Towering above the landscape

On the edge of Castle Acre village in West Norfolk stands a rusty old water tower. Apparently a Braithwaite type (the name refers to the manufacturer), it was originally constructed for nearby RAF Massingham during WWII, and afterwards recycled and moved to Castle Acre where it was decommissioned in the early 90s. Left to stand and rust, it became a familiar landmark to us locals and in some people’s eyes it was considered a bit of a blot on the lovely landscape, well that is until recently.

Picture: Matthew Usher.

Bought in an auction by a professional photographer from London it has, in the last couple of years been given it a complete face lift. Driving by we have watched the transformation with curiosity.

So what joy it was back in September when the new owners kindly held an open day and invited us all in, and free of charge. We went in droves, proving that we all love a good snoop when the opportunity arises. The garden gates were open wide and with a glorious blue sky and a quirky house sign we were welcomed in.

The recently laid drive has on one side a mature mixed hedgerow and on the other newly planted Corsican pines.

At first sight the impressive structure appears almost menacing and I wondered for a brief moment if I might spy a German soldier peering from the slit windows.

The owners employed the clever team of architects tonkin liu https://tonkinliu.co.uk/architecture .

An awesome beast, it is a touch industrial but at the same elegant.The understated front door is pinned open…….

and you enter into a garden room.

The spiral stairs beckons you upwards

each step crafted into neat wooden sandwiches.

I am keen to get straight to the top just allowing my heavily pregnant daughter-in-law to stop a second to admire the windows,

and then the stairs morph into a metal ladder

and we clamber up out on to the roof. We thought it a still day but the wind blows up here.

My friend seems to be a very long way down,

But the views are stunning; stubble fields stretch northwards,

while to the east, the small village of Newton by Castle Acre is hidden by trees.

To the south is the village of Castle Acre, with Southacre beyond,

and to the west, the road winds towards Westacre. Much of these acres are owned by the Holkham estate situated some 18 miles away, the home of the Coke family. The story goes that when Coke was increasing his lands back in the 17th Century, King James 1 was not happy with the acquisition. Coke’s comment was that it was just three more acres he wanted to purchase and so proceeded to acquire Castle Acre, West Acre and South Acre.

It is time to descend, the way down through the hatch somehow does not seem as inviting as it did on the way up.

We go down into the floor below which is in fact the old water tank and now the kitchen,

with the large ballcocks cunningly recycled into ceiling lights,

and the windows cut out of the metal sides to reveal the landscape. It is pure art.

Below the kitchen, on different levels are the two bedrooms, a ladder reaches to the raised bed area. No curtains adorn the ceiling to floor windows but why would you want to block out that view.

The owner Denis and his wife haven’t quite moved in and have been residing in a double converted container situated by the tower. There is no garden as yet, and indeed surrounded by such landscape there is no need. Outside the container the patio area is decoratively paved with recycled manhole covers,

and from here you can look up and check the time. And for us we realise it is time to go.

Owner Denis is an acclaimed still-life photographer and his profile describes his ability ‘to create spectacular, dynamic imagery from all manner of raw material’, I think it could be said that he displays his talent in this extraordinary building.

Something a little special in Spencer Road

Last Thursday number 7 Spencer Road, situated by Wandsworth Common in London was open for the National Garden Scheme, an evening opening beginning at 5.30pm.

It so happens that I look after my grandson on a Thursday nearby so it seemed an opportunity not to miss, with the added fact of course, the young chap was keen to accompany me.

The entry in the Garden Visitor’s Handbook describes it as the ‘garden designer’s experimental ground’ and with a quirky quince winding up in front of the window on the street side, it promised to be an intriguing garden.

A touch of topiary compliments the terracotta pots on the front steps which are filled with Cleome hassleriana ‘White Queen’ combined with the dainty white Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Diamond Frost’

We hurry through the narrow, thankfully uncluttered walkway to the left of the front door ever anxious to explore what is beyond.

Young Alfie allows just a second for me to pause and read the notice; I am not quite sure if it is a warning or indeed an apology.

Then in that way of secret gardens we find ourselves in an inviting explosion of branches and verdant leaves. It is a compact space and I am glad we made the decision to leave the pushchair at home.

No lawns here but a glorious variety of plants through which stone steps and a narrow, natural looking path are laid; slightly off centre it has a way of encouraging those small feet to hurry along.

Several visitors are already here chatting and admiring the rich planting in this beautiful space but that does not deter the grandson as he slips through their legs

clutching his friend Piglet.

The garden is long and thin and faces north-east. We are very careful not to tread on the tapestry of foliage and flower growing at ground level.

For the not so small visitor there is much to see at eye level, horizontal and vertical shapes with a gentle dabb of colour.

The ultimate destination is the sunroom situated at the far end of the garden; it was built at an angle to reach the later lower light of the south-west winter sun.

High up on the corner of the roof is a plant in a pot and garden-owner Christopher Masson feels that in London gardens, such pots should be raised up high.

Around every corner there are beautiful combinations of containers, plants and structures,

cleverly arranged to give height, interest and an elegance of antiquity.

As those little legs explore the garden we are naturally attracted to the pond, calming and restful,

the sound of water gently trickling over the stone plinth is mesmerising.

There is that rose again, my favourite I have seen it everywhere this year and seemingly always in flower; it is Bengal Beauty.

Places to sit and relax are positioned to capture those precious moments in the sun,

just a perfect spot to nibble a pork pie.

The garden is planted specifically to be enjoyed in late summer; Eucomis, Dahlia and Plumbago are a joy at this time of year.

It has been a good year for Salvias and they will continue to flower on into the Autumn.

Not yet in flower is the bewitching Tibouchina urvilleana commonly known as the Glory Bush. It is new to me but Wikipedia tells me that it comes from Brazil

and shows a picture of a stunning flower.

We haven’t time to stay too long, as Piglet says it’s time for bed. So we leave Christopher Masson sharing his expertise in his glorious ‘experimental ground’, his own ‘hundred acre wood’.

We have had good fun, both of us in our different ways; never too early to share our love of garden visiting and I think how fortunate we are that the National Garden Scheme allows children to enter without charge.

The Garden Gate is Open at Tudor Lodgings.

There are an incredible 340 gardens open for the National Garden Scheme during August. Sadly I have been unable to visit any so far partly because I am busy with my own garden being one of the 340, added to which my ‘under-gardener’ had an unfortunate accident resulting in him being confined to crutches and so leaving me with much to do.

So forgive me, it has to be a tour of my own garden. Tudor Lodgings is perched on the edge of the historic village of Castle Acre, and was built in the late 15th Century.

Thank heaven we were open combined with Highfield House, as lovely Jackie and David were very supportive and brilliant at putting up the posters and all the important signage.

As you can imagine much preparation goes into opening the garden, and always as the day approaches I never feel that the garden is quite ready and as I would like it to be. Radio Norfolk announced its opening and a very complimentary write up in the Saturday Telegraph the day before did nothing to relieve my anxiety. Was the garden really up to this sort of standard?

Whilst you can work your socks off, you can do absolutely nothing about the weather; the view from my bedroom window on the Sunday looked promising. Swinging into action frighteningly early I began the day by putting the first of the home-made sausage rolls and quiches into the oven, timing each bake between walking dogs and watering.

Mowing the lawn and knocking in the final notices is usually the job of the under-gardener. This year he had to give instructions from his incapacitated position in the sunroom. Our sons rose to the occasion (forgive the pun).

With the final inspection of the lawn being undertaken by our friendly fowl, the under-under-gardener team took up position in the lower paddock.

Here they turned their attention to parking cars, skilfully maximising the open space until for a short moment there was no more room to be had. It was fortunate they had opened the gates earlier than scheduled and the first car or two began to leave just in time to allow others in.

Access to the garden is by walking up the slope through the field gate,

and it is worth just pausing a second here to look at the old medieval wall, in effect a large dry ditch and bank, which surrounds the garden on two sides. An ancient listed monument, it is very steep and therefore tricky to maintain plus the added fact that there are restrictions. We keep the bank directly below the house neatly strimmed,

whilst on the other side we allow the nettles to grow. Both these areas are carpeted with snowdrops in the winter months.

Moving on up towards the garden and situated west of the dovecote is a sculpture by Matthew Frere-Smith (1923-1999). This piece was already here when we arrived and we have become rather fond of it, endlessly moving it around to several different sites within the garden. It has come to rest here which we feel might at last be its proper resting place.

There is no set route around the garden and slipping through the gap in the yew hedge you can go either,

straight up the path bordered on one side with anenomes and hydrangeas and with a block of panicum virgatum on the right,

or you can turn right and head towards the house. Perhaps this is a good starting point. When we moved here in 1985 with toddler and babe in arms, I, and the ‘under-gardener’ knew very little about gardening.

There were certainly the beginnings of a garden here; trees, hedges and topiary had been planted, the paving and steps laid, all sketched out on the back of an envelope by Brenda Colvin, a friend of my predecessor http://www.colmog.co.uk/brenda-colvin/. It is a family garden which has evolved over time and we have simply added to the original design.

The house faces south and visitors are drawn to the shrub growing up in between door and window.

It is Itea illicifolia and the long fragrant catkin-like flowers fill the air with the aroma of honey. The unknown clematis winds itself through and is happy to flower for most of the summer.

Between the house and the lawn is a knot garden. Created in 2013 we did not want a traditional design, but instead were inspired by the artist Mondrian, and within the straight lines of box, the loose planting tries to keep within his palette; blue nepeta, red echinacea, yellow stipa tenuissima mixed with coreopsis, and white cosmos combine with Japanese anenome and gaura. In spring there is a showing of galanthus, muscari and tulips.

From the house there is a slight incline and for years we gardened on the slope until one day we decided to terrace it. So much easier. In the upper section hibiscus, roses, perovskia and phlomis fight for space while below sits a ridiculously large watering can; well what else do you do with an empty green expanse?

The Barn which we let out for self-catering holidays, is kept vacant, and stepping through a border of echinops, kirengeshoma and senecio tangutica it becomes the tea room. Indeed for some this is the most important area of the garden.

It is at this point that I should mention the tea team, led by ‘the nurse’ who has been administering injections twice daily for the past fortnight to the under-gardener whilst at the same time filling my deep freeze with an amazing selection of cakes. There is no doubt that not only are her nursing qualities superb but also she bakes a perfect sponge. The nurse cajoles her family to drive the distance from Gloucestershire to Norfolk to help, and together with over a dozen kind friends from the village they serve and wash up the entire day. It would quite simply be impossible without them.

From the end of the Barn, and the end of the lawn you see gently rolling fields; please don’t think of Norfolk as being flat.

You might think the table and chairs have been moved here to enjoy the view. That is partly true but while showing a group around the garden the day before opening, a gust of wind brought the rather poorly Judas tree in the centre of the lawn crashing down. Just what you need before an opening. With no alternative but to leave it, I moved the table and chairs further away. There is also another reason why it was best to move them; it is the low table that was the cause of the crutches. Let’s say no more and carry on.

Tulip and Jesus (he came at Christmas) are sitting in front of the former dovecote. Built in C16 it is square in plan with the remains of the nesting boxes formed of brick and clunch. There are no doves now but it houses the garden tools instead. The abstract topiary known affectionately as the ‘Bun of box’ is a great place for terriers to play hide and seek.

In the shady corner the hosta fills the copper pot, all summer long its large leaves are never touched by slug or snail.

Squeezing through the keyhole in the yew hedge you re-enter the area where the centre is filled with ornamental grass.

This was originally just long grass with mown paths but we got tired of it becoming unsightly by the end of June and so planted a block of Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’; the seed heads which turn red compliment the hot border to the right,

where more ornamental grasses thread through red-leaved shrubs and bright flowers such as crocosmia, hemerocallis and monarda,

Further round the corner, the campsis radicans this year has been positively trumpeting with flowers climbing over a brick wall by the garage.

Originally I planted this tunnel with roses and apples but as one never saw the rose flowers unless flying overhead, which I seldom did, I removed the roses and now have just apples and pears. The apple is an old variety called Norfolk Beefing, a lovely cooker which never seems to let us down.

The tunnel is a link to the wilder part of the garden but as you move through, on the right there are autumn raspberries and on the left in the fruit cage are various currants. The vegetable area has now been planted up with cutting flowers. I am hopeless at growing vegetables and cannot see the point when I have a perfectly good greengrocer in Swaffham. What I love is being able to pick flowers and this year, cornflower, sweet peas and sunflowers have been a delight.

You come through the tunnel to the wilder part of the garden. The shepherd’s hut, where, as it faces west we can catch the evening sun; the perfect place for a sundowner.

From here we can enjoy the tower of the fine church of St James the Great,

and can also watch the sheep safely graze amongst the wild carrot and oxeye daisies.

The ancient monument rises up behind the shepherd’s hut to the south west corner and many years ago we dragged a railway sleeper up there to use as a bench. From here you get a marvellous view:

Due south towards Swaffham, and if you look carefully you can see the wind turbine,

and to the west are the ruins of the priory.

It is a great look out from up here not just for our visitors,

and looking across our property in the far distance beyond the house and hidden by trees are the ruins of the castle.

Having retraced the uneven way down you can then take the path around the pond. Wild it may be but this part of the garden takes a lot of looking after. One day it is our intention to make this wheelchair friendly.

A peaceful place, with just the sound of the little stream behind, you can glimpse the drakes swimming on the pond, sadly their ladies were taken earlier this year by Mr Fox.

The chickens, bantams, guinea fowl and Richard the rhea are safe at the moment and roam the top field during the day and are locked up at night.

We used to keep horses but they have now given way to horticulture, and the potting shed and greenhouse now occupy the yard where the ponies were stabled. Verbena bonariensis happily seeds itself in a riot of colour as does the Stipa gigantea.

Agapanthus grown in pots find it warm enough to stay out all year round,

but we have to bring in the dahlias for the winter; it is surely worth the trouble

A few steps on brings us to the garden gate, this is in fact the main entrance for visitors walking in from the village, and here on open day you can buy the inexpensive but brilliant plants from the stall set up by West Acre Gardens http://www.westacregardens.co.uk/nursery.html

after making your purchases you can then head for the delicious teas in the Barn.

I am glad to report that approximately 520 visitors came on 11th August and the two gardens raised just under £5,000 for the National Garden Scheme. If you missed it this year we will be open again next August. In the meantime there are still plenty of other gardens to visit: https://ngs.org.uk/ Thank you George Plumptre for including us within your section of Gardens to Visit in the Daily Telegraph, and for the prompt to write this blog.

National Garden Scheme

——-August——-

Batteleys Cottage; ponds, paths and plenty of places to sit.

It is a glorious time of year for garden visiting, however I fear many of us this afternoon will be staying at home to watch the Wimbledon finals. So I am going to take you around Batteleys Cottage Garden which I very much enjoyed last Sunday when it was open for the National Garden Scheme.

Situated in the village of Wortham on the Norfolk/Suffolk border I parked on the sandy heathland and walked up the drive admiring first the charming little corner on the right,

and then decorative bicycle propped against the wall on the left.

Like so many of the gardens open for the scheme, this is privately owned, created by the owners and has a delightful element of surprise when you enter. Stepping onto the lawn to the right of the cottage you are drawn in by this intriguing centrepiece.

The neatly mown lawn (no worn Wimbledon patches here), is surrounded by borders packed with plants; a perfect place to pause awhile and take in the beautiful surroundings.

Across the way bursting out of the perennials, is an explosion of soft blue delphiniums.

It is not just the colour of these borders that is so attractive, but the texture, the rhythm and the movement. It is hard to believe that not that long ago the area was a mass of blackthorn and bramble and not a single herbaceous plant to be seen.

When Andy and Linda began to work on the garden some seven years ago they had to clear 30 huge Leylandii from the boundary. Now a gravel path winds around the perimeter allowing views across the neighbouring fields and letting in light onto the roses cascading around the arches.

The garden is seamlessly divided into different spaces; from the more formal area closer to the house,

through to a wilder area further away, creating a different atmosphere and making the whole one acre garden feel much larger.

This simple map explains the outline but does not show the tremendous impact of the rich planting.

In the centre of the garden is the summer house looking out on to a delightful pond,

an area not only perfect for wildlife but also a place where winged sculptures gracefully fly.

Andy and Linda have no help in the garden each working on average two full days a week. They do however find time to enjoy the results of their labour positioning the many seats around the garden to their best advantage. This elegant seat is set in the long grass in the orchard.

Clematis come into play in every part of the garden, either scrambling with roses against trees,

or climbing up well positioned obelisks,

this is the handsome, velvety ‘Romantika’ who will flower through to the Autumn.

The mix of light and shade has a soothing quality,

as does the gentle sound of the water flowing in the stream.

Around every corner there is something different,

sunny, characterful and almost quirky.

There are two areas for vegetables and it is a delight to see this potager sited conveniently right outside the back door.

Linda has a family link with India and it was on a trip there that she was able to purchase this stone plinth.

Returning to the lawn in front of the house I find this bewitching couple emerging gently from the mixed planting.

Inevitably I succumb to the delicious tea and apricot cake, and it is from the colourful patio outside the sun room that I can really take in the splendour of this beautiful garden.

The garden will be open next year, perhaps at a slightly earlier time so don’t miss it: https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/29923/

And whether you are punting for the Edelweiss or the Lily-of-the-Valley I hope you enjoy the match.

The Stuart-Smith trilogy

Thursday 13th June was an exceedingly wet day. This neither deterred nor detracted from a delightful day tour of three gardens in the village of Bedmond in Hertfordshire, owned by various members of the Stuart-Smith family and organised by James Bolton of Border Lines http://border-lines.co.uk/

We began the day at The Barn, Serge Hill, the home of the famous designer Tom Stuart-Smith and his wife Sue. Renowned for his landscape artistry with a fresh mix of naturalism, together with contemporary, I had for some time been interested in seeing his own private garden. In the pouring rain we first of all admired the courtyard garden in front of the Barn, richly planted, there was plenty of colour.

Tom’s landscape design practice has won eight gold medals at Chelsea with three winning ‘Best in Show’. Some of the materials here are recycled from the 2005 Daily Telegraph show garden; you may remember the rust coloured corten steel water tanks surrounded by the red coloured Astrantia major, euphorbias and other perennials.

The fresh new growth of Hakonechloa macra softens the steel and cascades in front of the tank and wall. You can perhaps appreciate how very wet it was from the surface of the water.

Taking cover under the tree I view the native meadow in the foreground. Sown some 25 years ago it is cut for hay in the late summer. Although the sound of the M25 can be heard in the distance, the countryside is green and gently rolling.

Before taking one of the mown paths through the long grass I explore the west side of the Barn where the patio is a delightful area with table and chairs,

and leads onto a verdant lawn with floriferous borders either side. It is hard to imagine that twenty years ago this richly planted area was once an empty wheat field.

Looking back you can see that it is in fact a series of enclosed spaces divided by hedges. These spaces are either packed with plants,

or simply empty, compelling you to walk on through to the path beyond.

Following the path there is mature woodland on one side and meadow on the other. Today I can only imagine that the swimming pond must be enticing on a hot summer’s day.

Turning back towards the Barn and walking across the meadow there is a slight touch of ‘Out of Africa’, well, perhaps if the sun was shining.

The exotic meadow created in 2011 is not yet in flower; the exquisite pink flower heads of Dianthus cruentas are just a taster of what is to come.

I do find a splash of colour by following the mown path away through to the left where a little wooden gate opens up to a display of white iris, foxglove and cornus.

There is sadly no time to linger in the greenhouse, so, a little wet from our ramblings we leave the Barn to walk over the road to Serge Hill.

This is the family home where two generations of Stuart-Smiths have gardened. Roses adorn the pillars of the elegant Edwardian veranda. Tom’s sister is now in charge and explains that she is assisted by a team of Wwoofers; for those not familiar with these guys I suggest you take a look at the website https://wwoof.org.uk/. Kate provides a potted history of the garden and explains how her mother was an avid gardener.

Through the relentless rain we turn our backs on the white Regency house and look out over lawn and parkland beyond.

I follow the meandering gravel path alongside the border brightly billowing with June colour,

and enter the walled garden through the gate curiously positioned at the far corner.

Here too is sumptuous planting; climbers cover the walls, roses and clematis vigorously clamber over arches. Hardly an inch of ground is bare, covered with an enviable assortment of perennials.

Even the paths are sometimes difficult to detect.

This half-acre walled garden is fully working with an abundance of first class vegetables.

It is a relief to shelter in the greenhouse for a while, a hive of industry and fully operational with old fashioned handles still in use.

There is a splendid display of ‘down tools’. I imagined the Wwoofers must be at lunch,

and that is exactly where we head off to, mounting the steps through the climbing rose and crossing the courtyard to the backdoor where we are pleased to shed some of our wet clothes.

Lunch, delicious and most welcome is served in the dining room where it transpires the Wwoofers have left off work to serve us.

After lunch we drive the short distance taking the foxglove-lined track to Pie Corner, the home of Tom and Kate’s brother Jeremy and Bella Stuart-Smith. Bella is also a garden designer and plantswoman and has created the house and garden.

We park in the field below this interesting recently-built house.

Gathering near the tulip tree liriodendron tulipifera we hear about its creation from Bella.

Around the corner the deer appears to be galloping towards us,

viewed from the house she appears to be just passing through.

The swimming pool is situated so close to the house and, hidden from the windows by the clipped box and santolina is very much part of the garden.

Moving round to the side of the house it is a wonderful vista from the terrace through the valley.

On the other side of the house from the swimming pool side stands another pool, not for swimming it dominates the dry garden planted with a mix of herbs and summer flowering perennials. An archway in the hedge invites us through to a less formal area

where we find the pretty vegetable garden.

Another gate leads out into woodland.

This wooded area which rises up behind the house has recently been cleared and replanted, the foxgloves have sprung to life. I follow the paths and

return to this light, contemporary and comfortable house where we enjoy tea and a glorious piece of coffee cake.

These three gardens are open for the National Garden Scheme; The Barn and Serge Hill which open together have already opened this year so make a note not to miss them next year when hopefully the rain will have stopped. Pie Corner is open “By Arrangement” through July, August and September. Visit the website https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/

Parham, photography and flowers

A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed a day at Parham House in West Sussex https://www.parhaminsussex.co.uk/plan-your-visit/. Looking at the garden through the lens of a camera I attended a two day course, sadly shortened to one and run by the Artist in residence the celebrated photographer Elizabeth Zeschin https://www.zeschin.com/.

Photo taken from Parham House website

As is often the case on so many courses I have experienced, you find there are those who arrive brimming with confidence, armed with the best equipment and a knowledge they are keen to impart, and then there are those of us who have no idea what they are doing, come with inadequate tools and simply want to learn a little more about how to improve their photography and move on from using the automatic button.

We met in the Seed Room where Elizabeth is holding her present exhibition; beautiful salt prints, black-and-white painstakingly developed, and in the corner stood the dauntingly old-fashioned camera which she had used to photograph them.

Following our instruction on ISO, aperture and shutter speed, and trying not to trip over my trusty tripod (I had to borrow one as mine was incomplete), we headed out into the garden. Concentrating on all that had been said I took my first photograph; the result was unremarkable, utterly dull and very flat.

Parham House is a wonderful Elizabethan house and as you walk into the walled garden you are overwhelmed with the generous and vibrant planting and you can’t help but feel that many have walked this way before. Situated in a sheltered spot in the far distance you can see the South Downs.

We entered through the south gate; the garden was not open to the public so we had the glorious four acres to ourselves. We were spoilt for choice and pointed our lenses where we could. Fellow student and NGS garden owner chose her spot carefully and looked the part.

The garden is divided into many areas. The main pathway runs north to south along a central axis. Crossing it to the west is the blue border with pools of nepeta billowing out onto to the path, extending towards the painted door in the wall,

and to the east the gold border stretching towards the oak door with the roof of the dovecote rising above.

The summer house on the north wall provides the perfect focal point. Either side of these calming gentle strips of lawn are the memory walls; made of stone they were built in 1965 by Veronica Tritton (the great aunt of the present incumbent) in memory of her father the Hon. Clive Pearson who bought Parham House in the 1920s and restored the property.

I couldn’t help focusing on this divine little chap sitting at the end of the wall and I worry people might not necessarily notice him. As I adjust my lens I realise there is much to think about; how much should I zoom in? Should I include the meadow to the side? Shall I frame him in the evergreen oak?

And then Elizabeth kindly lent me her macro lens and a whole new world opened up before me. The white froth of flowers on the Crambe cordifolia takes on a new appearance and I am reminded of my flowerless plant at home which has never really recovered from being moved.

However the architectural Angelica archangelica flowers freely at home spreading its seeds happily, although I try to keep it contained within the drive.

It is a new intriguing world through this lens; surely there is no better common name for nigella damascena than Love-in-a-Mist.

We are absorbed with our cameras for several enjoyable hours and as we return for a late lunch I cannot but admire this collection of pots. Aren’t professional gardeners so clever at filling those shady corners.

After lunch we blinked ourselves out into the afternoon sun and returning to the walled garden I am drawn to the orchard area immediately on the left. Shadows have appeared over the mown paths through the long grass; it is of course a different light.

Standing boldly, the apple tree spreads its branches and if you look carefully, the mistletoe can just be identified in this tapestry of greens.

Across the way to the orchard the faded wisteria drips over the entrance to the plant sales. I must resist and concentrate on camera in my hand.

So I move swiftly up to the north-eastern corner where the uncut meadow contrasts with the clipped box surrounding the vegetable and cutting garden.

Gardens are so much about health and wellbeing and here is a place that you can escape, admire the flowers, the shapes and form, perhaps take inspiration or simply relish the peaceful surroundings.

As the afternoon draws into evening the light changes again and so too does the atmosphere. The north wall is now bathed in the gentle warm sunlight.

Standing at the far end of the memory walls I position myself for some time under the apple tree watching and waiting for the shadows and trying to get the best angle.

Of course I understand why gardens have to close at the end of the day, but wouldn’t it be good if they remained open for that early evening magical light?

It is time to finish. We have spent a full day in the garden and goodness Elizabeth has patiently worked hard and has been a perfect teacher.

So to the finale, the oak door in the wall is opened, with an imaginary drum roll, and remembering Elizabeth’s on-going mantra ‘ If you can’t imagine it on the page of a magazine or wall of a gallery, DON’T PRESS THE SHUTTER’ 

I take my very last shot of the day. I hope you will agree that it is a huge improvement on my first!

Parham has opened in the past for the NGS for an amazing 40 years and now kindly advertises in the Sussex county booklet. There is much I have not seen today so I will return. For opening times https://www.parhaminsussex.co.uk/plan-your-visit/opening-times-prices/

Why run a marathon when you can visit a garden?

Last Sunday the sun came out, the sky was blue, and it was a perfect day for the Halstead Marathon in Essex. No, no don’t be silly I wasn’t the runner, that was my daughter. I would rather visit a garden any day so I waved her off at the start and nipped off to nearby Sandy Lodge, opening for its second year for the National Garden Scheme.

With a little time to kill before it was to be open, I walked around the delightfully well kept cemetery situated opposite the Marathon start. Calming soft summer greens and birdsong, a haven of peace after the giddying gathering of over 400 runners, lycra, gels and a plethora of multi-coloured trainers.

The garden was just a short distance away up the hill on the North side of Halstead. I had arranged to meet a friend and what better place to catch up before she moves to her new garden in Devon.

As always with people who so kindly want to share their much-loved garden there was a warm welcome at the entrance.

The house was built during the 1960s with large replacement windows added in recent years. You are drawn in through the open gates and the driveway is softened by the pretty combination of mainly tulips and irises interplanted with Stipa tenuissima,

and there is a touch of the Beth Chatto influence here as the planting seamlessly spills out from the raised border on the left.

Looking back from the house the low hedge of Pittisporum tenuifolium echoes the sweep of the drive, snaking round from the pale stone face, asleep in the morning sunlight.

The gravel spreads underneath a cherry tree where the solid wooden benches have been arranged amongst the driftwood pieces,

which adds a sculptural element, with the Feather Reed grass providing a strong vertical accent and creating a division between the gravel and lawn. This ornamental grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ is an early perennial, already grown to a good height, a lush green now but will turn golden in the summer, and bringing a suggestion of movement to an otherwise static area.

So who exactly was Karl Foerster? Born in 1874 in Germany his life was caught up in the turmoil of 20th Century Europe, and defying the Nazi regime he employed Jews to help in his nursery near Berlin which he had set up in 1903. After the war, the nursery was nationalised as it was located in East Germany, but Foerster remained there for a number of years. We have him to thank for this Calamagrostis which he found in the Hamburg Botanical garden listing it in his catalogue of 1939 and describing it a decade later in his garden book, The Use of Grasses and Ferns in the Garden

There are several varieties of ornamental grass at Sandy Lodge. The house has substantial decking on two sides and from here you can survey the 3/4 acre garden created over the past 5 years. A high standard of horticulture is maintained, neatly mown lawns, razor sharp edges and not a weed in sight.

The double borders in front of the decking were created just last year. Inspired by the great Dutch nursery man and designer Piet Oudolf, they are planted in the prairie style and in addition have a generous covering of stone, more for aesthetics rather than as a mulch.

We head out across the lawn to the ‘Winter Wedding Border’ so called because when the garden owners Emma and Rick married in December of 2014 they asked for Garden Voucher wedding presents. A fun idea and now they have a living memory of their special day.

My friend and I haven’t seen each other for awhile; we usually meet in a cafe but what better way than in a garden in the presence of nature where the background music is bird song. We had to stop our flow of chat for a moment to admire the all-essential compost bins; sturdy and neat they endorse the gardening skill practised in this garden.

We wander along the woodland path which runs across the bottom of the garden, late spring flowering shrubs at their best; broom, lilac and varieties of pittisporum.

We emerge through a small group of silver birch, their leaves flitting in the sunlight. The grass around the trunks has been left to grow and with some blue camassia growing through it gives contrast to the expanse of newly cut lawn.

Those mown stripes with that runway feel draws us up to top of the garden passing the house on the sunny left hand side. Bushes of bright photinia hide the barbecue standing in place of a once derelict greenhouse.

When Emma and Rick came here over seven years ago this corner was overgrown with brambles and that delightful sense of shabby chic remains, a nod to how the garden once was.

But this is not the only reason we have walked up to this point, it is near the kitchen where refreshments are served. The cakes are sublime, home-made with generous portions,

and we find comfortable chairs on the decking, so inviting with freshly picked flowers,

and finding a spot of shade from the bamboo rustling in the breeze,

we admire the view over Halstead, the factory chimney and the the church tower,

and are drawn back to thinking of the marathon runners.

If you missed it there is another opening in September but if it is the marathon you are after you will have to wait another year. I know which I would choose…….

——–2019——-

Grapes Hill Community Garden, Norwich.

I just cannot imagine life without access to a garden. According to the Kings Fund Report (May 2016) 87% of households in the UK have a garden and in a typical city, one quarter comprises private gardens which make up half its green space. https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/field_publication_file/Gardens_and_health.pdf

I am not sure whether Norwich is in the category of a ‘typical city’ but it is here that I visited the Grapes Hill Community Garden and reaching it by walking up Valentine Street, my first glimpse was to look down over the fence.

Once a disused and unsightly area laid with tarmac, this now flourishing garden, all of 50m by 12m, was created by a group of people who came together in 2009. Consulting the local community on the design, and collectively raising funds, the following year they were granted National Lottery money which enabled removing the tarmac and laying the hard landscaping.


In 2011 the planting began and the garden was opened to the public in July of that year. You can read more about the development from the website from where I have borrowed the above and below photographs: http://grapeshillcommunitygarden.org/pages/

With such a warm invitation at the gates it is hard not to pop in.

A bold wooden pergola greets you as you enter. The uprights appear a little naked right now but a wisteria is taking a hold, recklessly winding its way up,

and on another post is a more controlled vine; appropriately planted considering this is Grapes Hill, it will soon burst into leaf and it is one of the many plants sponsored by local people and businesses.

At the base of the pillars, tulips and primroses soften the brickwork and bring a touch of spring colour.

These beautifully raised beds are available to rent.

The garden is also used as a teaching area – a free AQA Level 1 Gardening course running for 10 weeks is being offered. In this bed the different types of bulbs are being displayed, the red tulips are determined to be the biggest.

This is not just a place to learn and work; there is a seating area with a verdant lawn beyond to pick daisies.

In fact Jo the Head Gardener encourages visitors to pick and enjoy the leaves of herbs such as the lemon balm,

and as she chats to me she rubs the evergreen leaves of the architectural honey bush Melianthus major and it exudes a waft of peanut butter.

There are several fruit trees growing in the garden either planted on the trellis surrounding parts of the garden,

or free standing like this magical Quince Cydonia oblonga. Donated by local nurseries their blossom somehow brings a ray of hope.

In such a small space there is a lot going on; a joyful mosaic rises up against the wall,

and a trellis of seed heads collected and created by a group of children.

This tree trunk has been transformed into a fountain, not switched on today, but powered by solar energy.

At this point I have to mention the loo. It is a public garden so a real necessity; imaginatively planted as it is, there is no denying that it is an unsightly “tardis” but it is shortly to be replaced by a WooWooWaterlessComposting Toilet; intriguing, just take a look – //www.waterlesstoilets.co.uk/

Back to less flushing matters, and across is the busy greenhouse packed with all sorts of emerging goodies it stands next to the growing area, and this in part is the reason for my visit.

I was there to present a tiny plaque to Head Gardener Jo and volunteers on behalf of the National Garden Scheme.

They had applied for funding from the Elspeth Thompson Bursary which, in partnership with the RHS, is an annual bursary that supports gardening projects.

Elspeth Thompson was a garden writer who died in 2010. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the National Garden Scheme and wrote a much-loved Urban Gardener column in The Sunday Telegraph. She was passionate about community gardens and so, in her memory, The Elspeth Thompson Bursary was created to support gardening projects aimed at bringing the community together by the sharing and acquiring horticultural knowledge and skills, and by inspiring a love of gardening across all age groups.

I have no doubt she would have been delighted with this amazing community garden.

If you know of a community project in need of funds why not apply for a bursary: https://www.ngs.org.uk/who-we-are/bursaries/

Chelsea Physic Garden

I was in London last Friday and being such a glorious day I could not resist a visit. Situated in such an attractive part of London the walk through the streets of Chelsea full of magnolia blossom was a delight in itself.

Approaching this haven of four acres surrounded by high walls, I slipped in through the unassuming entrance in Swan Street.

Joining the small friendly queue I was able to admire these beautiful woven masterpieces created by weaver Tom Hare http://www.tomhare.net/.

The real mission of my visit was to try and meet up with an old friend who I trained with and who helped me through my RHS Diploma. She has recently became Deputy Head of the Plant Collections and I was thrilled to find her in her natural pose, bent over and nearly hidden in the flower bed.

It is a remarkable garden originally created in 1673 by the Apothecaries in which to grow medicinal plants; it is a museum – a living museum that can be enjoyed at all levels. On this warm Spring day the place was very much alive; I followed some visitors walking these neat paths absorbed in the informative audio guide, and

others who were simply enjoying the sunshine with their little ones,

whilst others gently dozed having enjoyed a delicious lunch at the cafe.

This pond was being much admired. Raised and surrounded by all sorts of little gems, it was the Tulipa heweri from N. Afghanistan that were winning the day.

There is so much here to learn and admire and, unusually for me, I decided to focus on the conservatory.

Cacti are not usually my thing but here they are so artistically displayed.

Here too, like a miniature garden with a stream running through, is the habitat of the Pitcher Plants Sarracenia,

a place where these extraordinary plants can thrive and dine out on their meal of flies.

Gardens are not just about plants. Here displayed in the borders, are the plants associated with various great men who have been connected with this garden. This bed commemorates Philip Miller who was gardener here for 48 years from 1722 to 1770, surely a lengthy period for any gardener.

There are other great names celebrated within these walls, most notably Sir Hans Sloane the primary benefactor, whose statue stands in the centre of the garden. In 1712 Sloane bought the Manor of Chelsea from Charles Cheyne leasing the garden to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London for just £5 a year in perpetuity. The Garden still pays this sum to Sloane’s descendants to this day.

Other great horticultural names include William Forsyth and Sir Joseph Banks and this walk is named after botanist and apothecary William Hudson FRS, who published Flora Anglica in 1762.

As I stroll along absorbing the fascinating history of this place, the buds of the tree of the Quince Cydonia oblonga seem to shout out that Spring is here,

and down on the ground this is echoed by the cocooned head of a salvia indica first described by the taxonomist Carl Linnaeus in 1753.

‘Plants are the most important living things on earth’ and their evolution on this planet is explained in The Thomas Moore Fernery. Moore was the Victorian curator who made the Garden the foremost collection of medicinal plants in Britain.

‘A plant for every Nook and Cranny’ can be identified in this interesting arrangement.

You can absorb all these interesting facts or simply just enjoy the plants so helpfully and clearly labelled; I love this magnolia laevifolia ‘Velvet & Cream’ not only for its perfect blossom but also its delicious name.

It is not so much a designed garden but an organised garden where paths lead you through different and delightful areas; the enchanting Stachyurus chinensis grows on the edge of the woodland area,

and the mighty trunks of the Gingko bilabo stretch to the sky. This tree has such significance and is considered to be the oldest tree on earth. The seeds originally relieved asthma and bronchitis and its modern use is to improve memory and circulation; I need to take note.

‘Useful plants’ are displayed in and around a theatre; it is remarkable to find out their uses both ancient and modern.

When I see Bamboo I am always reminded of its immense strength, remembering once seeing it used as tower block scaffolding in Hong Kong.

A helicopter is clattering above keeping an eye on the march that I can hear proceeding along the Chelsea Embankment. For a brief moment I am irritated that here, even in this haven there is no escaping Brexit. Looking up, the helicopter is not visible and all I can see are the blooms of Paulownia lilacina reminiscent of wallpaper.

My daughter used to groan as I invariably gravitated towards the composting area of a garden; she now knows its importance and here two little heads of Drimys Winteri at the gate seem to welcome me in.

Tucked away in the South East corner, I am so pleased it is open for all to see.

Clean and efficient, the engine room of the garden, the bins are brimming with goodness.

Looking across one area of the garden there is a similarity to allotments but without the sheds and general debris that goes with them. These are the beds laid out in order of plant families,

and there is much activity today; the gardeners are so busy. Who would think you need to water in March?

I am surprised to find a rose in flower, with a relaxed informal habit and with single cherry-red flowers, Rosa x odorata ‘Bengal Crimson’, it is said to flower here nearly every day of the year. I have just planted one at home and will have to see.

Glasshouse areas can often be so dull and unappealing but here the verdant plants and arranged pots draw you in,

with each house having a glorious display.

They sum up the high horticultural standards of this magical and fascinating garden.

The bell rings to announce closing time and it seems no one is in a hurry to leave.


Open yesterday for the National Garden Scheme, the Garden is open from 11am to 6pm. Not only a botanical beauty (with over 5,000 plants, edible, medicinal and useful), and an exploration of garden history, it is glorious place to spend an afternoon.

https://www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk/Pages/Category/history.

Frankham Farm

Last weekend we were staying in Lyme Regis and by way of using the National Garden Scheme App, I discovered that Frankham Farm some 18 miles away was open on the Sunday.

We drove through the delightful Dorset lanes, narrow with neatly trimmed bare brown hedges and banked with primroses.

Situated in the extraordinary sounding village of Ryme Intrinseca, south of Yeovil, Frankham Farm is a well established working farm and we were directed through the farm buildings situated north of the house to park in front of the cattle yard.

It had amused us that the garden description contained the encouraging wordsNew toilets in 2019′, so having had a lengthy drive through the little lanes of Dorset what a joy it was to find them. Heated too. I felt they deserve recording.

This three-and-a-half acre garden was created in 1959 by Mrs Jo Earle mother of the present occupant. I imagined this magnificent magnolia against the house might have been one of her first plantings.

She loved the Spring but March is that time of year when the weather is so unpredictable and whilst the wintry snowdrops were just going over,

the clumps of delicate daffodils were giving a nod to spring in the morning sunshine.

Defying the chilly wind of “Storm Gareth” and unusually in flower for this time of year, it was a surprise to find Cerinthe major a hardy annual blooming amongst the paving in front of the house.

The Earles planted shelter belts on the east and west sides of the garden, and a low wall surrounds the lawn and its borders to the south. It is obvious that the soil is improved by the occupants of the farmyard. I expect in those early days when the garden was first developed there was labour at hand. Now the mature garden waits for its spring tidy up, and areas like this will come into their own during the summer months.

Not far from this bench (and this photo does not do it justice), is a handsome camellia; the flower a deepest of red and the leaf the darkest of glossy green.

This rose is keen to get going, pushing out its red shoots and dainty leaves.

Aubretia tumbles down from the walls under which happy hellebores flower.

It is an intense blue from this Pulmonaria officinalis. In times past, doctors believed that plants that resembled any body part could be used to treat illnesses of that part. The leaves of Pulmonaria officinalis commonly known as lungwort held to be representative of diseased lungs so this plant was used to treat coughs and diseases of the chest.

A splash of white and a strong fragrance comes from the Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill’,

and round the corner the winter-flowering honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima clambering along the wall, smells delicious too.

In the vegetable garden brick paths lead around a fine Bramley apple. The area is not only busy and productive

but also decorative too, with paths edged by a variety of low shrubs and arches adorned with a selection of old climbers.

There is even a small rockery arranged like a back-bone of some creature – the perfect place for small alpines.

The terracotta rhubarb forcers at their jaunty angle seem to be enjoying their role.

Rising up behind the vegetable garden adjoining the shelter belts is a particularly spectacular specimen of Photinia x fraseri.

Plant combinations can be enlightening and this healthy skimmia looks so good with a fern. There is no doubt that plants benefit from the enriched soil.

It is a very informal area, wild may be a better description, I worry that the Ivy may take control however the path leads you through Camellias of every colour.

I can’t grow them on my alkaline soil so I take a little time to admire them.

It is an enviable list of trees planted within the shelter belt, their names helpfully identified on a map. Many of the trees were grown from seed and it is easy to forget that in the early sixties there existed few of the garden centres and nurseries open to us now.

On this windy day the canopy sways above us but the intriguing cork oak Quercus suber stands solid.

Mrs Earle’ s final project was a booklet about the garden; it would be interesting to know the story behind this gentleman, alone amongst the trees.

This morning plenty of fir cones lie on the ground but none are as large as this carved wooden sculpture sited at the end of the belt.

We decide to take a break for a bite. Served above the stables it is a relief to get out of the wind. The church ladies are charming, and serve us soup and pulled pork, a skill they have been exercising for many a year. A gentle touch that each table has an arrangement of flowers picked from the garden,

and proudly displayed on the wall is a faded photo of Mr and Mrs Earle and the trowel presented to them back in 2003 by the National Garden Scheme for long service.

We resume our tour through a rustic arch entering the old paddock,

where more-recently planted trees have been sited, perhaps taken over from ponies that once grazed this grassland. The tangle of willow with its silvery catkins is surely the harbinger of spring and this garden opening signifies the visiting season is just beginning. Download that App, get out into a garden, and remember that while it is good for you, you are also raising funds for the health and nursing charities that the National Garden Scheme supports.

You always come away from a garden with something; an idea, a plant or even on this occasion the purchase of a very nice table and chairs, now relocated to my garden.

——-2019——-