Friday, 28 June 2013

Fun Friday - Plentiful Proteas at Santa Cruz Arboretum

Very few words today, just pictures, as I've now met up with many US bloggers on their annual Garden Bloggers Fling in San Francisco, but the proteas at Santa Cruz Arboretum, just south of here are really stunning. We're off to see gardens today, so more later.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

San Diego Botanic Garden - with less than 11" of rain a year, the emphasis is on sustainability

Annual rainfall at the San Diego Botanic Garden is less than 11 inches
When foreigners visit Southern California, it's hard to grasp the concept that most areas are desert and that annual rainfall in San Diego, near the border with Mexico, is less than 11 inches. Indeed, coming from England, where we spend so much of our time moaning about the wet weather, the idea of so little rain may at first, seem appealing. The urbanisation and gentrification of coastal areas in Southern California give the illusion that water is plentiful, but in reality it's a precious commodity. 
The treehouse at the heart of the Hamilton Children's Garden
The emphasis at the San Diego Botanic Garden is on water conservation and sustainability and as part of its commitment to making visitors aware of the importance of this natural resource, it has created the really memorable Hamilton Children's Garden. When I visited last week, this area was filled with busy children, who were captivated by a range of innovative water saving gadgets, water smart plants and the magnificent tree house (above) at the heart of the garden. 
There are 37 acres to explore at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas
Sustainability is at the core of the 37-acre garden in Encinitas, north of San Diego. It was originally a farm, and then became the private residence of Ruth Baird Larabee, an avid plant collector. She donated the land to the county of San Diego as a park and wildlife sanctuary in 1957. When it eventually opened to the public in 1971, it was known as "Quail Gardens". It finally became the San Diego Botanic Garden in 2009 and today it houses over 3,300 species of plants from all over the world, divided into different garden areas.
The tropical rain forest area at San Diego Botanic Garden
Although there's an impressive array of Californian plants here, Australia and New Zealand, Africa, the Canary Islands and Mediterranean, plus Central and South America are all well represented in the succession of gardens that make up the landscape here. You'll find bamboos, palms, cacti and succulents from all over the world, as well as bromeliads and epiphytes. And there are also areas of tropical rain forest, a subtropical fruit garden and a walled garden, plus the nation's largest bamboo collection. 
The succulent display garden - a range of plants requiring very little water
The garden certainly feels like it's having new life breathed into it and is well worth a visit if you're staying in the San Diego area. Open daily throughout the year (except Christmas Day) from 9.00-5.00 and open until 8.00 pm on Thursdays during the summer months. Cost is $12.00 for adults and $6.00 for children (ages 3-12). Parking is $2.00 extra. There's also a plant centre on site.
The arid landscape of the Desert Garden reminds you where you are geographically

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Silent Sunday - What you see on the streets in Coronado, CA

I've been strolling the streets in Coronado this weekend (en route to the Garden Bloggers Fling in San Francisco next week) and am amazed by what's in flower - both at ground level and overhead. This whole area is filled with magnificent trees - many are in full bloom right now -  so it's a real joy to be able to walk the streets and see what's on show here in Southern California. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

From kitchen garden to table in minutes - The Pig is a must for Ladies who Lunch

The Pig at Brockenhurst is a restaurant with rooms - located in the New Forest National Park
I don't often review restaurants, but earlier this week I had such a delicious lunch in the New Forest that I'd be a complete hog if I didn't share details with readers! It's close enough to Exbury and Furzey, where the rhododendrons are still putting on good colour displays to justify a break between garden visits and you'll have the added bonus of being able to wander through the immaculate grounds and see a highly-productive kitchen garden. 
The kitchen garden at The Pig provides fresh produce straight for the table
With the unlikely name of "The Pig", this property is a real find for hungry garden visitors. It's the brainchild of Robin Hutson, who's had a long career in hotel management and is already well-known for the successful Hotel de Vin chain he created twenty years ago. Described as a  restaurant with "rooms and kitchen garden food", the emphasis here is on fresh, locally-sourced produce. But Hutson and his wife Judy (who's responsible for the decorating), have taken their boutique "shabby chic" look one stage further here, by creating an immaculate kitchen garden that will make most home growers jealous. 
The dining room at The Pig has a provencale rustic feel to it
If the food's not grown on site, there's a strict 25-mile menu policy whereby head chef, James Golding, sources all ingredients within this radius. The emphasis here is on constantly changing, but innovative food combinations, depending on what's available. And with a name like The Pig, it will come as no surprise that many of the dishes feature pork in various guises. The pig's crackling with home-made apple sauce is nothing less than superlative! 
The chef is assisted by local forager, Garry Eveleigh, who's been gathering wild food from the woods of the New Forest and the Solent shores since he was a boy. Hotel guests can join him on his foraging expeditions if they wish. The head chef will then change his menu according to what Gary has found whilst out and about. Definitely worth making the effort to get here to make a pig of yourself! Bookings can be made on: 0845 0779 494.

Monday, 17 June 2013

French Gourmet Gardens - Yves Gosse le Gorre's allegorical acreage at Sericourt

The Warrior Masks at Sericourt, inspired by those of Easter Island
Just occasionally you walk into a garden that etches itself on your soul. For me, Yves Gosse de Gorre’s Jardin de Sericourt in northern France did just that - as the latest addition to a small, but growing list list of truly memorable landscapes I’ve encountered in my years of garden visiting. It justly deserves its accolade as a "Remarkable Garden" (Jardin Remarquable) of France; is easily reached from the Northern Channel ports of Calais and Boulogne; and is definitely a garden to add to your visiting "Wish List". 
The latest addition at Sericourt - the Renaissance garden - recently added by Yves Gosse de Gorre
Located in the south of the Pas de Calais region, this is an allegorical garden, which in part depicts the war-torn history of the area through the huge collection of shrubs and trees amassed by its creator. It has been thoughtfully landscaped and planted over the last 20 years to reflect some of the themes that travellers often forget when following the roads that traverse the European ‘Killing Fields’ – for it was here in Picardy and in the neighbouring Somme that so many men lost their lives in the two World Wars. 
The Warrior Garden at Sericourt is filled with clipped topiary symbolising scenes of war
Yves is a passionate plantsman and runs a nursery next to his ten-acre garden, where you can buy many of the specimens you see on your tour of his personal Eden. The garden is about trees and shrubs and vistas, with a fine collection of topiary and some new “land art” areas. There are carefully placed evergreens in the Warrior Garden (above), intended to look like soldiers lined up and ready for battle; yew hedges clipped in the shapes of human faces; dark tree alleys symbolising death and destruction associated with the two great wars in Europe; and, if you visit at the right time of year, magnificent swathes of poppies and a tunnel of roses that will leave your senses reeling.
Yves Gosse de Gorre is always adding new vistas to his 10-acre garden

It's the famous Cathedral of Roses (below) that draws visitors in the summer months, but with the seasons running at least a month behind, there was little evidence of the massed blooms that would normally be on show by now. But this hardly mattered because there was too much else to see at Sericourt and by the time I’d stepped around Gorre's strategically-placed war craters in the ground and admired all the allegorical figures, there was more on my mind than the sweet-smelling climbers that will appear later in the season.
The cathedral of roses at Sericourt  - normally at its peak from late May to July
Sericourt is easily accessible from the North Coast of France and is well placed if you are heading to Paris or further south, without taking too much of a detour from your route. The garden is open throughout the year from Tuesday to Saturday (9.00-12.00 and 14.00-18.00), but also open in the afternoons on Sunday and Monday from May to October (15.00-18.00). Combine this with the Jardins de Maizicourt (to be reviewed soon) for two very different garden experiences!
The topiary garden at Sericourt
Other notable gardens in Northern France include Le Bois des Moutiers, Les Jardins Agapanthe and Claude Monet's garden at Giverny - all previously reviewed here and accessible by clicking on the links. 

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Two of the best small gardens in Britain open in Seaford this weekend

Driftwood in Seaford opens regularly for charity and is well worth visiting - open both days this weekend
It may be blowing a gale, but there's also plenty of blue sky overhead, so set off for Seaford on the south coast and catch two of the best small gardens in Britain this weekend - Driftwood and Sandgate Close - just a short distance from each other and open from 11.00-17.00 on both Saturday and Sunday as part of a group of five Seaford and Bishopstone gardens open for the NGS. Both gardens are delightful and you can see full details and more pictures by clicking on the links above. 
Neighbouring Sandgate Close has an astounding array of plants on show - get there if you can!!
There are also three further gardens open in nearby Bishopstone village this weekend - Barrack Cottage - a partly walled, five-acre chalk garden, Buckthorn Close and Elizabeth Cottage, none of which I've yet visited. Full details are available on the NGS website. Teas available at Driftwood on both days and at Sandgate Close on Sunday.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Gourmet gardens in Normandy - Lutyens' masterpiece - Le Bois des Moutiers

Le Bois des Moutiers is less than 15 minutes drive from Dieppe - a short hop across the English Channel
There's little doubt that the gardens in France - Normandy especially - pose a serious threat to our English gardens in terms of the "wow" factor. I've just spent four days there looking at some of their wonderful gardens and they certainly provide a gourmet delight for anybody who loves looking at gardens and landscapes. The main problem with the French properties is there's remarkably little on the internet about them and the stretch of water (often stormy) that divides us from them, seems to deter us from visiting. 
The White Garden at the rear of the property has parterre style boxed hedges and is planted with roses
France is not just "foreign", but the French drive on the wrong side of the road for us Brits (although not for our American friends) and then, of course, there's the language barrier. Their road signs are erratic, and just like here in Britain, those much-needed direction signs always run out at the point we rely on them most, although I noticed on this recent trip that the gardens are remarkably well sign-posted. But all of that aside, I urge readers to take a trip across the Channel to enter a whole new world of magical gardens, starting with Le Bois des Moutiers just four miles outside Dieppe - the unusual Arts and Crafts style house designed by Edwin Lutyens, surrounded by countless acres of formal gardens and parkland, overlooking the sea.
A series of formal garden rooms surround the house at the rear - the front has views over the park and the sea
Le Bois des Moutiers is at Varengeville-sur-Mer, close to Dieppe (there's a reasonably priced ferry from Newhaven on the south coast twice a day and for those who don't want to drive, you can go as a foot passenger and take a taxi to the garden), this must surely be the greatest garden that Lutyens created anywhere in the world. He designed both house and garden, and Gertrude Jekyll, his formidable planting partner provided the lists of plants and plans, although she never actually visited the property.
The Jekyllesque borders at the front of the Lutyens house make a huge impact on visitors
Lutyens was only 29 years old when he designed this house for Guillaume Mallet. Described by present owner, Antoine Bouchayer-Mallet as "an early example of the new art of gardening born in Surrey at the end of the 19th century, it was conceived as a living picture in the style of a tapestry or embroidery". An apt description for the series of Arts and Crafts garden rooms adjacent to the house, with long Jekyllesque borders (above), a pergola similar to the one at Hestercombe in Somerset (below), white garden, walled garden and rose garden, created from the original potager.  
The pergola at Le Bois de Moutiers entices the visitor into a series of formal garden rooms near the house
When you arrive at Le Bois des Moutiers you think at first there are just formal gardens here adjacent to the house, but walk to the rear of the property and you will see glimpses of the sea across a sloping, verdant landscape, filled with remarkable plants and trees all planted by the Mallot family more than a hundred years ago. But everywhere you look, the Lutyens influence is present, with brick built seating areas, paths of brick and stone and remarkable clipped yew hedges. 
The rose garden - created from the former potager
Summer sees the rose garden in full bloom. Sited on what was once the potager, this area has been replanted by successive generations of Mallots and is now a place to  enjoy the heady scents of summer. Claude Monet, who created the garden at Giverny, loved this place and often came here to stay and to paint, because the light reflected off the sea gives the grounds at Le Bois de Moutiers a special hue, particularly in the early morning and evening sunlight. And for once the French lunchtime closure, (from 12.00-14.00) does visitors a favour, because the harsh, midday light detracts from the beauty of this garden. 
The rose garden seen from the opposite end (see above)
And then there's the woodland garden leading down to the sea, planted by the Mallet family, and now a major part of the attraction of this property, particularly in early summer when all the camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons flower. The hydrangeas are astounding later in the year, but sadly I was between the two seasons, although the formal gardens make wonderful viewing in summer time, and a walk through the woodland areas will give any gardener an idea of just how stunning this property is, throughout the seasons.
The woodland garden leading down to the sea - particularly glorious in springtime
The gardens at Le Bois des Moutiers are open daily for visitors from 15 March to 15 November, from 10.00-12.00 and from 14.00-18.00. Tours of the house are available for larger groups by prior arrangement - for a full history of the house and further contact details, look at the website. Entrance is 10 Euros per person (money well spent), with discounts for groups. And if you can't get to France this year, you could visit the Lutyens garden at The Salutation in Kent, but hurry, because the house is up for sale.
Lutyens has left his mark everywhere at Le Bois de Moutiers ... in the paths, archways and pergola
For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Monet's garden at Giverny

Even the wet weather can't dampen the excitement of a visit to Monet's garden at Giverny at this time of year, when the irises are still in bloom. 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Les Jardins Agapanthe - the best of gourmet gardens in Normandy

Alexandre Thomas has created Les Jardins Agapanthe around his family home in Normandy
If you live in England, there's a whole new world of gardens on your doorstep, just across the English Channel. I travelled to France this week in search of pastures green, and was amazed by what I found, just a short hop across the water. There's a choice of ferries from the south coast and of course, there's also the Chunnel, which will transport garden gastronomes into a different world - the gardens and landscapes of Normandy - made famous by Impressionist painters like Claude Monet. But his garden at Giverny is just a starter - there are many other gourmet gardens waiting to be tasted - including  Les Jardins Agapanthe.
Thomas has created the garden at Agapanthe on many different levels, with enticing paths and steps linking the different areas
This wondrous garden has been created over the last 30 years by landscape architect, Alexandre Thomas around his family home in Normandy, just an hour's drive from Dieppe.  It's a truly magical garden, which has doubled in size in the last three years, following the acquisition of an adjacent property - and a visit here will transport you into a completely different world. It would be impossible to capture the true essence of this garden without seeing it through the seasons and exploring every inch of the property, but I've tried to give readers a taste of it here in late May and early June. 
Swathes of perky perennials are broken up by paved pathways
The palette is predominantly green - a veritable plantsman's paradise - broken up with a network of pathways and steps, that lead you through his garden labyrinth, begging you to reach out and engage with all the plants you see. There's hardly an inch of ground where you can see the soil, so dense is the planting. But with a true artist's eye, Thomas has added statues, urns, steps and arbors, that draw you through the garden, to the next area of interest, and you find yourself meandering through the perky perennials in wonder. But don't forget to look down at your feet because the pathways are an art form too.
Balls of box and many mature shrubs (bought in from local nurseries) add structure to the garden created by Alexandre Thomas at his home
The best way to appreciate this garden is to walk around slowly and savour what you see, before returning to look at it in detail. The original garden created by Alexandre is shown here in the first six photographs, but if you visit for yourself, you won't necessarily see the same scenes, because Agapanthe changes rapidly throughout the seasons, adopting a new look every week as different perennials bloom. But whenever you visit, I'm sure this garden will put a spring in your step, because it's lively, enchanting and quite unlike anywhere at home.
The lavender garden at Agapanthe - too early to see it in bloom, but still inviting
When the opportunity arose in 2006 for Alexandre to buy the property over the road - another austere, red brick Normandy house with adjoining land, he realised he could create a completely different style of garden in the grounds here. Work only began three years ago, but this garden already has its own unique personality and feels as though it has been here for much longer, thanks to the mature conifers that provide a backdrop to the new planting, which concentrates primarily on shrubs and smaller trees for year round interest. 
Pathway leading to the new garden created by Thomas at Agapanthe
The tempo here is very different - more Mediterranean in style, and the plants are more exposed to the sunlight because there are fewer trees. But you'd never know this was a new garden because the plants have been carefully chosen and Alexandre has made full use of his landscaping skills to ensure that the architectural features - great urns and huge terracotta pots - give a sense of timelessness to his new creation. He's also taken care not to repeat the planting found in the first garden and covered the ground with a layer of river sand so visitors can stroll between the plants.
Find the wrought iron gates at the lower end of the garden and cross the road to see the new garden created at Les Jardins Agapanthe
Make sure you don't miss the new garden (although the wonderful ladies at the entrance gate will make sure you know about it). You exit the first garden through wrought iron gates (above) and cross the road, wondering if you are entering some private garden, because there are no signs and on arrival, you encounter an established circle of pines, reminiscent of the Cote d'Azur, protecting juvenile plants in a dug out hollow. But the only indication that this garden is new, is the size of the plants, which are still establishing themselves in their new abode.
The Pine Circle at Agapanthe, planted just three years ago when Alexandre Thomas acquired the house over the road
It's hard to believe that there was nothing here five years ago because Alexandre scoured nurseries to find plants of interest for his new project. He says he was lucky to find specimens "that were as remarkable for their size as for their rarity and originality", thus enabling him to create an apparently mature garden in the space of just a few years. His decision to use a layer of river sand on top of the heavy clay soil that is typical of this part of Normandy, means that plants from different habitats are flourishing side by side.
The new garden has a very different ethos - it is less densely planted and shrubs have been chosen to give structure and colour
The second garden has a totally different feel to it - more space and essentially an antique feel, despite its youth. The shrubs have been carefully chosen to give structure, form and colour throughout the seasons, although Thomas has stuck to his tried and tested formula of introducing architectural interest in the form of giant urns and ceramic pots, together with carefully placed chairs and benches, for visitors to sit and admire his handiwork. 
There are many places to sit and reflect at Les Jardins Agapanthe
And all this behind a garden gate in Normandy, less than an hour's drive from the Channel port of Dieppe. Les Jardins Agapanthe open from May to September every day except Wednesday from 14.00-19.00. There are plenty of places to stay nearby and many other gardens to visit within 50 miles, including Le Bois des Moutiers and Giverny