Sunday, 21 June 2015

Silent Sunday - Gardens to visit - Parham House, West Sussex

Parham House in West Sussex is open every Sunday throughout the season 12.00 - 17.00. Also open Wednesday to Friday. Admission to the garden is £8.00 for adults (free to HHA members). Other notable gardens nearby include Sussex Prairies and West Dean.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Last chance to see Little Wantley in Sussex for NGS opening this weekend

Imagine a house overlooking a wonderful lake and a garden full of surprises - this is what you'll find at Little Wantley in Sussex if you visit this weekend. It's a little piece of heaven - brainchild of the late Hilary Barnes, who died last year - created over the last two decades and now a peaceful oasis, complete with rowing boat for the family to use. But it's also provided a wonderful canvas and allowed the owners to plant a range of water-loving plants that couldn't flourish without it.
Everywhere you turn in this 4.5 acre garden, you'll find something different, like the rope walk (above) flanked by glorious borders brimming with perennials and roses, leading up to the pergola; and the Stumpery (below), made up of old roots of oak and chestnut, which took four years to collect. And as Hilary once said: "We were stumped on how to begin ... so we lifted the largest roots into place to form the base and then fitted the other pieces into position, like a jigsaw puzzle."  
Everywhere you turn there is another charming vista, like the flower garden below - bursting with colour; a secret garden accessed through a pergola; a cantilevered jetty with its own pergola; and glorious views over the lake, which incorporates two islands.  This garden is a masterpiece, and although Hilary once said: "Opening your garden is like baring you soul!", this is definitely one to visit this weekend, because it's the last chance you'll have to see it.
Little Wantley opens for the NGS for the last time this weekend - on Saturday, June 20th - from 14.00 - 17.30. Admission £5.00. Do get there if you can. And for other open gardens, you can use the NGS garden finder to see what there is on offer in your area.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Silent Sunday - Gardens to visit - Monks House, East Sussex

Located at Rodmell near Lewes in East Sussex, Monks House is a perfect cottage garden to visit on a Sunday afternoon. Former home of Virginia Woolf, it is now owned by the National Trust and is open from 13.00-17.30 (free admission to members).

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Hidcote Manor Garden - Paradise Lost and Found in the Cotswolds

Hidcote Manor has undergone a £3.5 million renovation programme since the Millennium
When I first visited Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire several years ago on a hot summer morning in June. It was nothing short of a nightmare! The car park was heaving with coaches, it was over-run with visitors and I came away feeling that I'd been short-changed at a garden theme park ... hustled, bustled and shoved out of the way by foreign tourists desperate to immortalise Lawrence Johnston's iconic Cotswold garden on their memory cards. But if you consider that Hidcote and Sissinghurst are to England, what Giverny and Villandry are to France in terms of drawing garden visitors, it is not surprising. So try and arrive late in the afternoon, as I did this time, at the tail end a rainy day and you might find it more appealing.
First view of the cottage garden at Hidcote Manor as you enter the property
Hidcote has undergone a huge transformation and reincarnation during the last decade, under the stewardship of the National Trust and a committed team of gardeners headed by Glyn Jones. Regarded as one of the most influential 20th century gardens in Britain, it was created by a passionate gardener - Lawrence Johnston - who was no more than an amateur when he arrived in Gloucestershire in 1907. But he became extremely skilled during the 40 years that he lived and gardened here. It was the first property given to the Trust exclusively as a garden, but during the next fifty years of their "parenting", it lost much of the original spirit in which it had been created. 
Lawrence Johnston used hedging and trees to protect his ever-growing plant collection at Hidcote from the winds
As the Millennium approached, a decision was made to restore the garden to the way it was when it was when given to the Trust in 1948. Twelve years and £3.5 million later, Hidcote is back on the map looking the way it did when Johnston left it. The 300-acre estate at Hidcote Bartrim, was originally purchased by Lawrence's mother, Mrs Gertrude Winthrop in 1907, but she had never envisaged a garden here because she was more interested in being lady of the manor. Fortunately, her son had different aspirations and he reclaimed 10 acres from the estate to create the garden that is there today. 
Much of the charm of Hidcote is the vistas through the various garden rooms
Hidcote occupies an unlikely position for a garden of this stature, because it sits on top of a hill overlooking the Vale of Evesham. There was nothing here but fields when Johnston arrived with his mother and the garden rooms were born - using walls and hedging - as a result of his endeavours to provide protection to his ever-growing plant collection. Little has ever been published about him, although he was an ex-patriate American who settled here and fought for his new homeland in both the Boer and First World Wars. He was known as the quiet American, and was the son of a wealthy Baltimore family. 
The red borders at Hidcote are like a firework display
Fortunately for modern visitors, it appears that Lawrence Johnston was an early 20th century plant "geek". He was obsessed both with his garden and plants and travelled widely collecting plants during the 1920s. But equally fortunate was the extent of his mother's wealth, because it would have been impossible to have amassed such a fine collection of plants in those post-war years, without considerable financial backing. He also acquired his second garden property in the roaring 20s - Serre de la Madone - in the South of France, near Menton, and used this as the home for plants that could not survive the English climate. He later retired there because of ill health and today, that garden is also being restored.
Anna Pavord has argued that Johnstone was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement at Hidcote
With little gossip and nothing more than a couple of letters and diaries left behind by Lawrence Johnston about his life or his garden, it is hard to know where he acquired his sense of design. It has been suggested by Anna Pavord that he was influenced by the emerging Arts and Crafts gardening movement, spearheaded by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll. His close neighbour and friend, Mark Fenwick lived at Abbotswood nearby, and he had plans drawn up by Lutyens for his own garden in 1902. And although Hidcote does not bear the normal hallmarks of the era in terms of pergolas, terraces, urns and ornaments, the massed planting style does. 
Hidcote's Rose Walk offers colour and variety throughout the seasons
The restoration project undertaken by the National Trust at Hidcote has breathed new life into a property that was beginning to look somewhat sad and dishevelled at the end of the 20th century. Fortunately the Trust has had the vision to recreate this important property and restore the original planting plans in the various garden rooms.
The Bathing Pool Garden where the water in the pool
changes colours with the seasons

Although the garden covers only ten acres, there are 28 different garden areas here, each with different themes, ranging from the White Garden to winter borders, the magnificent newly-restored Plant House to a Poppy Garden, and the Bathing Pool garden, where the water changes colour according the seasons, ranging from an icy blue in winter, to the vivid green of high summer. But the master plan is more complex even than the number of garden rooms because to the south of the manor, the different gardens are all on different levels, with paths winding through them and a staggering array of secret entrances through topiary dividers. 
     There is no preferred route around Hidcote - you find your own way through the gardens and try not to miss anything, although a single visit will never be sufficient to take it all in. To the north of the manor, there is a very different feel to this garden, and the magnificent restoration and rebuilding of Lawrence Johnston's famous Plant House is a credit to the National Trust and the plantsmen who keep this garden alive. But whichever route you take, try not to miss anything - there are many hidden corners at Hidcote. You have to start south of the manor because the entrance is through the house, but it's easy to get diverted and miss the north part of the garden.
The Rock Bank has undergone a complete restoration at Hidcote as part of the renovation work
To the north of the manor house you'll find the magnificent Rose Walk, ablaze with colour in high summer; and the welcome shade of the Plant House, filled with exotic plants, overlooking the lily pond, as well as the Kitchen Garden, filled with tempting produce. Elsewhere in the garden, the Rock Bank (above) has also been restored, and although it is early days, given all the replanting, this will come into its own as it matures. Also worth remembering about this garden, is that a change in the seasons will bring about a change in the look of the garden, because it was originally planted to ensure that there was always interest, even in the harsh winter months.
Hidcote is open every day throughout the spring and summer months (April to end of September), from 10.00-18.00. Best times to visit are as it opens or later in the day, if you want to enjoy the garden without too many visitors. Entrance is £10.45 for adults (free to National Trust members). Do make sure you don't miss Kiftsgate Court on the other side of the road if you make the pilgrimage to Hidcote Bartrim.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

To Gravetye Manor born - Tom Coward talks about his first five years in the garden created by William Robinson

Tom Coward arrived at Gravetye Manor just five years ago, but has achieved remarkable results during his time as head gardener there. He has not only embraced the challenge of restoring William Robinson's former garden to its former glory, but has worked hard with the new owners of the property to find the right balance between allowing the planted areas to progress, while preserving the history and the unique planting style championed by Robinson, who was a vocal and committed advocate of "wild" gardening.

Tom Coward in the garden at Gravetye Manor
with his dog Vera
William Robinson was a somewhat enigmatic figure - a distinguished horticulturalist who wrote prolifically during his 98-year life - and who championed the idea of "wild" gardening and naturalisation of bulbs in both his writing and his own garden at Gravetye. His best-known books: 'The Wild Garden' (published 1870) and 'The English Flower Garden' (15 editions published between 1883-1933) had a huge influence on other gardeners at the time, yet there are no great gardens attributed to him except the one he created at his manor house in Sussex. 

Tom is no newcomer to gardening or writing and contributes a regular column to Country Life. He came to Gravetye from Great Dixter, where he had worked previously with Fergus Garrett and became well-acquainted with abundant perennial flowerbed planting schemes and wild meadows. He arrived shortly after the hotel was bought by Jeremy Hoskings, who saved it from receivership in a last-minute buyout in 2010.
When I first interviewed Tom in 2011, as he was settling in to his new post as head gardener at Gravetye, a five-year plan had already been formulated for the gardens, which included restoration of the unique elliptical walled garden and Victorian glasshouses; the planting of many new trees; installing a new pergola and planting thousands of bulbs to allow them to naturalise in Robinson style. His hard work has paid off and today the garden provides seasonal colour and a flowering palette that appears effortless. And although the credit for the gardening goes to Tom, he is adamant that no restoration or progress would have been possible without commitment from the owners, who see the garden as a vital part of the guest's experience.
The original pergola at Gravetye Manor when Tom Coward arrived in May 2010
In reality, this look could never be achieved without the tireless efforts of a team of gardeners under Tom's stewardship. It helps that the owners are firmly committed to restoring the gardens and have had the vision to draw on a number of research sources to reinstate the original Robinson look. Tom has been actively involved in searching archives around the country to find photographs and paintings showing how the gardens looked in Robinson's day, and referred to paintings by Alfred and Beatrix Parsons, which had been particularly helpful during the last five years with reference to plant choices and placement.
The new pergola at Gravetye Manor, replanted by Tom Coward since he arrived
William Robinson moved to Gravetye in 1884 and lived there for the remaining 51 years of his life, devoting his time to creating a well-planned naturalistic garden from the surrounding acres of woodland and pasture, by planting mixed perennial borders and using ground cover plants to hide bare soil areas. He was well known for his dislike of the prevailing 'landscape' movement and wanted his garden to be full of flower combinations, with what appeared to be "wild" planting and drifts of colour. 
The walled garden at Gravetye is elliptical - Tom Coward has overseen its restoration and it now provides much of the produce used in the restaurant, as well as fresh flowers for the hotel
Today the owners are determined to recreate the original Robinson look and Tom Coward is well-equipped to carry out their vision. He agrees that he has an easier job than his predecessor with the wide range of plants available from modern sources, but there were teething problems at the outset because years of neglect meant that the beds adjacent to the house had to be replenished and replanted - no easy task with a constant stream of hotel guests wanting to enjoy the quintessentially English garden on their doorstep.
A typical garden view for hotel guests at Gravetye - abundant "wild" planting and colour
Part of the challenge that he most enjoys is the hotel element of the property. "We're never closed", he says, "but the real joy is seeing guests use and interact with the garden". He is also deservedly proud of the walled garden, where all produce is used by the restaurant and flowers are cut daily for the manor. Not surprising therefore that his gardening team has doubled since he arrived at the manor with so many new projects in progress.
Newly-mown meadow at Gravetye Manor - Tom and his team have planted thousands of bulbs including daffodils, camassias and tulipa silvestris since he arrived
Training is another important part of the garden philosophy at Gravetye. Tom has a constant throughput of trainees from various different schemes including the Historic Botanic Garden Bursary. He enjoys having them on site because he says it's rewarding to see their enthusiasm and how they develop in the unique garden environment he oversees. He thrives on their constant desire to learn and improve and feels that the garden is a particularly good training ground because there are so many different components to it -flower beds and borders, an orchard, meadows, the walled garden and the greenhouses - affording the opportunity to see diversity in the workplace and acquire different skills.
The gardens at Gravetye in September - there's still plenty of colour in the borders
Ask Tom what his favourite local gardens to visit are and he will tell you: Great Dixter, Prospect Cottage and Sussex Prairies. If you would like to visit Gravetye Manor, but have no plans to stay there, the best way is to have afternoon tea. You can then wander the garden at your leisure. Alternatively, head for the William Robinson Festival on Saturday, 4th July from 10.00-16.00. Tickets are £15.00 and all proceeds go to the Chestnut Tree Children's Hospice.
There's little doubt that Tom is doing an amazing job at Gravetye and I certainly look forward to seeing what happens there in the next five years.