Friday, 25 October 2013

Two of the finest sub-tropical gardens in Cornwall - Trebah and Glendurgan

Stand at the top of Trebah and you will enjoy views over the gardens and estuary below
Cornwall is a garden lovers paradise, even this late in the season. Home to some of the greatest plant hunters in history and with a climate that fosters plants and trees that won't grow elsewhere in England, it's perfect for plantsmen and an Arcadia for arborists. Head to two neighbouring gardens - Trebah and Glendurgan - on the Helford estuary near Falmouth - and you'll encounter palms, tree ferns and many other exotic specimens that you'd normally only see in a botanical glasshouse here in the UK. 
The gardens at Trebah date back more than a century and are reminiscent of Jurassic Park
The two gardens were originally owned by two members of the same family. Charles Fox created the 25 acres at Trebah in the 19th century, after his father gave him the estate and many of the trees there date back to his time in residence. Neighbouring Glendurgan (now under the stewardship of the National Trust) was created by his older brother, Alfred. And whilst both gardens are best known for their spectacular spring displays of azaleas, camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons, there are also many fine trees and sub-tropical plants, which give year-round appeal.
Perhaps the most spectacular feature of both gardens is their steep hillside positions, with houses set at the highest point and magnificent views down through the densely planted ravines to the Helford River below. In autumn the vista from the top or bottom of Trebah is impressive, as your eye travels over acres of hydrangeas and huge gunnera beds (above), while spring brings fantastic wild flower tapestries. As you stroll into the valley at Glendurgan you will find amazing trees and the laurel maze (below), which appeals to all ages.
The laurel maze at Glendurgan appeals to all ages
Glendurgan is definitely at its best in springtime if it's colour that you're looking for. But anyone who is interested in trees will enjoy visiting later in the season - there are plenty of deciduous trees including huge oaks, limes, sycamores and beech; as well as a sub-tropical zone with unusual palms and countless tree ferns. Today, the garden is run by the National Trust, following a hand-over by the Fox family in 1962. Trebah was acquired by Major Tony Hibbert and his wife in 1981 and is now operated as a registered charity.
Trebah remains open throughout the year and is open daily from 10.00. Admission is £8.50 for adults and £2.50 for children. Glendurgan closes during the winter months (from the beginning of November), but re-opens in springtime. 

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Garden House - a remarkable plantsman's garden in Devon

The Garden House has eight acres of naturalistic planting at the edge of Dartmoor
The Garden House near Plymouth in Devon, is a delightful property that's really worth making the effort to see if you're in the area, or en route to the West Country. This is a garden for all seasons and it doesn't matter whether you visit early in the season to catch the rhododendrons; in May to see the wisteria in full bloom; high summer, when every border is bursting with colour and the wildflower meadow is at its peak; or October to see the wonderful autumn hues in the acer glade. The whole effect is one of a floral tapestry, set against a historical backdrop and fine views. 
Visitors can enjoy fantastic views of the church and Dartmoor beyond from The Garden House
Tucked away down winding country lanes in a village called Buckland Monachorum, it was created by a passionate plantsman more than 60 years ago. Successive head gardeners have considerably enhanced the eight-acre property and added their own stamp over the years, particularly Keith Wiley, who spent quarter of a century here adding to the backbone of the garden created by the owner.  
The story here began in 1945 when a former Eton schoolmaster - Lionel Fortescue - moved to the 1920s vicarage that forms the central focus of much of the garden and began planting a walled garden around the ruins of a former 16th century vicarage in the lowest section of the landscape. Fortescue was the son of a Newlyn school painter and he clearly had a good eye for colour. He also liked innovative planting schemes and during the period that Keith Wiley worked with him, they created a series of inspirational vistas, with views to the village church and Dartmoor beyond.
The lower sections of the garden are woven around the ruins of a 16th-century abbey
Fortescue was also a passionate plant collector who travelled far and wide to find good specimens. Today The Garden House has an excellent collection of azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias for spring colour and acers that come into their own in the autumn. The emphasis here is on naturalistic planting, which is considerably enhanced by the stunning views over the horizon and the theatrical elements of the ruins within. 
Fortescue worked closely for 25 years with head gardener, Keith Wiley, to create the spectacular walled garden that is such a prominent feature here. And although the former schoolteacher died in 1981, Wiley continued as head gardener until 2003, when he was succeeded by Matt Bishop. Keith has now moved on and created his own magnificent garden and nursery at neighbouring Wildside - elsewhere in the village. Definitely one for the wishlist and open during high summer (click on link for details).
The Garden House has something to offer throughout the seasons - seen here in October
The Garden House is open from the beginning of March until the end of October daily, from 10.30-17.00. Admission is £6.60 for adults and £2.70 for children, and annual membership costs just £28, which also admits you to another of my favourite Devon gardens - Coleton Fishacre - and Trebah in Cornwall - well worth the money if you're lucky enough to spend time in the West Country.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Happy 80th birthday to John Brookes - influential garden and landscape designer

John Brookes is to garden design and landscape what Terence Conran was to household interiors – so major has his influence been on the way we have come to perceive the space outside our homes in the last 50 years. He has taught several generations of gardeners to to explore and enjoy the concept of “The Room Outside” through his pioneering garden designs, his prolific writing and his teaching. John is 80 this week, but continues to work at a pace that leaves most of us standing! 
John in his garden at Denmans last week
Although I have only known him for a couple of years, I’ve been privileged to work with John on two occasions in India. We have travelled, shivered and laughed together as we faced impossible driving conditions, unexpected low temperatures and ridiculous situations where we were either unable to make ourselves understood, or had been so misunderstood that the end result caused us to collapse in fits of merriment. 
John on safari in Ranthambore - December 2012

But we have also explored amazing forts, castles and gardens during long journeys through Rajasthan and climbed more steps in a day than most of us would normally climb in a month. We have also worked with charities near Jaipur and Udaipur and even been on tiger hunts in Ranthambore, although sadly we never caught sight of this amazing creature. 
     John is an entertaining travelling companion and I feel lucky to have had the pleasure of his company when visiting India. What’s more, he’s remarkably fit when it comes to climbing the huge numbers of steps that are part of any trip to an Indian fort!
     I first met him in the summer of 2011 in a private garden he designed in Sussex – Ecclesden Manor near Worthing. He was sitting in the summer house and I asked if I could interview him. I was surprised to hear he knew of “The Galloping Gardener” and when he asked me why I’d never featured his garden, I’d no reply except to say that I’d love him to show it to me. Within a week, he introduced me to the magical kingdom he has created at his home in Sussex - DenmansGarden.

That first visit to Denmans will always remain in my memory because John was a charming host and guide and talked passionately about the concept of garden design, while pointing out some of the unusual plants at Denmans and highlighting some of the understated views that make his garden so special. Since then I have visited John many times at his home and each time I find something new to amaze me in his garden – be it a plant or a vista.
Denmans in springtime
John’s list of achievements is impressive – four times a Chelsea Gold Medal winner; awarded an MBE in 2004 for garden design and services to horticulture; more than 1200 garden designs for clients worldwide; a host of books and magazine articles; lectures and teaching assignments worldwide; and on a personal level, one of the most gentle, charming and entertaining figures in and out of the garden I’ve yet had the pleasure to meet. I rarely encounter anyone in the gardening world who’s not acquainted with John – even if not in person, but through his reputation.
He trained with Dame Sylvia Crowe and notable plantswoman, Brenda Colvin and then went on to study landscape design at University College London. By the middle of the sixties he had set up his own private practice. Since then he has never looked back and is known all over the world for his pioneering garden designs at both private houses and public gardens, including the English Walled Garden at The Chicago Botanic Garden, Samares Manor in Jersey, the College Garden at Westminster Abbey and Zespol Palace Park in Poland, to name just a few that are accessible to the public.
Denmans in summer time (taken in June this year)
There are few garden designers who don’t own copies of his books, including the seminal “Room Outside” and “The Book of Garden Design”. And for a really interesting insight into his life, career and garden designs, it’s well worth reading Barbara Simms’s book, “John Brookes – Garden and Landscape Designer”.

As an octogenarian, Brookes will continue to travel all over the world as a garden design and landscape guru, advising clients and producing new designs for those lucky enough to enlist his help on the garden dreams. Fitting in lunch or dinner is not easy these days as he is so much in demand, but we will be returning to India again together in 2014 because John is the mind behind the landscape at a new project that I'm working on in Rajasthan.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Britain's best October gardens - where to see wonderful autumn colours in the south of England

Sir Harold Hillier Gardens at Romsey in Hampshire - open throughout the winter months
There are many signs that autumn is in the air, with low-lying mists rolling off rivers and the all-too familiar early morning visibility problems on the way to work. And some leaves are beginning to turn, although it's too early for the spectacular autumn colours that some of the gardens here are famous for. But with the change in seasons, today's entry is a round-up of some of the gardens in the south of England that are really worth visiting at this time of year. Some remain open throughout the year, but both the Exotic Garden in Norwich and Great Dixter close in the next few weeks, so try and get there if you can to catch autumn at its best. 
West Dean remains open throughout the year except for two weeks at Christmas
In Hampshire, Sir Harold Hillier left the nation a wonderful garden legacy at his former home outside Romsey (top) - now run by the council and recognised as one of the great gardens of Britain, the winter garden provides year round colour and the trees are always worth a visit when the leaves are turning, particularly the acer glade. Open daily throughout the year, except Christmas and Boxing Day, this garden gives joy throughout the winter months. The same is true of West Dean near Chichester, which only closes for two weeks at Christmas and New Year. 
John Brookes' garden - Denmans, outside Chichester is open year round
Master gardener John Brookes opens his garden - Denmans near Chichester - to the public throughout the seasons, as does Beth Chatto, whose home in Essex has become famous the world over for her shade combinations. Both gardens offer seasonal highlights, even in the depths of winter and although Beth's garden closes for two weeks over Christmas and New Year, John's remains open except Xmas, Boxing and New Year's Day. 
Beth Chatto's garden also remains open throughout the year and has spectacular autumn colour
And as it's still early in the month, you've just got time to catch some of the great exotic gardens in full bloom, including Will Giles' amazing offering in the heart of Norwich, where his one-acre sub-tropical paradise remains open for another two weekends, or the stunning autumn hues on a slightly larger scale at Great Dixter in East Sussex, where Fergus Garrett has carried on the work that Christo Lloyd began all those years ago. His exotic garden (below) looks exceptional at this time of year and remains open until 27th October (closed Mondays).
The Exotic Garden at Great Dixter - open to all until 27th October
In the next few weeks, I will be visiting some of the great autumn gardens in the West country, and heading towards Devon and Cornwall, where the kinder weather allows many gardens to flourish throughout the winter months. And later this week, I shall be celebrating John Brookes' 80th birthday here with him on the blog, so do join me.
Will Giles' Exotic Garden in Norwich remains open until 20th October - Sundays only