Friday, 30 May 2014

Dazzling spring colour displays at the Dorothy Clive Garden

The Quarry Garden at Dorothy Clive offers spectacular early season colours
A charming garden to visit at any time, but The Dorothy Clive Garden near Market Drayton on the Shropshire/Staffordshire borders, provides real eye candy early in the season, with its spectacular woodland displays of rhododendrons. This 12-acre garden was created by the late Colonel Clive in memory of his wife, Dorothy who had Parkinson's Disease, so that she could enjoy the woodland walks. Today it is run by the Willoughbridge Garden Trust, which continues to extend and improve it.
The waterfall at the heart of the Dorothy Clive Quarry garden
The gardens are divided into two main areas - The Quarry Garden (above), with its central waterfall, which is cut into into a steep hill and filled with a fine collection of rhododendrons and azaleas - and the Hillside Garden (see below). There is also a Gravel Garden, added in 1990 to commemorate the garden's 50th anniversary. But it is the Quarry Garden that's in full bloom right now, so head there first if you want to see every colour in the rainbow. 
Colonel Clive created the garden for his wife Dorothy, who had Parkinson's Disease
Colonel Harry Clive started the garden in 1936, when he began clearing pathways through the disused gravel quarry adjacent to his home, so that his disabled wife, Dorothy, could walk there. And the garden continued to grow as he collected more and more rhododendrons. Today there are more than 250 species and cultivars and it is one of the finest collections in the country. 
The Hillside Garden at Dorothy Clive
The Gravel Garden, added 20 years ago, to celebrate the half century of the gardens, houses the spectacular laburnum arch, as well as a fine collection of grasses. But the striking laburnum - in full flower right now - and underplanted with purple alliums, is definitely the 'piece de resistance' in the garden this month. This is a laburnum walk to rival Rosemary Verey's at Barnsley House, and a close contender to the one at Bodnant.
Alpine scree section of hillside garden at Dorothy Clive
The Hillside Garden incorporates an alpine scree garden and has magnificent colourful borders, which are now coming into bloom. The garden is open daily from April to the end of October from 10.00-17.30 and admission is £6.75 for adults. It's close enough to the M6 to be easily accessible from North and South. Other notable properties in the area include Biddulph Grange and Wollerton Old Hall - both to be reviewed in the next few weeks.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Powis Castle - spectacular terraces and home to Britain's Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Powis Castle sits high on a hill overlooking the Severn Valley in Wales
Powis Castle enjoys a spectacular hilltop position overlooking the undulating Welsh countryside. In the past it served as a fortress, built for the Welsh Princes of Powys, but today it is something of a phenomenon, akin to the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon, with a series of terraces perched on the side of a hill and spectacular views over the Severn Valley. It is certainly one of the most unusual gardens in Britain and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
The views from the terraces at Powis Castle are truly memorable
The garden at Powis is a series of terraces filled with extravagant planting, ornate Italianate balustrades and statuary, as well as ancient, oversized, clipped yew trees that add drama to the stage here. The castle dates back to the 12th century, but was added to and extended some 500 years later. The garden there today has its origins in the late 17th century, when William Herbert, 1st Marquess of Powis, employed architect William Winde to create a series of terraces below the castle. But work was never completed, because Herbert was forced to flea to France in 1688.
The Orangery Terrace at Powis Castle 
It was his son, the 2nd Marquess, who commissioned a European gardener, Adrian Duval to complete the garden in the early 18th century and he introduced many of the Dutch influences here, including the Pleasure Garden at the bottom of the valley and a water garden that no longer exists. But by 1770 Capability Brown had exerted so much influence on the way gardens were conceived in Britain, with emphasis primarily on the landscape, that the incumbent Earl of Powis commissioned Brown's Welsh counterpart, William Emes to create the Wilderness area opposite the castle. 
The terraces at Powis Castle were carved out of rock and provide a sheltered habitat for many exotics
More changes were made to the garden under the direction of the Violet, wife of the 4th Earl of Powis in the late 19th century - a keen gardener herself. But, after her death in 1929, nothing changed until the National Trust took over the property in 1952. Since then, it has been turned into a garden to provide year-round interest, although all the original features including ornaments and statuary have been retained. Today the garden is renowned for its striking borders on the 180 metre-long terraces below the castle.
Views from the terraces over the surrounding Welsh countryside are spectacular
What is surprising about the garden at Powis is the large number of exotics growing here. You will find Chusan palms, bananas and cannas in abundance, and even a rice-paper tree (Tetrapanax papyrifer), yet the climate in this part of the country is not tropical. In fact, it is notoriously prone to low temperatures in winter time and heavy rainfall throughout the year. But it is the reflected heat of the terrace walls that encourages these hardy exotics to thrive (and the ability of a committed gardening team to move them to warmer locations during the colder months).

The formal garden and original gardener's cottage at Powis Castle -
today it is available to rent
Another striking feature of the garden at Powis is the topiary, which remains in the mind long after your visit to the castle gardens is over. There are 14 yew tumps (above) on the terraces and they are enormous. So too is the amount of work required to maintain them. It used to take 10 men four months every year to clip all the hedges and tumps by hand, using hand shears, balanced on extremely tall ladders. But today power shears are used and it only takes two men three months to clip the yew. 
    In total In total there are almost 8,500 square metres of formal hedging at Powis and that's in addition to the 7,000 square metres of yew tumps. But modern methods, including the use of hydraulic cherry pickers mean that the task of keeping the yew and box in shape is now manageable.
The formal garden is at the lowest point of the 24 acres of gardens surrounding the Castle - best seen from above if you don't want to climb too many steps on your way back to the car park. There are avenues of apples and pears here, surrounding the former Gardener's Cottage, built in traditional Welsh black and white timber style.  On a cross axis to the fruit trees is the vine arch (above), which was just beginning to show signs of life when I visited in early Many. Later in the season it is a riot of colour.
Look out for the less obvious features here at Powis, like the crested gates hidden at the rear of the terraces (above) and make sure you stroll through the Wilderness opposite the castle. The views from here are also spectacular and you will be able to appreciate the true scale of the terraces from below. There are many specimen trees here, including Californian redwoods, as well as a huge collection of azaleas and rhododendrons, which give wonderful colour in springtime.
Powis Castle and its gardens are open throughout the year (see website for details as winter and summer opening times vary). Admission prices also vary, according to season, but National Trust members go free. Well worth combining with some of the great Shropshire and Herefordshire gardens if you are in the area, including Wollerton Old Hall and Hergest Croft.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

RHS Chelsea 2014 - People's Choice garden - Hope on the Horizon for Help for Heroes

Hope on the Horizon, in support of Help for Heroes, scooped the People's Choice award at Chelsea 2014
As Chelsea Flower Show draws to a close for the 101st year, visitors from all over the world have had a chance to see show gardens that most of us can only dream about, wonderful horticultural products that we want to take home and plants that we long to have in our own gardens. There were few surprises this year on the medal stakes, and as always the big names were there, alongside several newcomers. But it was the Hope on the Horizon garden, designed by Matt Keightley that captured the public heart and won the BBC/RHS People's Choice Award.   
The Help for Heroes garden by Matthew Keightley, one of the youngest designers at Chelsea this year
Designer Matthew Keightley is just 29 years old and this was his first show garden. It was designed as a contemplative garden for Help for Heroes, the charity that supports those soldiers who have sustained injuries and longer-term illness after serving in Afghanistan, together with their families. The charity was founded by Bryn and Emma Parry in 2007 and today H4H has a network of recovery centres for veterans nationwide. Matthew was well-equipped to understand many of the issues facing recovering veterans because his own brother served with the RAF in Afghanistan.
Granite blocks representing strength were offset by predominantly blue and white planting
The H4H garden at Chelsea was arranged along two clearly defined axes representing the Military Cross, emphasised by an avenue of hornbeams, and with both planting and landscaping designed to emphasise the various stages of the road to recovery. Granite blocks representing strength were key to the design while the planting, in a predominantly white and blue palette, emphasised the concept of physical well-being.   
The Help for Heroes garden will be reinstated at one of its recovery centres in Essex
Another highly unusual feature of this garden is that when the show finishes, it will be relocated to newly landscaped grounds at Chavasse VC House in Colchester - a recovery centre run by Help for Heroes. I certainly hope the occupants there enjoy this garden as much as we all did at Chelsea this year. 
To see all the Show Gardens at Chelsea 2014, click here.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Through the lens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014

Togenkyo - A Paradise on Earth - Best Artisan Garden and Gold medal winner
The WellChild Garden, one of the Fresh Gardens, invites you to explore 
A river of blue at Hugo Bugg's RBC Waterscape Garden
Marylyn Abbott's Topiarist Garden - she was let down at the last minute by her sponsor, but still sailed through to produce a medal-winning Artisan Garden
Charlotte Rowe, exhibiting for the first time at Chelsea won a Gold for her No Man's Land Garden
Help for Heroes' Hope on the Horizon, designed by Matt Keightley -
and certainly one of my favourites - won Silver Gilt
Luciano Giubbilei won Best in Show and a Gold for his contemplative Laurent -Perrier Show Garden
RNIB's 'The Mind's Eye' (Fresh Gardens) is designed to to give an understanding of distorted vision 
The Perennial Garden (formerly Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Society) in the Great Pavilion
Waitrose and the NFU put on an amazing display of fruit, flowers vegetables and plants
You never know what you'll find in the Great Pavilion ...

The 101st RHS Chelsea Flower Show continues in London until the end of the week - 
to see all the Show Gardens, click here

Monday, 19 May 2014

RHS Chelsea 2014 - The Show Gardens and medal results

Help for Heroes - Hope on the Horizon designed by Matt Keightley
Silver-Gilt medal at RHS Chelsea 2014
The BrandAlley Renaissance Garden designed by Paul Hervey-Brookes
Bronze medal at RHS Chelsea 2014
The Telegraph Garden designed by Tommaso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitz
Gold medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
The M & G Garden designed by Cleve West 
Gold medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
No Man's Land - designed by Charlotte Rowe - this is her first year at Chelsea 
Gold medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
RBC Waterscape Garden designed by Hugo Bugg
Gold medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
Cloudy Bay Sensory Garden designed by Andre Wilson and Gavin McWilliam
Silver-Gilt medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
Matthew Childs designed the Brewin Dolphin garden this year
Silver Gilt medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
Laurent-Perrier returns to Chelsea for the 16th year with a garden designed by Luciano Giubbilei
Gold medal winner and Best in Show 2014
The Homebase Garden "Time to Reflect" (Alzheimer's Society) designed by Adam Frost
Gold medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
Positively Stoke-on-Trent designed by the City Council with Bartholomew Landscaping
Silver-Gilt medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
Vital Earth The Night Sky Garden by David and Harry Rich
Silver-Gilt medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
The Extending Space designed by Nicole Fischer and Daniel Auderset
Silver-Gilt medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
A Garden for First Touch at St George's designed by Patrick Collins
Silver-Gilt medal winner at RHS Chelsea 2014
The Massachusetts Garden by Susannah Hunter and Catherine MacDonald
Silver medal at RHS Chelsea 2014
The Chelsea Flower Show opened its doors early this morning for the 101st time and all those attending were greeted with clear blue skies and rising temperatures. It promises to be a good year and there is plenty of new talent this year. These are the Show Gardens and medal results. Chelsea is open from May 20th - May 24th.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A hidden Arts & Crafts gem in Birmingham - Winterbourne Botanic Garden

Winterbourne House in Birmingham has a Grade II listed Arts & Crafts garden
Winterbourne House in Edgbaston, Birmingham is one of the finest Arts & Crafts houses in Britain - worth making a special pilgrimage to see if you're a fan of this decorative movement - and set in seven acres of gardens with many fine features associated with Gertrude Jekyll. The house is filled with an exceptionally well-preserved collection of furniture, textiles, ornaments, curtains, wallpaper and carpets and the garden boasts a pergola, crinkle crankle walls, Jekyllesque borders and other features from her book, "Wood and Garden", published more than 100 years ago.
Winterbourne House and its gardens have been completely restored by the University of Birmingham
Winterbourne House was built for John Nettlefold, a prosperous Birmingham-based industrialist, who moved here with his family in 1904. And although he only remained here until 1919, two further families lived here before the outbreak of World War II. it was the Nicolson family, who arrived in 1925, who made a substantial contribution to the garden and grounds. John Nicolson was the son of a Scottish crofter who became a successful businessman in Birmingham. He also had a passion for gardening and introduced many new plants to the property during his time there. His particular interest was alpines.
The gardens at Winterbourne have been fully restored by the University of Birmingham
Since 1944 Winterbourne has belonged to the University of Birmingham. It was gifted to them by the family after John Nicolson's death and has variously been used as student accommodation and as a teaching base, until finally in the new Millennium, a brave decision was taken to restore the property to its former glory and open it as a museum. The University has done a remarkable job and in 2008 the garden was awarded a Grade II listing in recognition of its national importance.
Winterbourne's gardens are Grade II listed and include one of the finest crinkle crankle walls in Britain
The garden contains some remarkable features - a fully restored pergola, one of the finest crinkle crankle walls in the country (above) a large walled garden, planted in traditional Arts & Crafts style, with borders arranged to provide huge splashes of colour in high summer, fully restored glasshouses, featuring collections of orchids, succulents and alpines, and an original 100-year-old nut walk (below), featuring filberts, cob and hazel nuts. 
The nutwalk is an original feature of Winterbourne Botanic Garden, planted 100 years ago
Today the garden houses more than 10,000 different plant species and is recognised as an important Botanic Garden. The National Collections of Anthemis and Iris unguicularis, the winter flowering iris, are held here and there is also an impressive collection of cacti and succulents in the greenhouses. The seven acres provide a diverse habitat for all types of plants and are also planted with many fine trees, including a magnificent Chusan palm and a fast-growing North American redwood. 
The walled garden at Winterbourne features a fully-restored lean-to glasshouse
Margaret Nettlefold designed the original garden here. She was much influenced by Gertrude Jekyll and introduced many of the structural Arts & Crafts features. The pergola was faithfully restored during the recent renovation of the property by the University, as were the glasshouses and today the garden is a striking example of an Edwardian garden, with the added attraction of a huge number of plants and species at the heart of this bustling city.
View of the walled garden at Winterbourne from the gallery
Winterbourne has been carefully planted to provide year-round interest and also features a collection of Geographic beds, with Australia, Europe, China, Japan and North America represented. It is unusual to find so many different plants within a relatively small area and credit must be given to the University of Birmingham for preserving and protecting the collections here. But it appears that the garden is relatively unknown and it is all too easy to be lured into the much larger Birmingham Botanical Gardens nearby and miss this hidden gem. 
If you are in Birmingham, make sure you head for Winterbourne House - you won't be disappointed. The house is a veritable Arts & Crafts museum and the garden is delightful. Open daily throughout the year, except for a month at Christmas time, but check website here for details. Admission is £5.00 for adults. The property is staffed by extremely helpful students from the University of Birmingham. Easy to find because it is marked with brown tourist signs and there is parking on site. Get there if you can - I really enjoyed my visit despite pouring rain!