Thursday, 30 May 2013

Dalliance with Dorset - Gourmet garden at Cranborne Manor

First view of Cranborne Manor from the wildflower meadow
When you're lucky enough to step through the garden gate at Cranborne Manor in Dorset, you'll realise you're somewhere special. First glimpse of the ancient house is across a flower-filled meadow where you encounter 'Druid' (below), a life-sized bronze bull by Nicola Toms, who gazes over summer displays of cowslips, ox-eye daisies and orchids. And this is just one of many delights in a garden that was originally laid out by John Tradescant (the Elder) in the 17th century. 
Druid, a life-sized bronze bull is one of several sculptures in the grounds of Cranborne Manor
In medieval times the manor of Cranborne and all hunting grounds associated with neighbouring Cranborne Chase belonged to the Crown and it was King John - a passionate hunter - who first built a hunting lodge on the site. This was rebuilt by Robert Cecil (who later became the Earl of Salisbury) at the beginning of the 17th century, and he engaged Tradescant to help with the layout of the garden and the planting of trees. But little remains of his original plans, save for the area known as The Mount to the west of the house and the Bowling Allee stretching the length of the croquet lawn.
The Jacobean gatehouses open onto the circular South Front courtyard
If you're lucky, you'll be able to access the gardens through the huge gates of the Jacobean gatehouses, flanked by two elephants (above), which open onto the circular South Front courtyard, with an Angela Connor water sculpture at its centre. This is where you'll see spectacular displays of climbing and shrub roses in the summer months, but don't be surprised if the courtyard is closed, as it often is during the season. You will still be able to access all other parts of the garden.
The sundial on top of the mount -  part of John Tradescant's original garden to the west of the manor
Although little remains of Tradescant's original garden, much of what you see today at Cranborne Manor is the work of Viscountess Cranborne, who came to live here in 1954. The garden has evolved into a series of garden rooms in the last 60 years and is an interesting mix of formal and informal areas that include white, green and herb gardens, an orchard with naturalised tulips, a chalk walk with double herbaceous borders and a delightful church walk, which has colour and structure throughout the seasons. 
 Church Walk to the East of the Manor has colour and structure throughout the seasons
Cranborne Manor has so many different aspects that you could be forgiven for thinking you're wondering around a French chateau garden. Each view of the Grade II listed house is different and it can look large and imposing or small and sedate, depending on where you are in the garden. But it is the endless attention to detail that will captivate you if you take the time to look - small statues hidden in hedges and larger pieces of sculpture like Elizabeth Frink's 'In Memoriam' head (below).
Elizabeth Frink's 'In Memoriam' head presides over the manor garden
Cranborne Manor is only open one day a week and some areas of the garden (South Front courtyard) can be closed to the public. This garden is not just about herbaceous borders, but rather vistas across wildflower meadows and the rolling Dorset countryside beyond. Open Wednesday 9.00-17.00. (last entry 16.00), 1st March - 30 September. Admission £6.00 for adults and £1.00 for children. Free for individual RHS members on presentation of membership card.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Gardens to come ...

Cranborne Manor, Dorset
Chiff Chaffs, Dorset
Wilton House near Salisbury
Denmans Garden near Chichester

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Brilliant blooms at Bowood House in Wiltshire - A Capability Brown landscape at its best

Glimpses of rolling countryside seen from the woodland garden at Bowood House in Wiltshire
For spectacular views of a truly English landscape, punctuated with some of the finest rhododendron displays in the country, head for Bowood House in Wiltshire as quick as you can and enjoy a blaze of colour in the 60-acre woodland garden currently in full bloom. An unusually cold winter combined with the late arrival of spring and temperatures still failing to make the norm for May means that this year's crop of rhododendrons are more spectacular than ever.
Part of the charm of the rhododendron walks is the great swathes of bluebells at this time of year
Bowood is one of several English country houses where Lancelot 'Capability' Brown was employed as the landscape architect and Robert Adam was involved in the design of part of the house and interiors. The mausoleum at the heart of the woodland garden is regarded as one of Adams' finest early classical-style buildings. It is this area of the estate that opens separately from the main house and garden in May and June for the rhododendron walks. Opening times are 11.00-18.00 and entrance is £6.50 for adults (children aged 12 and under free).
The grounds at Bowood House are one of Capability Brown's best-known English landscapes
But there's more to Bowood than the spring rhododendron walks and during the summer visitors come to see inside the house, which is open to the public and to enjoy 100 acres of pleasure grounds, set in the heart of a 2,000-acre estate with fine views over the surrounding countryside. Capability Brown's handiwork is evident in the sweeping landscape that drops away from the house to a large lake at the bottom of the hill. Few would imagine that prior to his involvement in the middle of the 18th century, there was little more than a stream at the bottom of the valley.
The present Marquis added the herbaceous border on the eastern side of the house
Bowood has seen both prosperity and poverty during the three centuries that the various Marquises of Lansdowne have lived here. The original house was purchased by the 1st Earl of Shelburne in 1754. He was succeeded by his son, the 2nd Earl (also the 1st Marquis), but it was the 3rd Marquis who made improvements to the property and added the upper and lower Italianate terraces overlooking the Capability Brown landscape on the south side of the house. 
The Italianate terraces at Bowood were added by the 3rd Marquis in the 19th century
By 1955 the original house had fallen into such disrepair that the 8th Marquis decided to demolish it, leaving only the smaller property that remains there today. His son - the present Marquis of Lansdowne - first opened both house and grounds to the public in 1975 and is the first member of the family to live there permanently.

He is committed to improving the gardens and as recently as 2008, added the long herbaceous border on the eastern side of the surviving house. It is now a well-established feature of the garden, offering colour throughout the summer season. Current projects include the restoration of the private walled garden (left), which is open one day a month to visitors, (pre-booking required) who can enjoy a guided tour followed by lunch in the house restaurant (£27.50). As expected with work in progress, this part of the garden is being developed all the time, but particularly spectacular is the late summer wildflower meadow (below).
The wildflower meadow in the walled garden at Bowood
When I first visited Bowood last year, I was surprised to discover that it's not possible to visit the gardens without paying for entry to the house as well. Entry price to both is £10.50 for adults (£9.00 for over 60s) and £8.00 for juniors (5-12 year olds). Members of the Historic Houses Association get free admission up to five times a year. But for garden lovers like me, it would be helpful to be able to wander around the garden, without having to pay for admission to the house.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

What makes a winning garden at RHS Chelsea? Let the people decide!

Trailfinders Australian Garden designed by Phil Johnson won Best in Show and a Gold medal at Chelsea this year 
As RHS Chelsea opened its doors to the public for the third day of the centenary Flower Show, it appeared that all was not well among the horticultural fraternity when Christopher Bradley-Hole, creator of this year's Telegraph Garden, questioned the RHS judges' decision over the coveted Best in Show award presented to the Trailfinders Australian Garden. Readers may wish to read the full article here.  
The Telegraph Garden designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole won a Gold medal, but not Best in Show
The crowds this week at the world's most prestigious horticultural event are a testament to the popularity of the annual Chelsea Show and it will be interesting to see who they vote for in The People's Choice competition, organised by the RHS and actively promoted on its web site. If the queues to see the Trailfinders garden are an indication of public opinion, could it be that the Mr Bradley-Hole's recent comments about the "ugly" solar panels and the "unsubtle" planting are not shared by the hordes of visitors trying to get a close-up view of the Australian garden, which occupies a prime corner position at Chelsea this year.
The East Village Garden, designed by Michael Balston and Marie-Louise Agius won a gold
Christopher Bradley-Hole is certainly no newcomer to Chelsea and has an impressive track record of five Chelsea gold medals and two Best Show Gardens. The Telegraph Garden won a gold medal this year, so the designer had nothing to complain about. Other seasoned exhibitors and gold medalists included Brewin Dolphin, Homebase, Laurent Perrier, M&G and Royal Bank of Canada - who are all delighted with the results, as are newcomers to the show who won golds, including the East Village Garden (above), which was attracting much bigger crowds than the Telegraph garden opposite and Un Garreg (One Stone) in the Artisan section
The B&Q Sentebale Garden designed by Jinny Blom won a silver gilt medal
Gardens that attracted a lot of publicity before the opening of the show included the B&Q Sentebale Forget-Me-Not Garden (above), with its connection to Prince Harry's Lesotho charity; Stoke-on-Trent's story of Transformation and Stop the Spread (below) - all awarded silver gilt medals. Yet none of these complained about the judging at Chelsea this year! So if you've already been to the show, do let us know which garden you preferred - Trailfinders or The Telegraph.
Stop the Spread, designed by Jo Thompson, won a silver gilt medal

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Small is beautiful at RHS Chelsea - don't miss the Artisan gardens!

An Alcove (Tokonoma) Garden - Best Artisan garden and Gold medal winner
If you're visiting Chelsea this week, make sure you visit the eight Artisan Gardens, hidden away in Serpentine Walk - a cluster of small gardens that will give you ideas for your patch at home and where you can get close enough to see the finer details of the planting. Overall winner is the Alcove Garden (above) designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara, which also won a Gold.
"Get Well Soon" - awarded a Silver medal (designed by Kati Crome and Maggie Hughes)
Right next door is "Get Well Soon", which won a silver medal. Sponsored by the National Botanic Garden of Wales and designed by Kati Crome and Maggie Hughes, this garden emphasises the ways in which plants can improve your health, and reflects many of the design features of the sponsor garden in Wales.
Motor Neurone Disease - A Hebridean Weaver's Garden - Gold medal winner
The Hebridean Weaver's Garden (above), designed by Jackie Setchfield and Martin Anderson to reflect the solitary life of an island inhabitant in the 1950s, trying to eke out a living from the land, also won a Gold medal. This is a delightful garden, that makes you realise just how far removed we are from island life in the heart of Chelsea during the Flower Show.
NSPCC Garden of Magical Childhood,  designed by Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith
The NSPCC Garden of Magical Childhood, designed by Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith, and winner of a Silver Gilt medal, reflects nostalgic concepts of our early years, with an enchanting tree house taking centre stage and a collection of vintage toys. Look out for all the pebbles in the wishing pond with their individual messages, inscribed by NSPCC supporters.
Um Garreg, designed by brothers Harry and David Rich, both first timers at Chelsea
Un Garreg (One Stone) also won a Gold medal - this garden, designed by Harry and David Rich - two brothers who are first timers at Chelsea, who've drawn on the Welsh landscape of Brecon where they grew up - is both simple and harmonious and would be easy to replicate at home, if you knew a good dry stone waller! 
Walkers' Pine Garden by Graham Bodle won a Silver medal
Walkers' Pine Garden, designed by Graham Bodle takes inspiration from some of Britain's great gardens including Rousham for the rill and Chatsworth for the gold leaf gilding on the obelisks, and shows just how much you can pack into a tiny space, with innovative planting and some interesting features. The wall sculpture celebrates RHS Chelsea's Centenary. 
Le Jardin De Yorkshire, designed by Alistair Baldwin Associates
Even simpler is the design of Le Jardin De Yorkshire, inspired by the county's successful bid to host the 2014 start of the Tour de France. The water feature at the front of the garden lists many of the villages and towns that cyclists will visit when they set off next year. This garden won a Silver Gilt medal for designer, Alistair Baldwin Associates.
The Herbert Smith Freehills Garden for WaterAid - a blaze of marigolds
The Herbert Smith Freehills Garden for WaterAid is inspired by the the work of the charity WaterAid in India - a blaze of colour, reflecting the benefits of access to clean water, improved hygiene and sanitation, even when water is scarce. Designed by Patricia Thirion and Janet Honour and winner of a Gold medal.
To see Gold Medal gardens in the Show Garden category at Chelsea this year, click here

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Medal winners announced at RHS Chelsea Centenary Show - Australians awarded Best Show Garden

The Trailfinders Australian Garden by Fleming's wins Best Show Garden and a Gold medal at Chelsea 2013
The Australians have taken top prize at this year's RHS Chelsea with Trailfinders Australian Garden by Fleming's winning the coveted Best Show Garden and a Gold medal. If you're off to Chelsea this week, you'll love this innovative garden, designed by Phillip Johnson, which showcases native Australian plants, set within an urban setting, while demonstrating the possibilities of sustainable landscaping. 
The Arthriis Research UK Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw
To see the rest of the gold medal winners in the Show Garden category scroll down through the pictures below. They are The Arthritis Research UK Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw (above); the Brewin Dolphin Garden (below);  the Laurent-Perrier Garden; the East Village Garden (below); The Homebase Garden - "Sowing the Seeds of Change" in association with the Alzheimer's Society; The Wasteland; the M&G Centenary Garden; the RBC Blue Water Roof Garden and The Telegraph Garden, designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole.
The Brewin Dolphin Garden designed by Robert Myers
East Village Garden designed by Michael Balston and Marie-Louise Agius
Homebase Garden - "Sowing the Seeds of Change" designed by Adam Frost
The Wasteland designed by Kate Gould
The M&G Centenary Garden "Windows through Time" designed by Roger Platt
RBC Blue Water Roof Garden by Nigel Dunnett and The Landscape Agency
The Telegraph Garden designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole
There are 15 Show Gardens this year at Chelsea, as well as the Artisan and Fresh Gardens. Make sure you visit The SeeAbility Garden (below) - it was certainly one of my favourites, along with Le Jardin de Yorkshire, in the Artisan section and Jack Dunkley's Juxtaposition. I shall be featuring more gardens each day this week while RHS Chelsea 2013 is in full flower.
The SeeAbility Garden designed by Darren Hawkes, won a Silver-Gilt medal

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Ready for RHS Chelsea 2013? Gnomes to make their first (and last) appearance at centenary show!

RHS Chelsea 2013 opens its doors to ticket holders on Tuesday, 21 May
This year's RHS Chelsea promises to be more closely scrutinised than ever by the media and, on the eve of the Centenary show, exhibitors and eager ticket holders are anxiously watching the weather forecast. It's not looking good for the first day, but later in the week there may be clearer skies. Good news for all those who managed to get tickets this year, since they sold out sooner than ever before.
     Gnomes are being allowed to make their debut at the show for the first and last time in this centenary year. In the past they came under a ban covering "brightly-coloured mythical creatures", but they will be there in force at Chelsea this week because they are playing an active role in the £1 million RHS Centenary Appeal, with more than 100 well-known personalities including Sir Elton John and Dames Hellen Mirren and Maggie Smith using their skills to decorate the little people, which will then be auctioned on e-Bay.
If the weather is wet at Chelsea, there's always plenty to see in the marquee
The 15 show gardens normally attract the most interest at Chelsea. Many of the usual designers are there and the coveted medal results will be announced on Tuesday, 21st May. In the UK we're all used to hearing about Prince Charles' gardening endeavours, but this year the crowds will be looking out for Prince Harry's efforts in the show garden category because of his involvement in the B&Q Sentebale 'Forget Me Not' garden, designed by Jinny Blom. Sentebale is the Prince's charity in the kingdom of Lesotho in Africa, which aims to help poor and vulnerable children and set up following his gap year visit there in 2004.

For those of you joined at the hip to your I-Phone, there's a new RHS Chelsea 2013 app, downloadable for free and featuring a range of useful information for visitors about exhibitors, split into sections on the show gardens, plus full details of plant and shopping exhibitors and where to find them.  
     I'm off to Chelsea tomorrow, with umbrella and waterproof clothing, so watch this space. But don't forget Chelsea Fringe, which has its own app downloadable for free detailing all events with dates and location and there's also Chelsea in Bloom. TV coverage starts today (Sunday) on BBC1 at 17.00 and there's daily coverage on BB2 starting Monday at 20.00.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Galloping Gardener Walks © - Catch the best rhododendron displays in Britain

The Isabella Plantation in London's Richmond Park has one of the best displays in the country
An exceptionally cold winter here in Britain means that even the rhododendrons and azaleas are blooming later than usual this year, but there are many wonderful gardens around the country where you can now see stunning colour displays as the weather begins to warm up. But what is the difference between the two plants? Millais Nurseries, one of the UK's leading suppliers, says that: "All azaleas are actually rhododendrons, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas." And, if you're confused, rhododendrons are a genus (a group of plants with shared characteristics) whereas azaleas are a group within that genus, but all belong to the Ericaceae family.
Sheffield Park is open year round, but visit now to see the rhododendrons in bloom
The best display in London (and you might want to drop in on the way to Chelsea this week) is to be found at the Isabella Plantation (top). This is undoubtedly one of the capital's best kept secrets, hidden away behind a wrought-iron gate in the heart of Richmond Park and quite apart from being spectacular, the blooms cost nothing to view. You'll find more than 50 different rhododendron species here, as well as the national of collection of Kurume azaleas. The garden is also a notable bird sanctuary and as you wander through the woodland landscape, you'll be astounded by what you hear as well as what you see. 
Catch contrasting woodland colours at Ramster - open until June 9 this year
Head south from London and the notable woodland gardens with wonderful colour displays include Borde HillRamster (above), Riverhill Himalayan Garden and Sheffield ParkSadly, Leonardslee, which was famous the world over for its colour displays at this time of year, is no longer open to the public. It closed in 2010 and although you'll still see road signs directing you there, you can always visit High Beeches instead. And, as all these gardens are quite close to each other, you might want to visit more than one in a day.
High Beeches offers spectacular woodland walks in Sussex and is now in full bloom
Further west, you've got Exbury, which is renowned for its show of spring colour and Furzey Gardens, on a much more personal scale, but with equally spectacular displays. Furzey exhibited at Chelsea for the first time last year and won a gold medal for its "Field of Gold" designed by Chris Beardshaw (below), which has now been recreated back at the garden in Hampshire. I haven't had a chance to visit yet this year, but know from past experience just how lovely this garden is at this time of year.
Chris Beardshaw designed Furzey's winning garden "Field of Gold" at RHS Chelsea 2012
And further north, you've got the Dorothy Clive Garden (below), which left a lasting impression on me when I was last passing through (despite the dismal weather that day), Holker Hall in Cumbria and Bodnant in North Wales. Many smaller gardens nationwide also have good rhododendron shows, so it's worth checking which gardens are open for the NGS in your area. But wherever you choose to visit, there's something magical about the spring light shining through the rhododendron glades around the country. 
Even a wet and dismal day can't dampen the colours at the Dorothy Clive Garden

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Whichford - potty about the planting!

The photographs can tell the story here - I dropped in at Whichford Pottery last week and was absolutely potty about the planting - a real source of eye candy and ideas for your own garden. Definitely worth making a detour for if you're visiting Brook Cottage, Hidcote Manor or Kiftsgate Court.