Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Goodbye July - we saw the sunshine at last, but will it be the wettest on record?

RHS Hampton Court is always a major July event for garden and plant lovers
The sunshine finally arrived in July, but left just as quickly as it came! I went in search of new gardens in Cumbria and Yorkshire and found them, travelled briefly to France where I finally saw Le Bois des Moutiers and several gorgeous chateaux gardens, made it to Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire for the biennial sculpture exhibition, and of course, there was Hampton Court Flower Show. We will, no doubt, find out in the next couple of days whether this has been the wettest July on record, but I've certainly had more than my fair share of getting soaked while visiting gardens!
The rose garden at Newby Hall in Yorkshire
The weather did stay relatively dry for my visit to Yorkshire earlier this month, where I managed to see at least eight new gardens, including York Gate, the garden run by Perennial, Parcevall Hall, with its magnificent terraces and a few others including Newby Hall (above), Sleightholme Dale (below) and Stillingfleet Lodge - all yet to be reviewed.
Sleightholme Dale Lodge in North Yorkshire - to be reviewed in August
The forecasters keep promising us better weather for August, but it remains to be seen if their predictions will be correct. This has certainly been the wettest summer on record here in Britain and the doom and gloom cast over us all by the hosepipe ban earlier in the year, soon turned into a joke here in England, as local water boards refused to lift the ban, even in the face of severe flood warnings around the country. And as we speak, Olympic competitors are doing battle with the elements on the south coast.
Le Bois des Moutiers near Dieppe in France - an Edwin Lutyens house and garden
My plans for August include a trip to Gloucestershire to revisit some of the great gardens there and a short break in Norfolk to see Will Giles' Exotic Garden in Norwich, as well as some of the other gardens that are missing from my lists, including Houghton Hall and East Ruston. But in the meantime, I've got many reviews to catch up on, so hope to add new gardens every other day during the next month for my readers - they're all photographed and ready to go - so I just have to find the time to sit down and write about them. Hope you'll find time to check in and see where I've been as the month progresses.
For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Moors Meadow - in touch with the wild in Herefordshire

Blue bullrush metalwork gates entice you into the hillside gardens at Moors Meadow 
Walk around Moors Meadow in Herefordshire and you will soon realise this organic garden is quite different to any other you'll find in the area. It sits at the end of a long country farm track in rolling countryside between Tenbury and Bromyard, overlooking the Kyre valley below and was voted the "Most Romantic Garden" in Central England by BBC Gardener's World readers in 2010. Easy to see why when you get there, but you won't find it in any of the UK garden guides. 
Part of the charm of this garden is the meadow plantings
Owner Ros Bissell was born here after her parents moved here in 1955. Tom and Rosie Johnson bought the house and plot for just £400 and worked it as a smallholding and market garden. Ros was the last of seven children and returned to her home in 1999 and has cherished the garden ever since. There are many fine examples of her late husband's metalwork scattered throughout this plantsman's paradise. Head there for the first Sunday of August (Sunday 5th August this year) for the annual "Hot Day in August" for a day of music and stalls in aid of St Michael's Hospice and you'll have the chance to enjoy this garden at the height of summer.
One of many places to sit in the garden -  bench made by Ros Bissell's late husband 
Established more than half a century ago, the garden is home to hundreds of varieties of trees and shrubs ranging from giant Redwoods at the far reaches of the property to Indian Bean trees, Japanese Lantern trees, a spectacular Handkerchief tree and even a New Zealand Kowhai. Ros' parents started planting when they moved here, and she has carried on the tradition since her return. But don't be deceived by the delightful informality of Moors Meadow, because Ros is always busy propagating and pruning.
Close to the house Ros has carried on the smallholding tradition with productive herb and kitchen gardens
First-time visitors will be entranced by the undulating meadows, filled with wildflowers and the huge collection of shrubs. I was there late in May, but there's no doubt that the last two months of wet weather will have turned this into an even greater spread for visitors.This is a garden with vistas and views and colourful planting throughout the seasons, starting with spring bulbs, borders overflowing with perennials, a wildflower meadow that will be flourishing now, fernery, cottage-style garden and productive kitchen garden. There are also wonderful bluebell displays in springtime.
The seven acres are peppered with metalwork seats and sculptures crafted by Ros' late husband, including the blue bullrush gates (top) that first catch your eye when you head towards the open meadows. But there is also a local artist blacksmith in residence - Joshua De Lisle - who made the tercentenary gates at Richmond Park and his work is also on show in the garden. There's little doubt that this is an eclectic and unusual garden and if you're lucky you'll find Ros sitting on her verandah (below) to tell you more about the plants.
If Ros Bissell isn't busy in the garden, you'll find her on her verandah during the summer months
Moors Meadow is a truly charming garden, romantic too, and open every daily from the end of March to the first week of September (except Wednesdays and Thursdays) from 11.00 -17.00. Admission is £5.00 for adults. It is signposted off the main road from Bromyard to Tenbury. Other nearby gardens worth visiting include Hampton Court and if you want somewhere romantic to stay, there's always Brook Farm at Berrington, which has its own glorious garden.
For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here

Saturday, 21 July 2012

"Small is beautiful" - Stoneacre, Smallhythe and Monk's House

Stoneacre is a half-timbered 15th century Yeoman's House surrounded by gardens
If you want a day out to remember, with some interesting old houses, filled with history and  peppered with famous names, head for the three unique properties in Kent and East Sussex featured here and you'll also be able to enjoy their gardens - Stoneacre, Smallhythe and Monks House. You'll drive through some beautiful countryside and may even come home with some ideas for your garden at home. All three houses are under the umbrella of the National Trust and you can wander freely, inside and out. 
The rear of the house opens onto meadows, interspersed with mown grass paths
Stoneacre was once home to Aymer Vallance - a typical late 19th century aesthete who was interested in the work of William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley and knew both of them well. He moved to this 15th century, half-timbered Yeoman's house near Maidstone in Kent when he was 58, and the following year he married for the first time. Together with his wife, Lucy, he restored the property and incorporated many Arts and Crafts features into it, including stained glass windows. In 1928 the Vallances gave Stoneacre to the National Trust. The tenants have created the garden here. Only open on Saturdays (11.00-17.30) and Bank Holiday Mondays.
Smallhythe Place was the actress, Ellen Terry's home - and is famous for its roses
Smallhythe Place - former home of actress, Ellen Terry - is famous for its roses. There's even a yellow rose named after her. Also located in Kent, known as the "Garden of England", this is a wonderful destination for foreign visitors, because you'll be treated to stunning countryside en route to Smallhythe and a classic timber-framed house on arrival, which looks as higgledy piggledy as a witch's cottage in a fairy tale! Add a garnish of roses on the front facade, and I suspect you've got your classic English cottage idyll here! Open daily (11.00-17.00) except Thursday and Friday.
The orchard at Monk's House, near Lewes in East Sussex, with views over the church
The third small garden that housed a famous resident, and compliments the other two here, is Monk's House near Lewes, former home of writer, Virginia Woolf, who bought the house with her husband Leonard as a weekend retreat in 1919. The cottage garden here is charming and although it only extends to a little over an acre, it's filled to bursting with colourful perennials. It also has wonderful views over the South Downs and surrounding countryside.
Monk's House, former weekend home of Virginian Woolf,  has extended opening hours this year
Virginia Woolf was part of the Bloomsbury set, and her sister, Vanessa Bell, lived at nearby Charleston, another delightful garden just a few miles away. This year, Monk's House has extended opening hours, so you can visit on any day of the week (13.00-17.30) except Monday and Tuesday. All three of these gardens are visitable in a day and will take you through some of the prettiest countryside in southern England.

For more garden visits, click here

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Parcevall Hall - an Arts and Crafts garden with astounding views over Yorkshire Dales

Parcevall Hall near Skipton in Yorkshire lies at the heart of the Dales National Park
Sir William Milner was certainly a man of vision with an eye for a view! He bought Parcevall Hall in 1926 and turned the crumbling house into a wonderful home and created the only Arts and Crafts style garden that lies at the heart of a National Park. His godmother was Queen Mary - a regular visitor to his home in Yorkshire - and he spent a major part of his life turning the 25 acres around his house into a exceptional garden that has some of the finest terraces in England, and heart-stopping views over the Yorkshire Dales.
Sir William Milner designed a series of terraces below the house
Given the steep hillside location of the property, it certainly took a man with energy and vision to tackle the task of creating a garden here. But Sir William, a gentle 6'7" giant, who later became a founder member of the Northern Horticultural Society and pioneered the establishment of the Yorkshire RHS garden at Harlow Carr, was undaunted by the task. He first made the house habitable and then extended it, using local stone quarried from the surrounding hills and then concentrated on laying out the gardens on a steep hillside, using terraces to overcome the gradient and creating a unique garden that is often overlooked by visitors to the area, because it is very little known or publicised.
It would be hard to beat the views over the Yorkshire Dales from the terraces at Parcevall Hall
As his passion for his garden grew, Sir William propagated both plants and people in the horticultural world. He encountered many of the early 20th century plant hunters in the course of his work and was great friends with J.C.Williams of Caerhays in Cornwall. The legacy he left behind is a garden filled with rare and unusual tree and plant specimens collected from Western China and the Himalayas. He too, became a knowledgeable plantsman while creating the garden at Parcevall Hall, and his special interest was local and regional plants, and you will find many of those here too.
The garden design is strongly axial, with a circular pond on the first terrace
The oldest part of the house dates back to before 1600, but when Sir William arrived here there was just a modest farmhouse standing on an almost treeless hillside. He extended the house northwards, created the terraces to the south of the property to maximise on the views and transformed the traditional Dales agricultural holding  into a gentleman's residence fit for a Queen. The first terrace below the house is planted with yew hedges and divided into three rectangular compartments, with a pergola at the far end and a pond in the middle. This strongly axial pattern is repeated on the terrace below. And below the terraces on a gentle gradient, are the red borders, which give a good view of the house above.
The pergola frame was rebuilt in 1991 using timber from storm-damaged trees
To the side of the house there is a Chapel Garden, a green and leafy area where Sir William built a private chapel for his own use. Today the property is used as a retreat by the Diocese of Bradford and they have instrumental in restoring the gardens to their former glory after a 20-year period of neglect following the death of the man who created them. Now the gardens are immaculately tended and their stunning location and unusual layout make them worthy of a visit.
The verdant Chapel Garden surrounding Sir William's former place of prayer
From here you can access the Rock Garden - described as "the finest in the North of England" - which was created by stripping away thin soil to expose the bedrock. Particularly spectacular when the Himalayan poppies are in flower in May, but it was still looking good when I visited in early July. The water for the central pond and rills is piped from a mine half a mile away. It was this area that suffered most when the property fell into decline; the pond had to be re-dredged and the rock re-stripped to restore it to its former glory. There's also a rose garden, but the recent torrential rains have left most blooms looking battered.
The Rock Garden is fed by water from a local mine
Part of the charm of Parcevall Hall is that it's rarely crowded - perhaps because it lies at the end of a maze of single-track country lanes, making coach access difficult. Certainly worth making the effort to see and possible to combine with York Gate, if you're there on a Thursday or Sunday. Open daily to the public throughout the spring and summer months (April-October) from 10.00-18.00. Entrance is £6.00 for adults.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

A hidden Yorkshire garden treasure - York Gate, Leeds

York Gate was bequeathed to the garden charity, Perennial, by the Spencer family
York Gate is one of the most delightful gardens I've visited yet in my travels, although it's difficult to find, has no parking to speak of and such restricted opening hours that you've got to be really determined to get there. Not a good way to start a review of a garden perhaps, but all these obstacles are easily overcome and if you make the effort you won't regret your visit to this magical one-acre garden at Adel, just outside Leeds. This tiny plot is guaranteed to capture your heart so don't be deterred by any of the above. There is parking near the adjacent church and the owners are planning to extend the opening hours in the not too distant future.
York Gate is divided into 14 separate garden rooms and draws inspiration from some of the great gardens of England
The garden is owned by Perennial - originally known as the Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Society - a charity that helps those in need from the horticultural profession, by providing advice and financial support to arborists, gardeners, plantsmen and others associated with gardening, who have fallen on hard times. York Gate was bequeathed to them in 1994 by  Sybil Spencer, who had lived and gardened here for more than forty years with her husband and son, who both died prematurely. Today the garden is a visitor flagship for the work that Perennial does helping horticulturalists.
First view of the garden when you walk in the front gate - from here, paths entice you through the "rooms"
When Frederick and Sybil Spencer arrived here in 1951 there was nothing but the original farmhouse and an empty palette. During the course of the next forty years, Sybil worked first with her husband (who died in 1963) and later with her son Robin, to create the garden that is there today. Robin was just 17 when he came to live here, but he was inspired by his parents enthusiasm and when his father died 12 years later, he stepped into his gardening shoes and carried on working with his mother, until his own premature death at just 47. But Sybil carried on gardening alone following the loss of both her husband and son, and on her death in 1994, she left York Gate to what was then known as the Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Society. 
All paths, buildings  and ornaments in the garden were designed and built by Robin Spencer
Sybil was a skilled plantswoman who not only collected plants, but also had an eye for placing them. She had arrived here when there was nothing but an empty site, and spent more than forty years working first with her husband and then her son, turning what had once been an orchard into the exceptional garden there today. The one-acre plot flanks the house on three sides and is actually a series of enclosures divided by hedging and pathways that flow effortlessly into each other. The use of space is so clever, that this garden feels more like a mini Hidcote or Sissinghurst than a tiny garden on the northern outskirts of Leeds.
The Herb Garden at York Gate, with Robin Spencer's stone centrepiece
Today you will find 14 different garden rooms at York Gate, ranging from the Herb Garden (above) which entices you into the shade of the pillared summerhouse at the rear on a hot day, to the White Garden, inspired by Sissinghurst, and Sybil's Garden (below), which adds a touch of modernity to what would otherwise be a classical 20th century garden. Beautifully manicured beech and yew hedges divide the different areas and you will be drawn along Robin Spencer's paths into each and every room, where you will encounter another mini masterpiece. 
The tiny greenhouse is packed with plants waiting to be planted
Part of the charm of York Gate is the feeling of intimacy created by the different garden spaces. But you need to wander round several times to appreciate the gardening talent with which it was created. Every space has been used to maximum effect and there are many rare and unusual plants here. It's like a garden gallery, where you can stand and admire the paths and planting.
Everywhere you look at York Gate there is another interesting view
The pathways lead you through the various areas, but take a closer look and you will see a host of unusual plants, all carefully placed to benefit from the conditions in which they're growing - shady plants for shady places and sun lovers for open aspects, all interspersed with hardy perennials that are less picky about their position. Look out too for the astounding stonework and the inlaid paths created by Robin Spencer during the 30 years that he gardened here with his mother. Every garden area has different underfoot features to complement the planting.
Sybil's garden - a touch of modernity at "one of the most important 20th century gardens"
With a legacy such as this, Perennial needs to consider the importance of this garden, which has been heralded by great gardening critics, including Patrick Taylor and household names like Joe Swift who said: "York Gate is one of the most important 20th century gardens and is an outstanding example of great design". This is a veritable garden treasure and the measly three hours that it opens for just two days a week, is not giving garden lovers the chance to enjoy the legacy that Sybil Spencer left to fellow gardeners. Any head gardener will tell you that increased visitor numbers pose problems for gardens, but this must surely be weighed up against the revenue it provides for the property?
The White Garden at the rear of the house
York Gate is easily accessible by car, although you have to park in the lay-by in Church Lane, opposite St John the Baptist church (below) on the main road and then walk through the churchyard to the garden, which is at the far end of the path leading out of the church on the left hand side. It is also accessible by bus from both Leeds and Skipton. Current opening times are only 14.00-17.00 on Thursdays and Sundays (1st April to 30th September), plus Bank Holiday weekends on both Sundays and Mondays from 11.00-17.00. Entrance is £4.50 for adults and children under 16 are free. A season ticket costs just £11.00 annually, so if you live locally, this is definitely the best option.
St John the Baptist Church, Adel - walk through the churchyard to access York Gate garden

Friday, 13 July 2012

Up and down Yorkshire dales .... gardens that made my heart leap!

York Gate, just outside Leeds - one of the greatest garden secrets in the Northern England
After four glorious days in Yorkshire, dodging the downpours, I'm going to bring you some real garden delights in the next few weeks. I've driven more than 1,000 miles looking at landscapes that made me realise how lucky I am to be alive. I've seen weather conditions that made me hold my breath, driven through floods, got stuck in mud and donned my wellington boots more times than I care to remember.
Parcevall Hall is a terraced garden overlooking a landscape that will make you glad you're alive
Yorkshire has some really magnificent gardens and part of their charm is the surrounding landscape. Parcevall Hall looks out onto the world beyond, as does Sleightholme Dale Lodge. York Gate, just outside Leeds, is one of the world's great garden secrets - home to Perennial, the garden charity that helps horticulturists in need.
Sleightholme Dale Lodge, North Yorkshire
Driving home today was something else. It took me nearly eight hours to drive 300 miles because the weather conditions were so appalling! The heavens opened on more than one occasion and I couldn't even see the car in front of me. But I clung to the memories of the gardens I'd seen this week and arrived home safely. As the rain continues to pour down, I hope to brighten your wet days with garden dreams.
Stillingfleet Lodge, just outside York - a  charming garden created from nothing over the last 38 years 
I ended my trip at Stillingfleet Lodge just outside York - a charming cottage garden created around Vanessa Cooke's family home. And her nursery is filled with plants that will make you understand the true meaning of envy! I wanted to buy them all and bring them home, but I restrained my urge and drove south with happy memories of the gardens I'd visited this week.
For more gardens to visit in England and France, click here

Monday, 9 July 2012

Last chance to visit Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire - Grade II listed garden "on form" again!

Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire was once home to the five infamous Mitford sisters
It's not often that you can see a beautiful garden and enjoy a sculpture exhibition at the same time (although Sculpture Al Fresco has returned to Great Fosters this year), but if you can find the time this week, do try and get to Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire. This magnificent property is open daily until 15th July and you can wander through the garden with its wonderful views over the surrounding countryside and marvel at the large collection of stone sculpture on offer there - all part of the biennial "on form" exhibition.
"on form" 2012 features 28 different artists, including work by Jonathan Loxley
Asthall Manor is probably best known for its connection with the five Mitford sisters, who were raised here by their father Lord Redesdale in the 1920s. Nancy Mitford wrote about her  home in her novel, "The Pursuit of Heaven". The property has changed hands several times since then and today Asthall has a very different reputation from the roaring 20s. The current owner has restored both house and garden to their former glory and opens the gates alternate years to show a selection of stone sculpture in June and July. 
Isabel and Julian Bannerman redesigned the gardens at Asthall Manor in 1998 and added the sloping parterre
And even though the relentless rain this year has made garden visiting difficult (the car park here carries a large sign saying "4 x 4's only"!), it's a perfect venue to view the numerous stone exhibits - displayed in the six-acre garden and adjacent Norman church and churchyard. This year sees 28 different artists exhibiting, with just as many well-known names as newcomers and there are more than 150 pieces on display.
The garden is Grade II listed and retains many original features alongside the Bannerman additions
Rosie Pearson moved here in 1997 and restored both house and garde - the latter with the help of garden designers, Isabel and Julian Bannerman, who came up with original ideas like a sloping, hillside parterre at the rear of the house and the substantial yew hedges on the next level of the garden. The hedging is particularly effective for displaying sculpture because it acts as a series of galleries, giving plenty of space to each exhibit, and allowing visitors to reflect on the pieces displayed.
The house is built of Cotswold stone and dates back to the 17th century and has wonderful views over the unspoilt Windrush valley below. The gardens here are Grade II listed so the Bannermans added their stamp to the grounds by adding new features while retaining the structure of the garden and enhancing many of the original garden concepts including the borders next to the house. With so much to see here, the entrance fee of £6.50 is well worth paying, and garden lovers will certainly enjoy the grounds. Open daily from 12.00 - 18.00.
The "on line" exhibition extends into the adjacent Norman church and churchyard
But you need to hurry if you're going to enjoy the charm of Asthall Manor, because it's only open until next weekend (15th July) and after that the doors will close again until the next summer exhibition in 2014. Close to many other great Cotswold manors including Hidcote and Snowshill if you want a day out, as well as some of the Oxford gardens.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Docwra's Manor and Crossing House - two glorious gardens near Cambridge

Docwra's Manor in Shepreth, Cambridgeshire - there are  more than two acres of gardens behind the house
Drive into the sleepy village of Shepreth, just eight miles outside Cambridge and you'll be amazed to find two astounding gardens at opposite ends of the same street. The first, Docwra's Manor, was created by well-known plantswoman, Faith Raven and her husband, John, a distinguished botanist and author of "The Botanist's Garden". The second - The Crossing House - is the work of Mr and Mrs Douglas Fuller, who started out as amateur gardeners, but often sought help from their knowledgeable neighbours down the road. 
When the Ravens arrived here in 1954, there was no garden, but there were some fine trees and together the newleyweds created the plantsman's paradise that's open to the public today. The Crossing House, at the other end of the village, is a labyrinth of intricate planting right next to the railway line, which has evolved over the years, thanks to the gardening skills of the Fullers. Both gardens are delightful, but share many similar characteristics, although on entirely different scales.
There is a labyrinth of garden rooms to the west of the manor, where rare species grow alongside hardy perennials 
Docwra's Manor has been on my Wish List for some time and I passed through on my way to Easton Walled Gardens a couple of weeks ago. It's open all year on Wednesdays and Fridays (10.00-16.00) and the first Sunday of every month from 14.00-16.00, March to November. Absolutely ablaze with colour and contour at this time of year, the garden was created by Faith and her husband around the very pretty house (top). They arrived here in 1954 when they were first married and spent the next 25 years creating the garden you see today, which is filled with interesting cultivars gathered during their forays into the Eastern Mediterranean over the years. John died in 1980, but Faith has carried on gardening here.
Mini gates keep the abundant perennials in check around the garden
Faith Raven, who's an octogenarian, divides her time between her lovely Shepreth home and Ardtornish in Argyll, Scotland where she has a very different woodland garden.The whole family are gardeners and Faith's daughter, Sarah Raven is married to Adam Nicholson of Sissinghurst, and has her own astounding garden at Perch Hill in Sussex, which I visited last year. Average rainfall is very low in this part of Cambridgeshire, so the Ravens needed to find plants that could survive with little water, and planted rarer drought-tolerant plants alongside hardy English perennials. 
It's hard to believe that there's less than three acres of garden at Docwra's manor
I met head gardener, David Aitchison, who's a painter and sculptor when not at work at Docwra's Manor and he told me that gardening is remarkably similar to the fine art disciplines, when planning and planting. It is his skills, combined with Faith Raven's that have kept charming cottage garden vibrant and alive, with its subtle colour palette and interesting plant mixes.
Every inch of the garden is crammed with cultivars and the house and outbuildings make a wonderful backdrop 
The garden here is a delight - it's interesting, charming and absorbing, with different views at every turn. Deceptively large for two and a half acres, you can spend several hours here wandering through the various parts of the garden admiring the palette and enjoying an extraordinarily large collection of plants. There are areas of lawn and hedges that break up the crowded garden compartments. But overall there's a sense of gay abandon here and every corner you turn brings some new fascinating plant into view.
The tiny 1/4 acre garden at The Crossing House - home to more than 5,000 plants
The Crossing House down the road is just as stunning. Located right next to the railway crossing, Margaret Fuller has created a plantsman's paradise within spitting distance of the passing trains. This tiny patch extends to just a quarter of an acre, but there is not an inch of ground where nothing grows. It is utterly charming. Open every day of the year, yet there is no entrance fee. I looked hard for a contribution box, but found nothing. The owners show this garden for love, not money and you'll enjoy it just as much as Docwra's Manor.
It's estimated that there are more than 5,000 plants crammed into this tiny plot, alongside little pools and an arbour in clipped yew. Topiary flourishes alongside a huge collection of alpine plants. You will be enchanted! Open daily, but make sure you park without causing an obstruction. You can walk from here to Docwra's Manor, or better still park there and walk the few hundred yards to this charming garden. Both gardens are delightful and compliment each other. 

For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here