studying architecture at university (both with the long drive from southern England and also armed with a camera), and internet sources, we hope to give at least a flavour of this extraordinary garden.
The Black Hole terrace, where the grass appears to suck you into its centre
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation covers 30 acres of ground surrounding Portrack - a Georgian farmhouse built in 1815 - near Dumfries in Scotland. Charles Jencks' connection with the property began when he met Maggie Keswick back in the 1970s and her parents were living there. He and Maggie married in 1978 and eventually moved into Portrack, although work on the garden as it is today did not commence until 1988. They worked together to create the garden there, which now opens just once a year for Scotland's Gardens - as Portrack Garden - on the first Sunday in May. 
The DNA garden at Portrack - seen from above (centre) and up close as you wander through
When you arrive, you're given a map, that gives no concept of the scale or complexity of the garden you're visiting, or any background or history on what you're about to see, so you have little option but to surge forward with the crowd and grasp what you can en route. And although Portrack is mentioned in many books, the only comprehensive guide is written by owner and creator, Charles JencksHe made his name as a landscape architect, writer, lecturer and architecture critic, a self-proclaimed champion of Post-Modernism and "polemicist" for this new movement. 
The Symmetry Break terrace near the main house
The garden there today is dedicated to Jencks' late wife Maggie, who spent the last seven years of her life working with him on the project and watching it develop as they experimented with different ideas. But underlying everything you see at Portrack is the principle of cosmology - "a dynamic interaction between the unfolding universe, an unfolding science and a questioning design" - because Jencks wanted to explore the laws of nature and interpret them in his garden. The result is a man-made landscape that's almost impossible to explain or describe unless you have seen it for yourself.
The Garden of Time at Portrack
There are certain landmarks that we've all seen in print, like the DNA Garden of Senses, filled with helix sculptures; the Black Hole and Symmetry Break terraces; the monumental landforms and mounds in the lower part of the garden, sculpted around man-made lakes; and a series of bridges, buildings and smaller gardens, with names like "Nonsense", "Taking Leave of Your Senses",  The Time Garden and Garden of Worthies.
The Willowtwist, made from one single sheet of aluminium
In reality, it would be impossible to begin to appreciate the subtle humour and skill that has gone into creating this garden in just five hours. But a visit to Portrack will give you a chance to see a garden that has certainly been on my Wish List since I started visiting gardens three years ago. There's so much to see here and so many hidden messages that you'd have to live here to appreciate all the hidden symbolism, or truly appreciate any of the plants. 
Portrack enjoys fantastic views over the surrounding countryside
Portrack is set in a stunning location, with wonderful views over the surrounding countryside, so with or without the garden "created" here, you could enjoy the setting. Overall, I enjoyed the Universe Cascade (top), which falls away from the main house most, as an architectural feat and a garden - a complex step design with running water, interspersed with tiny terraces and sculptures - reminiscent of an Escher painting - that comes to life as a three-dimensional design. Sadly, you cannot gain access to the terraces, so you must view this from below and if you want see how it actually works and appreciate the intricacies of the design and the symbolism within, you need to read Charles Jencks' book.
A rare moment on a Portrack open day - a short cloudburst has cleared the decks
A half-day visit to the Garden of Cosmic Speculation is woefully inadequate to even begin to understand what Charles Jencks and his wife created here. Combine that with huge crowds, climbing over every section of mound, path, track, bridge and available space, and the whole visit becomes surreal and very out of touch with the universe or principles of nature that the owners envisaged when they began work here nearly 25 years ago. Perhaps this property will revert to the nation one day, so you can view it at a leisurely pace and without being jostled!
Portrack's annual opening day comes complete with bagpipes!
Of all the gardens I've seen to date, this is certainly one of the most interesting, rivalled only by Nek Chand's Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India, where another visionary individual created another astounding garden.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Deep in a Somerset valley - Holt Farm Organic Garden

The reflecting pool at Holt Farm
Deep in a Somerset valley there's a garden with a difference - Holt Farm Organic Garden. It's very refreshing to find a "nouvelle" garden in every sense of the word - new because it's only just beginning, but also approached with enthusiasm by its creator, and some interesting ideas, including an annual wildflower meadow that has yet to show its potential this year. Set in stunning countryside, this is a colourful oasis at the bottom of the valley.
The vegetable garden at Holt Farm - on the site of the former tennis court
Walk into the garden there and you'll soon realise you're dealing with something unusual. There's always been a garden here - tended by the family that lives in the house - proprietors of Yeo Valley Farm next door, which produces much of Britain's organic yoghurt, but it's Sarah Mead, who married into the family several years ago who's breathed new life into the six and a half acre plot. She's the first to admit she's been bitten hard by the gardening bug and learned to love the land. Combine this with her passion for all things organic and you've got an interesting project and a real labour of love.
The gravel garden, planted with 24,000 bulbs
The garden here is reminiscent of "nouvelle cuisine" - a little of this and that presented on a landscape plate and designed to appeal to the eye. But seeing it this early in this season left me a little hungry, because although it tasted good, I wanted more! This is early days for a new garden, and I'm sure it will mature like fine wine. Sarah Mead is experimenting with her new-found enthusiasm and making a contemporary garden in a beautiful setting.
Wrought-iron gate by local artisan, James Blunt
There's enough to see here, including a well-stocked vegetable garden (above), gravel garden, perennial and annual meadows - sadly too soon to see the latter in full bloom.  All punctuated with some unusual wrought iron metalwork like the gate (left), by local  artisan James Blunt (who we were assured is no relative to the singer) and organically certified by the Soil Association.
But opening hours are very restricted - the garden is only open to the public one full day a week, on Thursdays from 10.00 to 5.00 and the first Sunday of each month (2.00-5.00), from now until the end of September.
And while there's an excellent restaurant here to shelter from the English weather, you will want to combine this with other gardens in the area if you want to leave the area feeling satisfied. But fortunately, Holt Farm is part of the Somerset Gardens group which includes Cothay Manor, East Lambrook Manor and Lytes Cary, so you can choose this as your starter and move onto one of the others for main course and dessert!