Sunday, 25 November 2012

Lasting Garden Gift ideas for Christmas. Eat your heart out visiting gardens in 2013!

Annual membership of the National Trust, Royal Horticultural Society and Historic Houses Association gives
you free entry to some of the greatest properties and gardens in Britain (Hever Castle above is part of the HHA)
It's just 30 days until Christmas and if you're racking your brains about gifts for gardeners, I've put together a collection of ideas here that will bring happiness to those green fingered members of the family for a whole year - guaranteed to inspire them and get them out and about in the UK. And there's even some ideas for overseas visitors planning to make a pilgrimage to Britain in 2013 to see our glorious gardens. I hope some of these ideas will inspire readers - I know that I'd be delighted to receive any of these gifts for Christmas!
Nymans in West Sussex is one of the National Trust's most visited gardens in the southeast
Garden visiting doesn't come cheap any more and one of the most economical ways of getting to see a really good sample of our wonderful gardens is to join one of our big organisations for an annual fee - you need only visit five or six gardens in a year and the annual fee has already paid for itself and if, like me, you spend a major part of your life visiting gardens around the country, these memberships are invaluable! All subscriptions are available on line, and I've included links to each of the featured organisations.  
Sheffield Park is one of the most visited National Trust gardens in England, famous for its autumn colours
The National Trust has a particularly impressive portfolio of gardens all over the country, and owns some of the most visited garden properties in England including Hidcote Manor, Mottisfont Abbey, Nymans, Sheffield Park and Sissinghurst  in the southeast. Elsewhere you've got Drogo, Scotney and Sizergh, if it's castles you like, and some of the finest country houses nationwide. Many of the gardens remain open throughout the year and are great for winter garden walks.
Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire is one of the most visited NT gardens in Britain
Annual membership of the National Trust is just £39.75 (direct debit) which represents remarkable value when you consider that a single visit to Hidcote is £9.05 while entry to Sissinghurst costs £10.40. Of particular interest to foreign visitors will be the Touring Pass, priced at just £23 for seven days and £28 for 14 days (2012 prices), which gives unlimited entry to all properties for the duration of the pass. Further details are available here.
RHS Wisley - flagship of the Royal Horticultural Society is renowned for its orchid displays in winter
A subscription to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is another worthwhile Christmas gift, because £38.25 (payment by direct debit) or £51 for a gift subscription, gives you unlimited access to its four gardens nationwide plus a family guest - Wisley near London, Hyde Hall in Essex, Rosemoor in Devon and Harlow Carr in Yorkshire - plus its monthly magazine "The Garden", which is filled with useful information about plants, gardens to visit and much, much more. Members also receive an annual directory of all partner gardens, with visiting information.
All the RHS gardens are open throughout the year - there is always something on show, regardless of season
Other benefits of membership include free entry to some 80 partner gardens around the country throughout the year and a further 60 partner properties at certain times of the year, plus the chance to go to what is possibly considered as one of the world's great garden shows - RHS Chelsea - where savings of up to 25% are available to members on tickets. Other notable shows include Hampton Court and Tatton Park.
Houghton Lodge in Hampshire is an HHA member - spectacular in springtime when the bulbs start flowering
And don't forget the Historic Houses Association - another organisation that has some fine garden properties nationwide. Membership is just £41.50 for a single person and £67 for a double membership and covers entry to both houses and gardens. Also available to overseas visitors at the same rates. Property members of the HHA are extremely diverse and include many properties where the owning families are still in residence, so their gardens are often more personal than gardens operated by the National Trust. 
Great Dixter, former home of garden guru, Christopher Lloyd is free to HHA members
Properties are spread nationwide and include many unique gardens including Great Dixter, former home of gardening guru Christopher Lloyd, Gresgarth Hall, home of famous garden designer, Arabella Lennox-Boyd, Iford Manor, former home of Harold Peto and some of the best castles in Britain including Hever in Kent (top) as well as a selection of abbeys, ancient manor houses and major garden members including West Dean. All are free to members and the HHA has a guide to all properties which is sent out annually with membership cards. 
The winter garden at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire is one of the best in Europe
I live in the south and belong to many gardens that have properties within a 100-mile radius of my home, so another particularly worthwhile membership for anyone on the south coast is the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, because annual membership of just £29.95 covers not just the spectacular gardens at Romsey, but also gives free entry to London's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the Birmingham Botanic Gardens, the National Botanic Garden of Wales and Wakehurst Place - with Kew priced at £16 a visit for non members, you can't really get much better value than this. Happy Christmas shopping to all!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Best British Gardens - A Directory

The following is a list of gardens in the UK and Europe that I've visited personally since I started this blog in 2009. It's growing all the time as I continue to visit more gardens. The list is by no means exhaustive and I've visited many gardens that are not included - why? If a garden doesn't make the grade for me, I don't write about it! But that's not to say it won't appeal to other garden visitors.

Thank you for all your visits so far and I hope you'll continue to drop in as my list of gardens grows. Click on the link and it will take you to the garden review. If you're looking for places to stay when visiting gardens, click on the pages link under the header. Happy garden visiting!
Arley Hall, Cheshire

Abbey House, Wiltshire
Alfriston Clergy House, East Sussex
Apple Court, Hampshire
Arley Hall, Cheshire
Arundel Castle Gardens, West Sussex
Ascott, Buckinghamshire
Asthall Manor, Oxon
Athelhampton House, Dorset
Barnsley House - Rosemary Verey's former home and garden

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden
Barnsley House, Gloucestershire
Barrington Court, Somerset
Bateman's, East Sussex
Bekonscot Model Village
Beth Chatto Gardens, Essex
Bonython Garden, Cornwall
Borde Hill, West Sussex
Bourton House, Gloucestershire
Bowood, Wiltshire
Bramdean House, Hampshire
*Open for NGS and by appt                             
Brandy Mount House, Hampshire
*Open for NGS and by appt 
Bressingham Gardens, Norfolk                   
Brook Cottage, Oxon
Brook Farm, Worcestershire
Broughton Grange, Oxon
*Open for NGS and by appt
Bury Court, Hampshire
Buscot Park, Oxon
Chiffchaffs, Dorset
Caerhays Castle, Cornwall
Castle Drogo, Devon
Carwinion, Cornwall
Cerney House, Gloucestershire
Charts Edge, Kent
Chartwell, Kent
Charleston, East Sussex
Chelsea Physic Garden, London
Chenies Manor House, Buckinghamshire
Cherkley Court, Surrey
**Check website for details
Chiffchaffs, Dorset
Claydon House, Buckinghamshire
Cliveden, Buckinghamshire
Coleton Fishacre, Devon
Colesbourne Park, Gloucestershire
Cothay Manor, Somerset
Coton Manor, Northamptonshire
Coughton Court, Warwickshire
Cranborne Manor, Dorset
Crossing House, Cambridgeshire
Denmans - John Brookes' garden near Chichester
Denmans Garden, West Sussex
Docton Mill, Devon
Docwra's Manor, Cambridgeshire
Doddington Place, Kent
Dorothy Clive Garden, Staffordshire
Driftwood, East Sussex
Dunsborough Park, Surrey
East Ruston Vicarage, Norfolk
East Lambrook Manor, Somerset
East Ruston Old Vicarage, Norfolk
Easton Walled Gardens, Lincolnshire
Ecclesden Manor, West Sussex
Eden Project, Cornwall
Englefield House, Berkshire
Exotic Garden, Norfolk
Exbury, Hampshire
Forde Abbey, Dorset - an ancient priory garden
Forde Abbey, Dorset
Bluebells at Riverhill House, Kent
Furzey Gardens, Hampshire

Gibberd Garden, Essex
Gilbert White's House, Hampshire
Gipsy House, Buckinghamshire
(Roald Dahl's garden - open for NGS)
Glen Chantry, Essex                                                
** Check website for details
Glendurgan, Cornwall
Godinton House, Kent
Godolphin, Cornwall
Goodnestone Park, Kent

Gravetye Manor, West Sussex
Great Comp, Kent
Great Dixter, East Sussex
Great Fosters, Surrey
Marks Hall, Essex
Green Island Gardens, Essex
Gresgarth Hall, Lancashire
Greys Court, Oxon
Groombridge Place, Kent

Hampton Court, Herefordshire
Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden, Surrey
Heale House Garden, Wiltshire
Helmingham Hall, Suffolk
Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex
Hergest Croft, Herefordshire
Hestercombe Gardens, Somerset
Hidcote Manor, Gloucestershire
High Beeches, West Sussex
Highdown Gardens, West Sussex
Hole Park, Kent
Ventnor Botanic Garden, Isle of Wight
Holker Hall, Cumbria
Holt Farm Organic Garden, Somerset
Hospital of St Cross, Hampshire
Houghton Hall, Norfolk
Houghton Lodge, Wiltshire
How Caple Court, Herefordshire

Kelmscott Manor, Gloucestershire (William
Morris' country home)
Kew (Royal Botanical) Gardens, London
Kiftsgate Court, Gloucestershire
King John's Lodge, East Sussex
Knole Park, Kent

Lake House, Hampshire                              
Leonardslee Gardens, West Sussex
**Sold 2010
Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire
Levens Hall, Cumbria
Little Malvern Court, Worcestershire
Lamorran House, Cornwall
Little Wantley, West Sussex
*NGS and by appointment
London Wetland Centre
Longstock Park, Wiltshire
*Limited opening - check website
Loseley Park, Surrey
Lowther Castle, Cumbria
Lullingstone Castle, Kent                                
*See The World Garden (below)
Lytes Cary Manor, Somerset

Manor House, Upton Grey, Hants
Mapperton House, Dorset
Marks Hall Arboretum, Essex
Michelham Priory, East Sussex
Mill Dene, Gloucestershire
Misarden Park, Gloucestershire
Monks House, East Sussex
Moors Meadow, Herefordshire
Mottistone Manor, Isle of Wight
Pashley Manor, East Sussex
Parham House, West Sussex
Pensthorpe, Norfolk
**Piet Oudolf's Millenium Garden
Polesden Lacey, Surrey
Prospect Cottage, Kent

Ramster, Surrey
Restoration House, Kent
Riverhill House, Kent
Rodmarton Manor, Gloucestershire
Roof Gardens, London
Rousham House, Oxon

Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire
Spencers, Essex
Spinners Garden, Hampshire
St Mary's House and Garden, West Sussex
Stoneacre, Kent
Torosay Castle on the island of Mull, Scotland
Stone House Cottage, Worcestershire
Stone House, Gloucestershire                
*Open by appt - check website
Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire
Sussex Prairies, West Sussex
Swiss Garden, Bedfordshire

The Courts, Wiltshire
The Laskett, Herefordshire
The Salutation, Kent
Tintinhull, Somerset
Titsey Place, Surrey
Toddington Manor, Bedfordshire
Town Place, West Sussex (NGS)
Trebah, Cornwall
Tremenheere, Cornwall
Trengwainton, Cornwall
Tylney Hall, Hampshire

Upton Wold, Gloucestershire

Vann, Surrey
Ventnor Botanic Garden, Isle of Wight
West Green House, Hampshire

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire
Wakehurst Place, West Sussex

Woolbeding Gardens, West Sussex
Wyken Hall, Suffolk

York Gate, Leeds, Yorkshire

Garden of Cosmic Speculation
*Only open one day a year 
Little Sparta, Scotland
Torosay Castle 
*Sold in 2012 - check web for openings

Le Bois des Moutiers, Normandy, France

Ambrass Schlosspark, Austria
Chateau du Champ de Bataille, Normandy, France
Chateau le Boutemont, Normandy, France
Chateau Marqueyssac, Dordogne, France
Gourdon, France
Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam, Holland
Jardines de Alfabia, Mallorca, Spain
Le Bois des Moutiers, Normandy, France
Le Manoir d'Eryignac, Dordogne, France
Les Jardins Agapanthe, Normandy, France
Les Jardins de Sericourt, Picardy, France
Serre de la Madone, Menton, France
Villandry, Indre-et-Loire, France
Swarovski Crystal Garden, Austria 
Val Rahmeh, Menton, France
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat, 
Villandry, Indre-et-Loire, France

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Fantastic hues at Kew - on a foggy November morning

Few words today, as I shall let the pictures tell the story from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. There was plenty to see, even on a foggy November morning last week. The leaves are still rich in colour and there's a David Nash sculpture exhibition that runs through until April 2013. And then there's the glass houses - where you'll always find something on display. Open daily throughout the year (except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) from 9.30. Winter closing is at 16.15, with last entry 30 minutes earlier. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Walk with wildfowl at the London Wetland Centre - a November treat!

Statue of Sir Peter Scott at the entrance to the London Wetland Centre
Today was one of those beautiful, clear and chilly November days, so what better place to explore this afternoon than the London Wetland Centre in Barnes? This is one of nine English sites managed by The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), originally founded in 1946 by Sir Peter Scott. The site is an extraordinary achievement - 42 hectares of of wetlands - located in south-west London and home to both resident and visiting birds throughout the year. It's a wonderful place to walk on a sunny day and a fascinating place to take the children, because you can get close enough to the winged residents to really enjoy them.
View from the Observatory over the main lake at the London Wetland Centre
You couldn't get much better viewing conditions than today - clear blue skies, reflected in the huge blue water pools that make up the wetland setting, with fine views over the capital. But you wouldn't know you were so close to the city centre, because all you can hear are the calls of the birds and the odd metal wings beating their way towards Heathrow Airport. The site was formerly owned by Thames Water who used the former reservoirs to supply drinking water to the local community, but an ambitious project involving Thames, the WWT and a property developer, ensured that the site was secured as a Wetland centre for both man and nature to share and enjoy.
The Wetland Centre was opened in May 2000 - it comprises 42 acres of wetland setting just a few miles from central London
Work began on the site in 1995, just a few years after Sir Peter Scott had died. The reservoirs were transformed into lakes, pools and marshes, reed beds and wet fen meadows, each connected by sluice gates, but providing a constantly flowing water supply. By 1997 the landscaping and engineering work was completed and planting begun - in the next few years more than 300,000 aquatic plants, 25,000 trees and hundreds of rare native bulbs including fritillaries and marsh orchids were planted. And today, the site is unique not just for its wildfowl and visiting birds, but also its plant life. It was officially opened by Sir David Attenborough in May 2000.
More than 25,000 trees were planted on the site between 1995 and 2000 and 300,000 aquatic plants
Bird lovers come here for the wildfowl - both resident and migrant - and the Centre has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of the huge numbers of shoveler and gadwall duck that spend the winter here. There were certainly many bobbing tails when I visited today. But elsewhere there is plenty of interest for garden lovers too, as the trees begin to mature and the plants provide year-round interest. There is also a sustainable gardens exhibit featuring three separate designs, all exploring the concept of sustainability, including the Slate one below.
The Slate Garden is one of the sustainable gardens on show at The Wetlands Centre
The London Wetland Centre is open daily throughout the year (except on Christmas Day) from 09.30-18.00 in the summer months (April- October) and from 09.30-17.00 in the winter (November-March). Admission is £9.99 for adults and £5.55 for children, aged 4-16 (under four's go free). Annual membership of the WWT is £37.00 which gives free admission to all nine centres nationwide - well worth considering if you're an avid bird watcher! 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Galloping Gardener © recommends Great British Gardens in Essex

The Beth Chatto Gardens remain open throughout the year
Essex has more than its fair share of wonderful gardens and arboretums and although few of us think of this arid county as being a garden destination, it is home to some of the most popular and unusual plots in Britain. Beth Chatto, plantswoman extraordinaire settled outside Colchester and created a garden from nothing; Sir Frederick Gibberd chose Harlow as his home and filled his garden with unusual statuary and sculpture; while Hugh Johnson, noted tree (and wine) expert has made a garden nearer to the Suffolk border. 
Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden has become a source of inspiration for gardeners in a changing climate
At the Beth Chatto Gardens near Colchester, the world-famous plantswoman has created a seven-acre horticultural oasis from a neglected hollow in the middle of nowhere over the last half century. Beth Chatto is renowned both for her plant philosophy and her best-selling books dedicated to either shade-loving or drought-tolerant plants. This garden is a delight and draws visitors from all over the world. The Gravel Garden (above) is a relatively new addition to the property, and is devoted to drought-tolerant plants. It's an inspiration to gardeners seeking new ideas to deal with climate change. There's also an excellent nursery. Open throughout the year, opening at 9.00 Monday-Saturday and 10.00 on Sundays.
Green Island is a striking triangular plot, offering stunning garden "rooms" and a woodland paradise 
If you're in this neck of the woods, you can't miss Green Island - another plantsman's paradise created by Fiona Edmond at nearby Ardleigh - and open daily (except Monday and Saturday) from February for the snowdrops, right through to the end of November. This is a 20-acre triangular garden, with a series of "rooms" close to the house and woodland borders further afield. Planting is designed for year-round interest and work is ongoing in the woodland areas. Themes for the smaller gardens include Japanese, seaside and dry garden planting schemes. Quite different from other gardens you'll see and a terrific venue for children because there's so much space for them to run around in. 
RHS Hyde Hall remains open throughout the year and is an inspiration to amateur gardeners
Hyde Hall is the RHS garden of the East and is well worth visiting if you're in the vicinity of Chelmsford. One of four Royal Horticultural Society gardens nationwide, this is designed and planted with the amateur gardener in mind, providing inspiration for planting schemes throughout the seasons. The land here was bequeathed to the Society by private donors as recently as 1993 and although there was already a flourishing garden here, much has been done to improve the planting and provide year-round interest for visitors. As with the two previous Essex gardens, there is an interesting Dry Garden, which actively demonstrates how carefully chosen plants can thrive in this arid part of the country. Open daily throughout the year.
Marks Hall is an arboretum with a wonderfully renovated 18th century walled garden
Marks Hall is more arboretum than garden, but has an amazing new walled garden, which opened to the public in 2003. With more than 200 acres here and the trees planted on a geographical basis, representing the world's temperate zones, there is plenty to see throughout the year. A fantastic place to walk, although only open Friday to Sunday during midwinter. It's the newly-designed walled garden that really draws visitors during the summer months - the 18th century brick walls have been retained on three sides and the fourth side opens onto the lake, but this creates a micro-climate and exotic plants flourish here.  
Hugh Johnson has created a Sylvan landscape at Saling Hall in Essex
Heading north towards the Suffolk border, world-renowned wine critic Hugh Johnson has created a Sylvan landscape at Saling Hall. But wine is not his only area of expertise and Johnson is also a tree lover, who has spent the last 35 years creating an unusual garden that opens throughout the high-season summer months for the NGS. You'll find many rare trees and shrubs here and it's a joy to wander throughout the 12 acres, sit by one of the many ponds or pretend you're back in ancient Greece in the mini temple of Pisces. 
You'll find ancient architectural artefacts alongside modern sculpture at The Gibberd Garden
Hugh Johnson also played an active part in saving The Gibberd Garden, created by the architect and master planner who was responsible for putting nearby Harlow on the map in post-war Britain. This is an extraordinary garden, well worth visiting, not just for the spectacles you see - with more than 80 pieces on display - modern sculptures alongside ancient architectural effects, including four urns from Coutts Bank (above). This rolling landscape is like a stage set, filled with terraces and patios, and an impressive lime avenue. Make the effort to get here - you won't be disappointed. Open from April to September at weekends and on Wednesdays.