Friday, 29 May 2015

Swing into summer with a visit to Sussex Prairies - a veritable feast for the eyes!

The central aisle at Sussex Prairies, with Pauline's metal bison on the horizon
There's no other garden anywhere like Sussex Prairies. This is the largest prairie-planted garden in England and, if you haven't visited before, definitely one to see this summer.  This unique six-acre plot will enchant you, as will the home-baked cakes you can enjoy in the tea shop during or after your visit. Paul and Pauline McBride (who you're highly likely to encounter during your visit) are the brains behind this landscape, which they created from a field at the rear of their home near Brighton in Sussex. 
As you cross the wooden entrance bridge, you realise Sussex Prairies is a unique garden phenomenon
This unique naturalistic garden offers vistas you will see nowhere else, planting that will lift your spirits and plenty of alternative entertainment throughout the summer months including workshops, theatre and music events and, at the end of the summer, a Rare and Unusual Plant Fair (September 6, 2015) that attracts some of the best plantsmen in the country, showing their wares. 
The McBrides planted this garden just seven years ago, but you'd never guess this when you see the acres of plants stretching before your eyes. The planting is naturalistic, in Piet Oudolf style, and there are more than 30,000 plants here, grouped together in swathes of unusual colour schemes and a density that makes you want to wander through the various beds and be close to the flowers stretching out before your eyes (you are encouraged to follow the paths through the beds here ... no signs saying "Keep off the grass" or more importantly, "Don't walk on the beds"). You can even take your "well-behaved dog" with you.
Paul and Pauline met many years ago when they were both working for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in France, and later went to work for a wealthy landowner in Luxembourg, who commissioned Piet Oudolf, doyenne of naturalistic planting, to design a new border for his garden. It was their time in Europe that ignited their interest in prairie planting and when they later returned home to Pauline's parents small-holding in Sussex, they decided to create their own garden in one of the fields at the rear of the property.
Another unusual feature here is the wide range of sculpture on display throughout the gardens. Pauline is very committed to supporting local artists and every year approaches different sculptors and invites them to exhibit at Sussex Prairies. The result is a constantly changing exhibition and everything you see is for sale. This year, there are also artists in residence at the garden, with a new exhibition in the tea barn.
The gardens open at the beginning of June and remain open daily (except Tuesdays) until the end of October. And although the public don't have the opportunity to see the way the prairie looks in winter, it retains a huge amount of structural interest (particularly on frosty mornings) throughout the depths of winter. And then, weather and wind permitting, Paul and a team of helpers burn it to the ground in preparation for spring. (Click link here to see pictures of Sussex Prairies burning).
Part of the charm of this little stretch of rainbow heaven is the wonderful freedom it gives the visitor. You can wander around the plants and through them, marvelling at the colour combinations and astoundingly abundant planting . Every cultivar seems happily placed and it's the sheer volume of flower heads that are guaranteed to amaze you. There is colour and a strong sense of optimism here. Watch out for all the grasses and rare perennials.
Sussex Prairies is open from June 1st until October 11th this year, every day except Tuesday, from 13.00-17.00. Admission is £6.00 for adults and £3.00 for children (RHS members go free throughout the season). There is ample parking in a field next door to the garden, a tea shop on site and the gardens are easily accessible to wheelchair users. Other notable gardens nearby include Borde Hill and Nymans

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Great Comp - a spectacular plantsman's garden in Kent

The gardens at Great Comp were created from seven acres of wilderness by former owner, Roderick Cameron
When you arrive at Great Comp and start walking around the seven acres of gardens, you'd be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled across an ancient site where the owner has made the most of the available landscape around crumbling Gothic ruins to create an unusual garden filled with interesting and rare plants. But the "ruins" were actually created over the years by late owner, Roderick Cameron and his wife and are a clever reconstruction of ironstone rubble found in the grounds of the house they bought nearly sixty years ago. 
When the Camerons moved there in 1957 there was little to see and certainly no garden to speak of - just four acres of land that was hugely overgrown. After 50 years of hard work and the acquisition of adjoining land, the result today is a stunning garden providing year-round interest, with some of the finest magnolias and rhododendrons anywhere in England in the spring, and a collection of salvias that attracts visitors from far and wide in the summer. The "ruins" add interesting focal points to a very personal garden and serve to protect some of the tender plants as well as providing unusual places for visitors to sit and reflect on the lovely garden around them.
Expect to see plenty of rhododendrons in bloom if you visit Great Comp in May
Part of the joy of this garden is its serenity and simplicity. It first opened to the public in July 1967 and remained open just a few days a year for the Gardens Scheme (forerunner of the NGS).  It is now open daily from April to October and because of the Cameron’s foresight in setting up a Charitable Trust, it will remain open, despite the death of its creator, Roderick Cameron in November 2009. Today Curator, William Dyson, who has been at Great Comp for two decades, manages the property and also runs a very fine nursery where you can buy many of the plants you see growing in the garden.  He exhibited at RHS Chelsea 2015 after a break of 11 years and came 3rd overall in the 'Plant of the Year Competition' with his newly-launched salvia 'Love and Wishes'.
The Italian Garden at Great Comp, created by Roderick Cameron from rubble found on site
Great Comp is a very enticing garden, with its many paths curving out of sight and large areas of informal planting. There's an impeccably mown lawn in front of the house, fringed with tall conifers, willows and oaks, and from here different paths lead off into areas of woodland. But everywhere you look there are splendid shrubs, underplanted with hostas, lilies and salvias, and you will find more than 3,000 different plants here as well as the heather and rose gardens, and an Italian Garden with its fine collection of Mediterranean plants. 
The garden is located near Sevenoaks in Kent and is open daily from 1st April until the end of October, from 11.00-17.00, as is William Dyson's nursery. Admission is £7.00 for adults. Events at Great Comp this year include The Changeling Open Air Theatre productions in July and The Summer Show in August, featuring many guest nurseries and unusual plants for sale. Other notable gardens nearby include Hever Castle and Titsey Place.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Artisan Gardens at RHS Chelsea 2015

Best Artisan Garden and Gold Medal: The Sculptor's Picnic Garden by Walker's Nurseries and
supported by Doncaster Deaf Trust
Breast Cancer Haven Garden supported by Nelsons - Gold Medal
Future Climate Info, A Trugmaker's Garden - Gold Medal
Edo Garden by Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory - Gold Medal
The Evaders Garden by Chorley Council - Silver-Gilt Medal
Brewers Yard by Welcome to Yorkshire - Silver Medal
The Old Forge for Motor Neurone Disease Association - Silver Medal
Runnymede Surrey Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Garden - Bronze Medal
If you're heading for RHS Chelsea this week, don't miss the Artisan Gardens, tucked away at the side of the show - they're a brilliant source of ideas for your own garden, with fantastic attention to detail. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 - Preview of The Show Gardens

The M&G Garden - The Retreat designed by Jo Thompson
Royal Bank of Canada Garden designed by Matthew Wilson
Sentebale - Hope in Vulnerability designed by Matt Keightley
Prince Harry reflecting in the Sentebale garden at RHS Chelsea this year
Cloudy Bay Garden, in association with Vital Earth designed by Harry and David Rich
Homebase Urban Retreat Garden in association with Macmillan Cancer Support designed by Adam Frost
The Beauty of Islam designed by Kamelia Bin Zaal
A Perfumier's Garden in Grasse designed by James Basson
The Telegraph Garden designed by Marcus Barnett
The Time In Between designed by Charlie Albone
The Hidden Beauty of Kranji designed by John Tan and Raymond Toh
Viking Ocean Cruises Garden designed by Alan Gardner
The Living Legacy Garden designed by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam

The Brewin Dolphin Garden designed by Darren Hawkes Landscapes
Healthy Cities Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw
A glimpse of the Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden designed by Dan Pearson
Drizzle with outbursts of heavy rain was the order of the day at RHS Chelsea today, so apologies to my readers for some rather dark images. The 15 show gardens are featured here - in random order - all taken whilst dodging in and out of the rain and trying to get near enough to photograph them, as the show was already crowded at 7.00 am. But the good news is that the forecast is set to improve so many visitors to this years show may be lucky enough to see these gardens in sunshine later this week. When the medal winners are announced later today, I will add details.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Bluebell bonanza at Hole Park in Kent - catch them while you can!

The bluebell walk at Hole Park, Kent  is spectacular in April and May
When I glimpse rivers of blue in woodland glades, I know that spring is finally here. This year has seen bumper bluebell crops after an unusually mild winter and the dazzling blue flower is everywhere, basking in dappled sunshine - in verges at the side of the road and every available woodland space. But for a true spring spectacular with bluebells as far as the eye can see, head to one of Britain's best-kept garden secrets - Hole Park in Kent. 
Hole Park is surrounded by 15 acres of formal gardens
This family-run estate at the heart of the Kentish Weald has fine views over the surrounding countryside and one of the finest bluebell crops in the country. The woodland walk is spectacular in springtime, even though many of the azaleas and rhododendrons are yet to flower. And the formal gardens around the house, with 15 acres of immaculately-clipped topiary and green vistas will lift your spirits on any sunny summer day.
The season at Hole Park starts with dazzling displays of spring bulbs
Hole Park is undoubtedly one of the best spring gardens in the country. It opens its doors at the end of March and remains open every day until early June so that visitors can enjoy the spring spectacular, which starts with drifts of daffodils, meanders into a bluebell bonanza during April and May (they are early this year) and crescendoes with azaleas and rhododendrons throughout the woodland valley adjacent to the formal gardens. 
The formal gardens around the house are Italian in style, offset by immaculately-clipped topiary
Immaculately-trimmed yew hedges are another outstanding feature of this Italianate garden, with its fine views over the surrounding countryside. The garden has had time to mature because Hole Park has been in the same family for the last century. It was originally planted by the present owner's grandfather, Colonel Barham, between the two World Wars. Autumn brings another dazzling colour display when the leaves begin to turn.
Acres of bluebells are followed by stunning azalea and rhododendron displays
Walk through the woodland areas and you will be struck by the sounds of birdsong and the delicious smell of spring. And when the bluebells are over, there's still plenty to see and a striking colour palette because of the huge collection of azaleas and rhododendrons, which come into full bloom in May. This is when you will catch the magnificent wisteria in flower too, clinging to the long pergola at the heart of the formal gardens.
In high summer, it's the magnificent borders that give the garden interest, ranging from the tropical hot borders, with their fine vistas over the Kent countryside, to the semi-circular vineyard garden featuring wisteria and climbers. All set against a strong background of geometric topiary shapes, mellow brick walls, classical sculpture and stunning, champion trees, offset by acres of manicured lawns. There is also a water garden and a series of sheltered garden rooms adjacent to the house.
Hole Park is open every day from the end of March until the beginning of June, 11.00-18.00. Summer openings commence in early June, when the garden only opens on Wednesdays and Thursdays, through until the end of October, but with additional Sunday openings throughout October for the autumn colours. Admission is £7.00 for adults. Other notable gardens nearby include Great Dixter and Sissinghurst.