Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Spring Walks III - Barnsley House

A wonderful day out today with two fellow bloggers - Michelle of Veg Plotting and Victoria of Tales from Awkward Hill - we went to Barnsley House in Gloucestershire. Rosemary Verey created the garden here. Open on Saturday, 17th May for the Barnsley Garden Festival

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Silent Saturday - Spring Walks II - Great Dixter

Great Dixter looks fabulous in springtime. Well worth making a special visit to see the tulips and other spring flowers. Open daily except Mondays (11.00-17.00). Admission to the garden is £8.00 for adults and £2.50 for children (5-15). Free to members of Historic Houses Association. For other stunning spring gardens, click here.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

10 of the best spring gardens in southern England

After one of the worst winters on record in England, when the country was besieged by storm after storm and terrible flooding, spring has finally arrived. But gardens throughout the country seem to be unaffected by the sodden ground and many are blooming early and offering spectacular blossom displays. So in this brief post-Easter round-up, I've selected 10 of the best spring gardens to visit if you want to get out and about in the south.
Visitors can enjoy 60 acres of woodland walks at Bowood House in Wiltshire
Bowood House, near Chippenham in Wiltshire, has just won the "Garden of the Year" award, sponsored by the Historic Houses Association and Christie's, and has one of the best bluebell and spring colour displays in the country. There are more than 60 acres to explore and the rhododendron walks are open daily from 11.00-18.00 (last admission at 17.30). Entrance is £6.75 for adults (children 2-12 go free). 
Tom Coward has breathed new life into the gardens at Gravetye Manor
Gravetye Manor former home of William Robinson, who championed naturalistic planting. Today it is a prestigious hotel, but visitors can still enjoy the gardens which are curated and cared for by Tom Coward who trained with Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter (see below). The gardens here are a blaze of colour from early March, when the daffodils flower, followed by tulips and then alliums. Well worth having lunch or tea here if you're visiting the garden.
Great Dixter, former home of Christopher Lloyd, has stunning spring colour
Great Dixter, featured recently in the BBC television series "British Gardens in Time", is exceptional in springtime, thanks to head gardener Fergus Garrett's innovative planting schemes. He worked for many years alongside former owner - Christo Lloyd and is determined to carry on his planting legacy at the property. The tulip displays are magnificent and this is a great time of year to see the bones of the garden, before the perennials grow to dizzy heights. Open daily except Mondays, 11.00-17.00. £8.00 for adults/£2.50 for children (5-15).
Hole Park in Kent offers bumper spring blossom displays
Just around the corner, you'll find Hole Park at Rolvenden, which has one of the most brilliant bluebell displays anywhere in southern England and opens every day in April and May. Located in the heart of the Kentish Weald, this is a wonderful garden to meander through because of fine views over the surrounding countryside and the vast array of colours throughout the woodland walks. There are formal gardens adjacent to the house. Open daily until 9 June (11.00-18.00) £6.00 for adults.
Loseley Park has a 2.5 acre walled garden that's well worth visiting in springtime
The 2.5 acre walled garden at Loseley Park, near Guildford is well worth making the effort to get to when it opens its doors in May - a roomy and "roomed" flower bonanza featuring herbs, roses and organic vegetables, to give interest and colour throughout the seasons. You can get a sneak preview this Friday (25 April) if you head to the Spring Garden Show, but otherwise the gardens are open Sunday-Thursday 11.00-17.00. Admission to the gardens is £5.00 for adults and £2.50 for children (5-16), but free to HHA members.
Mount Ephraim in Kent offers 10-acres of exceptional spring colour
Mount Ephraim in Kent also deserves a mention - 10 acres of Edwardian gardens that have been restored and revamped over the last 60 years by the current owners - and home to an impressive collection of spring bulbs, shrubs and trees. Offers exceptional blossom walks at this time of year. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 11.00-17.00 until end of September. £6.00 for adults and £2.50 for children (4-16). 
Parham House in Sussex is a well-kept garden secret, offering visitors the chance to enjoy another astounding walled garden, where you will see plenty early in the season. Currently blooming under the stewardship of head gardener, Tom Brown, who came here from RHS Wisley, where he specialised in herbaceous borders, you can see real results here after his four years at the helm. Open Sundays in April, but Wednesday through Friday and Sundays from May to September. £8.00 for adults and £4.00 for children (5-15). 
Ramster is famous for its dazzling spring colour displays
Ramster, near Chiddingfold in Surrey, has a very short opening season (April to June), but visitors are well advised to make the effort to get there if they want to see a 20-acre woodland garden within easy reach of London. Like Bowood and Hole Park, the bluebells are ablaze at this time of year and the rhododendrons and azaleas guarantee spectacular displays on any spring day. Open daily from 10.00-17.00, £6.00 for adults (children under 16 free).
The Royal Landscape is renowned for its colour displays in May and June
The Royal Landscape is famous for its rhododendron displays - at both the Savill and Valley Gardens - expect to see dazzling colours in the next few weeks as the woodland plants begin to bloom. Wonderful walks in both these gardens on a spring day and although the Savill Gardens are on a rather grand scale, the well-labelled borders will give you plenty of ideas for your garden at home. Open daily, 10.00-18.00 (summer season) £9.50 for adults.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Spring Walks 1 - West Dean Gardens

Throughout 2014, I plan to use Wordless Wednesday to showcase some of our wonderful British gardens, starting today with West Dean in Sussex. For a full review of the gardens, click here.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Arundel Castle opens in a blaze of colour for annual Tulip Festival

The Collector Earl's Garden at Arundel Castle in full bloom at the annual Tulip Festival
A burst of sunny, spring weather and plenty of carefully-chosen bulbs guarantee that visitors to Arundel Castle will be met by a blaze of colour if they visit the Tulip Festival in the walled gardens this year. There will be some 15,000 tulips in bloom over the next few weeks and it's a spectacle worth seeing if you're in the vicinity. The bumper crop - planted over the winter months - is blooming early this year and will carry on through Easter and into May. 
Part of the charm of the gardens at Arundel is the setting within the castle grounds
Open from April to November every year, the gardens at this ducal property have been the subject of extensive redesign and renovation during the last 10 years, kicked off by the opening of the Collector Earl's Garden in 2008. Arundel is home to the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk and, whilst the castle is well-known for its beautifully-furnished public rooms and fine collection of paintings, the garden had new life breathed into it when they commissioned Isobel and Julian Bannerman (who also worked for the Prince of Wales at Highgrove) to carry out a major re-design.
Yew buttresses provide a focal point in the herbaceous borders at Arundel Castle
The Tulip Festival is a relatively new event at the castle and kicks off the garden season each year. Just one of the innovations introduced by head gardener - Martin Duncan - since he arrived here, together with the Stumpery (below), which was added in 2013. But each new addition in the garden is designed to draw a different kind of visitor into the castle grounds and this year for the first time, there is an annual pass available so that garden lovers can visit as often as they want for just £30. 
The Stumpery was added to to the gardens at Arundel Castle in 2013
The Bannerman's contribution - the Collector Earl's garden - forms the heart of the former walled kitchen garden, which once supplied all fruit and vegetables to the castle. It is named after Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel, who spent much of his life travelling and collecting valuable objects including paintings and portraits, many of which are now on view in the castle today. Predominant features here include a huge domed pergola, fountains, gateways and pavilions, all in green oak, plus a centrepiece of a mountain of rock planted with palms and rare ferns, and a selection of hot, tropical plantings in high summer.
Restored glasshouses sit at the heart of today's kitchen garden, housing exotic fruits and flowers
The glasshouses in the former kitchen have been fully restored and house a collection of fruit and exotic flowers in high summer, while the surrounding cut-flower garden (also redesigned in 2013) is planted to give good colour throughout the season, starting with spectacular displays of tulips for the annual festival in April and May. The organic Kitchen Garden in this same area provides some of the produce for the castle restaurant.
Arundel Castle was completely restored in the 19th century by the 15th Duke of Norfolk
Arundel Castle and grounds are open Tuesday- Sundays inclusive (plus Bank Holiday and all August Mondays) from 10.00-17.00, April to November. There is a tiered entrance price structure, depending on what you wish to see, but prices for the garden start at £9.00 for adults. Other notable gardens in the area include Denmans and West Dean.
And for one of the best spring gardens in the world, click here to see Keukenhof, Holland.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Keukenhof, Holland - the best spring garden in the world?

Keukenhof opens for just eight weeks each year - from mid-March to mid-May
Is Keukenhof the best spring garden in the world? I'm sure readers will have a view on this. I was lucky enough to visit last week and left with a dizzying array of images depicting the remarkable garden in southern Holland that draws visitors from all over the world. This horticultural mecca opens for just eight weeks each year, but is home to more than seven million bulbs - planted annually - which provide dazzling spring flower displays for the 800,000 visitors who make the pilgrimage to catch a glimpse of the eye candy on offer here between mid-March and mid-May.
More than seven million bulbs are planted annually at Keukenhof
Late March was a little too early to catch the tulips in full bloom, although there were obvious signs of what to expect in the next few weeks (above). But it didn't matter, because there were great swathes of narcissi and other spring bulbs, spectacular blossoms and signs of spring shrubs about to bloom, including azaleas and rhododendrons. But most impressive of all was the mingled fragrances of the flowering bulbs, notably the hyacinths and the vast array of colours throughout the park.
Keukenhof covers some 80 acres (32 hectares) in southern Holland and attracts 800,000 visitors annually
I had no idea what to expect when visiting Keukenhof. This park sits at the heart of Holland's flourishing floriculture industry between the towns of Lisse and Hillegom and I had been told that if you drive there, you will be astounded by the surrounding fields, which are home to the four billion tulip bulbs produced each year by the Dutch. And although the end of March was too early to see these in full bloom, my memories will be of the hyacinths, planted in immaculate rows, with a scent that carries for miles. (For further pictures, click here).
Keukenhof is redesigned annually and all bulbs planted to create new floral displays
Keukenhof covers some 80 acres (32 hectares) and is actually much more than a garden. It is a showcase for Dutch bulb growers, who collaborate to create an annual spring spectacle that draws visitors from all over the world. Bulbs are newly-planted every year and the bedding layout at the park is redesigned so that no spring display will ever be the same. In addition to the parkland, there are also four pavilions within the gardens, showcasing various flowers and plants, with changing themes throughout the two-month opening period.
The Willem-Alexander Pavilion at Keukenhof houses an amazing tulip exhibition this year
Most of us associate tulips with the Netherlands even though this popular flower did not originate there. Early records show that the tulip was first discovered in the Himalayas and introduced to Turkey by the Seljuks in the 11th century, where it is well documented in different decorative mediums including ceramics and paintings. Some 600 years later, Europe was seized by "tulip mania" as bulb collectors became willing to pay hugely inflated prices for the much-prized plant. 
Keukenhof has a constantly changing landscape during the two months it opens each year
Today the Netherlands is the world's largest producer of tulip bulbs, with a land surface area of some 10,000 hectares, providing 4.2 billion bulbs annually. Half of these are exported abroad to garden centres and the remainder leave the country as cut flowers. But it is only when you visit Keukenhof that you realise just how many varieties of tulip there are. There are already some 2,000 different cultivars available and new ones are added each year. 
Holland produces some 2,000 tulip cultivars, many of which are on display at Keukenhof
Keukenhof is open daily (08.00-19.30) from mid March to mid May every year. It is within easy reach of Amsterdam, which has excellent rail and flight connections to the rest of Europe, or accessible from any of the northern French channel ports by car. The drive from Dunkirk is less than three hours, thanks to an excellent highway system, and Calais is only slightly further away. Admission to the park is 15 Euros for adults and 7.50 for children (ages 4-11).

Friday, 4 April 2014

Floral Friday - spectacular spring bulb displays in Holland

Bulb fields around Keukenhof, Holland
Hyacinths as far as the eye can see at this time of year
The daffodils are nearly over, but the tulips are coming into bloom
Early morning eye candy at the heart of Holland's bulb country
Bulbs are one of Holland's main exports - April is the time to see them in full bloom
Early morning mist over the Dutch bulb fields
I've just returned from Holland, where I was lucky enough to visit Keukenhof and the bulb fields around Lisse - certainly one of the most spectacular sights I've seen yet in my travels. The daffodils (above) are coming to an end, but the hyacinths are now in bloom and the tulips are yet to come. Full report to follow.