Sunday, 31 March 2013

Happy Easter from afar and hoping for warmer weather

Hope that you all have a very Happy Easter and are enjoying your holiday break. I'm in Northern India enjoying the hills in Uttarakhand where the scenery is spectacular, even if temperatures are a little low! Back next week on the garden trail in England and hoping that there will be plenty coming into flower after the long and harsh winter.
The climate in Uttarakhand is conducive to growing all sorts of plants that we have back home and when you walk around the hill station of Mussourie, you see many charming rooftop gardens filled with potted plants - quite an unusual sight here in India. Mussoorie is known as "Queen of the Hills" and gets its name from Mansur (cororiana nepalensis), a herb grown extensively in the Himalayan foothills. The town is perched on a 10-mile horseshoe-shaped ridge and the views to the the mountains above and the valley below are impressive.
The ascent to Mussourie (above) is certainly memorable, as it is a 35-kilometre run, marked by hair-pin bends and some brilliant views (even if some of the valley below are a little close for comfort). But the route can be a little daunting, because the higher you climb, the narrower the roads become and there are times when traffic comes to a complete halt (below) because there isn't room for two cars.
A further four kilometres uphill from central Mussourie is the lovely hamlet of Landour, with its magnificent views of the Himalayas beyond (below). There is only one tiny hotel here, and elsewhere in the hamlet, accommodation is in private houses. Definitely a place to be if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of India. Happy holidays to all and more from gardens back home next week.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Galloping Gardener Walks © Gardens to visit in Kent this Easter

Colourful tulip displays in the Italian Garden at Hever in April
School holidays are about to start in Britain, and parents everywhere must be wondering how they're going to fill the time with kids at home in the next two weeks, so today's Galloping Gardener Walks © features three great gardens in Kent where there's interest for all the family at this time of year, starting with Hever Castle and its 125 acres of history and child-friendly grounds.
Hever, the moated castle, which dates in part to the 13th century
One-time home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, this is a fabulous moated castle, which dates in part to the 13th century. But it was William Waldorf Astor who made the gardens what they are today when he purchased the property 100 years ago. He imported all the statues from abroad,   created the artificial lake and laid the fabulous Italian garden that is one of the highlights of a visit to Hever. There's also a giant topiary chess set and a water maze that children love, plus plenty of space to run around in or enjoy a picnic.
Enjoy the tulip displays at Groombridge Place
Groombridge Place is another great garden for kids, with its Enchanted Forest and roaming peacocks who put up great displays. This is another moated property dating back to the 17th century (house not open to the public), and acres of grounds that are particularly glorious at this time of year. Not to be missed are the "Drunken" juniper trees, giant chess board and, later in the year, the white rose garden.
Wonderful flower displays throughout the summer months at Groombridge
April sees thousands of spring bulbs, while May brings on the azaleas and rhododendrons. In the Secret Garden you'll find cherry blossom and laburnum, while bluebells bring the Enchanted Forest alive. Groombridge Place is glorious throughout the summer months, but often gets missed by garden lovers who are determined to visit better known properties. So do consider this as another one for your Wish List because, you certainly won't be disappointed!
Penshurst - a castellated house - where Henry VIII was a regular visitor when courting Anne Boleyn
And just around the corner you've got Penshurst Place, where Henry VIII used to stay when he was courting Anne Boleyn. Yet another moated property with a large garden, plenty of space for the kids to run around and spectacular tulip displays at this time of year. At the heart of the gardens there is a castellated, medieval house (above).
Glorious throughout the summer months, but particularly lovely when the spring bulbs are in bloom in April, you'll find plenty to occupy the kids here in the 48 acres of grounds. The peonies appear in late May and are followed by spectacular herbaceous borders in June. Reputed to be one of the oldest gardens in Britain, with records dating back to the 14th century, this garden was completely restored in the 1970s. Definitely another property to put on your Wish List!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

East Ruston Old Vicarage - skilful planting to beat the elements

Giles Raynor fountain at the heart of the Exotic garden at East Ruston
When you arrive at East Ruston Old Vicarage, it's hard to believe that it's only been here for a little over 30 years, so skilful is the landscaping and planting. Alan Gray and Graham Robeson purchased the near derelict Arts & Crafts vicarage in 1973 and set about recreating a garden from a rugged landscape that has become much loved by visitors from all over the world. It is less than two miles from the North Sea coast of Norfolk and part of its charm is the carefully crafted views through hedges towards the Happisburgh lighthouse and two ancient churches. 
King's Walk, viewed from the Arts & Crafts manor house
Each different garden area here is carefully planned, landscaped and enriched to replicate different growing conditions and planted for maximum effect. Gray and Robeson take great pride in the fact that they've designed each garden room themselves and used no outside help. But they had the foresight to plant large shelter belts of hedging when they first arrived here, which not only protects the plants from adverse coastal weather, but also enhances the garden's microclimate, thus enabling them to grow a unique range of plants.      
The Tree Fern garden, seen here in September
Some of the more unusual features include a Tree Fern garden; Exotic and Mediterranean gardens, so crammed with unusual plants that they are truly reminiscent of botanical gardens in the appropriate climates; and the Desert Wash, which houses an impressive collection of cacti, aloes and agaves. But those in search of English garden favourites need not worry because there are also roses, vegetables and cutting flowers, long borders, glasshouses and a wildflower meadow.
There's little doubt that you'd need to visit every month to truly appreciate this garden, which offers interest throughout the seasons. I have met many people who sing its praises and although I only managed to visit for the first time last September,  it looked immaculate then, with the autumn hues beginning to creep in and the soft light that signals the end of summer. I can imagine how spectacular it must look at other times of year - particularly when the wildflower meadow is at its peak, or when the Desert Garden is in flower, with its range of sunshine hues. 
Entrance court and Postman's Gate at The Old Vicarage
East Ruston Old Vicarage opens at the end of March and remains open until the end of October, but only in the afternoons (14.00-17.30) Wednesday through Sunday. Manicured it certainly is, and definitely "designed" to create a lasting impression, but there is little doubt that these two skilled gardeners have transformed their 32 acres into a landscape that remains etched on the memories of those who visit. Other properties nearby include Will Giles' Exotic Garden in Norwich, which also features many rare and unusual plants. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Buscot Park - a house and garden filled with surprises- home to Harold Peto's best British water garden

Buscot Park is home to Harold Peto's water garden, added at the turn of the 20th century
Buscot Park has some unusual surprises in store for the visitor, including one of the finest water gardens in Britain, created by Harold Peto when the first Lord Faringdon acquired the property. The house is still administered by the Faringdon family on behalf of the National Trust and houses one of the most impressive private art collections in England. But it's the 62 acres of parkland and pleasure gardens that will interest garden lovers because this is a real hidden gem in Oxfordshire.
Ponds and pools draw you down through Peto's water garden to the lake at Buscot Park
Harold Peto was employed to design the water garden here at the turn of the 20th century, and has left the nation with a legacy typical of his Italianate style. It's discreetly hidden at the rear of the house and is a really artful design, which draws your eye down a stone-edged canal, opening into a series of pools adorned with sculptures and bridges and dressed at the edges with stark and immaculately clipped hedging. But its real function was to link the house to the lake, regarded as a vital part of any 18th-century landscape garden.
The neo-Classical mansion at Buscot Park is still home to the Faringdon family
Stand at the top and your eye is drawn down the sloping canal to a pavilion on the far shore of the lake below, while the lowest point at the edge of the lake affords a view of the fine stonework and the impressive steps leading to the neo-Classical mansion. The Faringdon art collection contained within includes masterpieces by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Rembrandt, Rubens, Rosetti and Gainsborough, but the garden is a masterpiece in its own right.
The former kitchen garden at Buscot Park has been transformed into an ornamental garden
To the west of the house is a very different landscape, in what used to be the kitchen garden, but skilfully re-designed to provide colour and interest throughout the seasons. It's now known as the Four Seasons walled garden because it has been transformed into an ornamental garden divided into four quadrants, with an ornamental lily pond at the centre. Pleached hop hornbeams have been planted along the long east-west axis of the garden and a David Harber faux waterfall added to give an impression of scale.  
Replica Chinese terracotta warriors in the grounds at Buscot Park
Elsewhere in the park, notable features include the pleasure gardens adjacent to Peto's waterscape, and an army of life sized Chinese terracotta warriors (above) - 17 in all - exact replicas of those found at Lintong, Xi'an in China, which come as quite a surprise when you first encounter them.  Buscot Park opens at the end of March (check opening times here, as house and garden are not necessarily open together). Admission is £8.00 for adults inside and out, £5.00 for gardens only, but free for National Trust members.
Although Buscot Park is in Oxfordshire, it's geographically really close to neighbouring Gloucestershire. Other notable gardens in the area include Rodmarton Manor - one of the finest Arts & Crafts gardens in the country - and for William Morris fans - Kelmscott Manor, which is literally just down the road, is a must see.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Orchid Extravaganza extended for Mother's Day at Kew Gardens

The wonderful Orchid Exhibition in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at London's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has been extended until the end of this weekend, giving Mothers all over the country a chance to catch the really eye-catching arrangements on offer this year. Well worth getting to if you can! Standard admission prices apply.
And for gardens where Mum goes free this Sunday, scroll down to see more ideas!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Mother's Day Treats - UK gardens where Mum goes free this weekend

Scotney Castle in Kent is offering free entry for Mothering Sunday
If you fancy giving Mum a treat this Sunday on Mother's Day, there are many gardens around the UK that are offering free entry, providing Mum's accompanied by other members of the family, ranging from Bristol Zoo, which will delight all the family to some of the great landscapes  including Painshill Park, plus several castles and country houses and some great spring gardens just beginning to come into flower.
Head to Clivedon for long walks this weekend
Castles on offer include Scotney Castle in Kent, the romantic, ruined, moated property, which sits in the middle of 26-acres waiting to burst into flower at this time of year and Ripley Castle in Yorkshire, a 'Capability Brown' landscape comprising four acres of formal gardens and a further eight of pleasure grounds. And if you're looking for somewhere closer to London, Clivedon in Buckinghamshire (above) is opening its doors to Mum for free - you can take a stroll in the grounds or enjoy the water garden there.
Painshill Park is easily accessible from London - Mums go free on March 10th
The Savill Garden is beginning to bloom after the long winter and this is another great location accessible from London - too early, sadly, for the dazzling rhododendron displays, but with wonderful walks. Equally convenient for the capital are Painshill Park (above) near Guildford, the Claremont Landscape and Ham House. Mum goes free this Sunday at all these locations when accompanied by other family members.
Head for the giant glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales
For large open gardens, head for the National Botanic Garden of Wales, where there's always something in bloom in the giant glasshouse (above), whatever the weather outside, or to Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire, another 'Capability' landscape, which has been completely revamped in recent years, Ness Botanic Gardens in Cheshire, with one of the best rhododendron collections in the north-west  or Barnsdale Gardens in Rutland, with its wonderful show gardens immortalised on Gardeners' World.
Just one of many gardens at Barnsdale in Rutland, immortalised by Geoff Hamilton on Gardeners' World
If you know of more UK garden venues offering free admission to mothers this Sunday, please let me know - you can contact me here or on Twitter.  And if all else fails and it rains, you can always stay home and buy Mum some flowers. There are daffodils for sale everywhere and nothing makes the kitchen table look brighter than glorious yellow blooms! And although it's not free for mothers, Kew Gardens has extended its Orchid Extravaganza which makes a memorable day out. 

Monday, 4 March 2013

Heale House - one of Wiltshire's secrets - a garden for all seasons

Heale House has had a Japanese garden since the beginning of the 20th century
It's not often you find a garden famous for snowdrops and spring flowers that also boasts a Japanese garden and Harold Peto features, but Heale House near Salisbury has all this and more. I've visited on several occasions throughout the seasons, but it won my heart when I went in search of snowdrops in February, with its perfect waterside location on a tributary of the River Avon. Although wet underground after all the rain, the owners had the foresight to erect boardwalks, which added a certain panache to viewing the bobbing white heads on a chilly, but bracing walk through the grounds.
View of Heale House, acquired by the present family at the end of the 19th century
This is just the beginning of the open season for this garden - next come the swathes of daffodils and tulips which herald the arrival of warmer weather, and in summer the garden is filled with colour and is noted for its musk roses. But it has not always been such a harmonious story here because the handsome 17th century house had a turbulent history in the 19th century, with several changes of ownership and a fire that destroyed much of the building. But stability was restored when Louis Greville bought the property in 1894 and since then Heale has been occupied by successive generations of the same family, who have all nurtured the garden.
Part of Harold Peto's garden design at Heale House - the Knaps terrace
It was the Hon Louis Greville who first realised the potential of this riverside plot. He had lived and worked in Tokyo and installed the Japanese garden, complete with its replica Nikko bridge and tea house at the beginning of the 20th century. He also employed Harold Peto, who lived at Iford Manor, to redesign the garden areas near the house. Not all Peto's plans were used, but his hallmarks are obvious in the Italianate terrace overlooking the river at the Eastern edge of the property and the formal garden adjacent to the house. 
The open pergola at the lower side of the tunnel garden in mid summer
When the Rasch family arrived at Heale, Lady Anne - who gardened here for 40 years - put her stamp on the grounds by adding the Tunnel garden with its long pergola and the apple tree tunnels leading to the immaculately trimmed box balls and dipping pond. It's this well-designed kitchen garden, south of the house, that takes centre stage in the summer months.
Enclosed on three sides by walls of brick and cob, the remaining side features the open pergola, which bursts into bloom in May with spectacular yellow laburnum and purple wisteria displays, followed by clematis in the later summer months. There's a wide tunnel of espaliered fruit trees at the centre, producing apples and pears and the productive kitchen garden is divided into four quarters, with with the dipping pond (left) at the centre. 
Three of the four sections provide fruit and vegetables for the house. The fruit tunnels are underplanted with cool colours and look really spectacular when the tulips are in flower. But careful planning ensures that there's also plenty of colour and interest throughout the summer months.
Today the garden at Heale is masterminded by Frances Rasch, who married Guy Rasch in 1996 and has worked hard ever since maintaining and nurturing the eight acres that her mother-in-law put so much heart into with the help of two gardeners. She's carrying on a long family gardening tradition here at the property and each year the garden improves further, as she replaces old plants, introduces new colour schemes and puts her own stamp on the landscape.
The garden at Heale House retains interest and colour throughout the seasons
Heale House opens its doors in February for the snowdrops and remains open until the end of September. Open Wednesday-Saturday, 10.00-17.00 and Sundays from eleven until four. Free admission to members of Historic Houses Association. There is a well-stocked nursery and cafe. Other gardens nearby include Houghton Lodge, just a stone's throw away and also spectacular in springtime and Mottisfont Abbey, famous for its roses.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Catch Welford Park snowdrops and orchids at Kew this weekend if you can!

Snowdrops at Welford Park in Berkshire .... as far as the eye can see
It's your last chance to catch two spectacular garden sights at the weekend before they close - the snowdrops at Welford Park in Berkshire (above) - where the bobbing white heads spread as far as you can see, and the orchids at Kew Gardens (below), with thousands of orchids displayed in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Opening times at Welford Park are 11.00-16.00, while Kew opens its doors at 9.30 each day. Both are guaranteed to lift your spirits and shake off the winter blues.