Caldrees Manor, colourful with a touch of humour.

The garden at Caldrees Manor is one of the last in the season to open for the National Garden Scheme. Situated not far from the A11 in Cambridgeshire it was the ideal place to meet up with friend Leslie.

Although parking was in a field away from the house, we could not help but admire this welcoming driveway with its elegant centrepiece situated in front of the house and surrounded by a delightful planting of shrubs.

We had come for a guided tour with Will who with the garden owner John, has been responsible for creating this large garden over the past twenty years. He takes us through the gate and around to the other side of the house.

A verdurous space appears before us framed by the rose arch; there is a lot going on, but instead of descending through and down the steps, we turn right towards the summer house.

This ornamental folly with its generous door surround, and windows seemingly wide-eyed, is surrounded by a rich planting of summer flowers now coming to an end but there is still a good display for the time of year and we particularly commend the combination of michaelmas daisy, hydrangea and pennisetum.

Brunnera is such a good plant, its blue flowers on show for weeks in the spring and the silvery leaves continue to be a beauty defying any attack from slug or snail.

Will and his wife Jacqueline https://www.jwlandscapes.co.uk/ have their own landscape business and this is their flagship garden. This brick bridge was one of the first features that Will built.

Pergolas bring variety and height, and act as partitions from one area of the garden to another. We leave the more formal area and enter the acer glade,

where a great variety of specimens are grown, some still green whilst others are on fire with colour.

The leaves are as beautiful on the ground as they are on the tree. We follow the path through the metalwork arbor into the hydrangea area unperturbed by the summer’s drought.

The air is filled with the scent from a viburnum; it’s a wonder that this insignificant flower produces such a fragrance.

Here too is the sound of rushing water, its source not apparent at first, until we find it gushing from a pipe. There is no shortage of water here as we are apparently standing on a giant lake and the water is being pumped from a borehole.

Wooden signposts guide the way, beautifully carved; we love the papilionem touch at the top.

Silver birch planted in a group is an acknowledged theme and it works well here underplanted with cornus sanguinea ‘midwinter fire’ and bergenia.

As summer flowers fade, the sculptural blooms become more pronounced.

There is a touch of humour in this garden as the quite unexpected appears through the jungle of greenery,

and is that really a water buffalo I see at the side of the pond?

From the winding paths in the old wood we enter an open space where a new wood has been planted. It is pretty impressive seeing that it is just three years old. How will it look in another twenty?

This new wood has such a different feel and we love the splash of sculpture at the end.

Returning towards the house we walk through the fairly recently created Japanese garden; plants, rocks and gravel carefully considered in the design.

From here we can go towards the orchard, along the drive which is neatly edged on one side with silver lavender, and on the other, scattered seedlings are allowed to grow but carefully controlled,

and return to end our tour between the Japanese garden and the pond at these beautiful carved wooden conkers; smooth shiny polished surfaces, there is an irresistible urge to run your hands over them.

Heading back for the much needed coffee and cake we pass the quirky topiary, and then there is a sudden sound of a distant crash. Will looks concerned.

Despite there being no wind, the noise is of a fallen tree that has crashed across the path. Not what you want on an open day but no harm has been done and there are plenty of other paths to take, and different areas to explore. Such a variety of species to admire, and sculptures to search out, we have enjoyed our time, and it has been a great place to meet; why don’t we do this more often ? We both agree and promise to meet up in another garden next year.

You can find lots of lovely gardens by ordering a copy of next year’s garden visitor’s handbook https://ngs.org.uk/shop/books/garden-visitors-handbook-2023/

Caldrees Manor opened for the first time in October 2020 and by opening its very private gates has raised a trug-load of funds for the National Garden Scheme. It is taking a year off but am sure it will open its gates again for many more visitors to enjoy in the future.

*******2022*******

Bolfracks; how to garden on a slope

A few weeks ago I was staying near Aberfeldy in Perthshire and having walked the delightfully rugged ‘Birks of Aberfeldy’, I decided to visit the tamer landscape of a garden open for Scotland’s Gardens Scheme https://scotlandsgardens.org/bolfracks

Bolfracks, how could I resist with a name like that, is open everyday from 1st April – 31st October. You enter through the summer house, look at the map and take the path which rises steeply behind.

A druidic specimen of an evergreen conifer Cryptomeria japonica, confronts us and with a twist of the trunk beckons us on up the slope,

where we find the graceful Acer griseum; we pause for a moment, breathe in the scent of autumn and take in the distant landscape emerging through its ascending branches.

It is so much about trees at this time of year, and where better do the birches grow than in this part of the world. This is the Chinese red birch Betula albosinensis.

There is plenty to see on the autumnal ground; curious cones,

the bewitching but poisonous white goblets of Colchicum autumnale ‘Album’,

and another little toxic gem, that iconic toadstool, the fly agaric Amanita muscaria.

Identified on the map and to the right of the path is the Old privy, a ruin now it provides comfort only to a variety of ferns.

A little further up the path is the pond where giant leaves of the Gunnera almost hide the dark peaty water where water lilies bloom. It rained all morning and now the sky is a generous blue revealing the distant hillside.

The well-made steps take us gently further up the garden. They are an art form in themselves.

The lichen clambers eagerly up the trunks of the trees, a sign of the air being so good here,

it is an intriguing plant remaining this soft silvery shade of green all year round, it grows everywhere.

We weave in and out of the different areas, stepping through the gentle sleeping lions into the area known as the burial ground,

not for a moment a sombre place, but an area rich with colour of the maples that are beginning their autumnal display; how do they manage it ?

There is a touch of the alpine as we come to the Wendy house, but catching the sound of the distant stags beginning their rut we are reminded that we are in Scotland.

This is not a young garden, there are many mature shrubs; well planted, with much to see throughout the year. Plenty of engaging features like this wooden bridge,

a variety of dry stone gateways,

and flights of sturdy stone steps, through the moss-covered walls,

until we have reached the summit, where the path traverses along the top of the slope and with joyful colchicums growing under a multitude of roses that promise to bloom again next summer.

A path descends back down to the house, an herbaceous border running alongside showing that summer is not yet over, as there are still splashes of colour. The long descent emphasises the steepness and shows what a masterclass of gardening it is on a slope.

This garden was created during a time when teams of gardeners were in attendance, times have changed and it is easy to understand the need for modern maintenance, perhaps forgiving the slightly shaggy appearance of the lawn only to discover the mowing machine has crash-landed in a flowerbed;

maybe modern mowers are distracted by the appearance of a rainbow, even though it is somewhere over the River Tay.

There is a wide variety of Rowan trees that I did not know existed, this beauty is Sorbus sargentiana.

We leave the long border of rugosa roses running along the bottom of the garden, their ripe and delicious shiny red hips glowing with late summer happiness.

The garden has opened for the Scotland’s Gardens Scheme for some 47 years, with a change of owners in recent years it is admirable that the present owners still allow us to visit, and it is a delight.

Eucryphia rosetrevor

********October*******

St. Paul’s Walden Bury, an 18th Century landscape of Allées, Statuary and Temples

On my way to London last Sunday I took the opportunity to visit St. Paul’s Walden Bury, just off the A1M in Hertfordshire which was open for the National Garden Scheme https://ngs.org.uk/. Appropriately a fine statue of Charity was there to greet us at the entrance.

Standing with our backs to the house on the north side there are three allées lined with crisply cut beech, which radiate out from the lawn and away, down then up, to three ‘eye catchers’ in the distance. This is an 18th Century landscape, the design is known as patte d’oie (goose foot), and my rather flat photo does nothing to prepare you for the sense of scale.

On the lawn just in front of the patte d’oie, a powerful show of masculine strength positively exudes from the two life sized statues; on the left Hercules and Antaeus are entwined with their struggle (a copy of Giambologna’s) whilst on the right Samson is meeting it out of the two Philistines (a copy of Michaelangelo’s).

The three allées lead up to their individual eye catchers on the horizon; the left hand allée draws the eye to a gentler statue; this is of Diana (identical to the one in the Louvre),

the middle allée, the wider of the three, although it is difficult to see, has a statue of Hercules, who we will meet later.

The third allée, the most easterly on the right is perfectly aligned to see the parish church of St. Paul’s Walden Bury.

Two gnarled pleached lime walks flank the lawn in front of the house, and it is from the right hand one that we begin our journey:

An ornate aged stone bench with its equally aged magnolia draws us through and under the pleached branches of the limes,

where we turn right down the stone steps which are sweetly softened by the chance growth of primroses.

We stride off towards the lake, where boughs of blossom and drifts of daffodils grow in harmony on the grassy bank.

The lakeside temple gleaming white looks as if it has been here since the creation of the landscape; however, it was designed by Sir William Chambers in the 18th century for Danson Park, near Bexley Heath and was removed in 1961 to this present site. Surely this is an example of recycling at its best.

Two parallel avenues cross the three main allées and the recycled temple lines up to another temple at the end of the lower avenue. This temple is also recycled, this one was designed by James Wyatt and was removed in 1950 from Copped Hall in Essex.

Rather than going straight across to, shall we call it, the salvaged temple, we turn right and head up the hill taking the very eastern allée. Stopping for a moment to admire the tender statue by Peter Scheemakers of Venus, the goddess of love with Adonis the young hunter; we can’t help thinking that he might have something in his eye?

The areas between the allées are mainly wooded with an occasional splash of a rhododendron.

Continuing up the hill we reach the charming little octagonal brick pavilion dating from 1735, the reason for its name the ‘Organ House’ is not clear.

From here you look down the most northern avenue towards Hercules who also acts as the eye catcher of the central allée,

Hercules has a sweeping view of the house.
It is evident that we are close to Luton airport but it is not just the planes that fly over head.

The allee does not stop directly here but carries on behind Hercules into the countryside. I cannot help but admire the carved-out tree trunk step-over style, standing nearby.

It is like a mythological trail; from Hercules we cross to Diana who stands as the third most westerly eye-catcher. An 18th century statue she is identical to that of one in the Louvre but with a jaunty moss hair do.
Descending towards the house we come to a clearing; it is a turf theatre with classical formal pond and bronze statue of a warrior below,

and two sphinxes with a temple above. It is a quiet controlled space, a contrast to the surrounding wild mature woodland.

The sphinxes are most elegant, one has a bow around her neck the other in her hair, they too have come from Copped Hall and are believed to be portraits of the mistresses of Louis XV, who went by the name of Louis the Beloved.

We wonder, not only at the movement of the static statue but also how he earned the name ‘the Running Footman’. Descending the mossy staircase,

we arrive at the salvaged temple originally seen from across the lake, and feeling we may have completed the 40 acres, think it is surely time for a cup of tea, so we make our way back to the house.

We pass the overgrown ruined orangery,

which must have been part of a more formal garden near to the house and where this photo was probably taken. St. Paul’s Walden Bury was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, apparently a gardener, she is seen here wheeling her barrow along with her brother Sir David Bowes-Lyon.

This fabulous and mighty oak must have seen many a childhood game played below its branches.

Teas are served from the west side of the house in a secluded courtyard, deliciously homemade they revived us heartily and we took the opportunity to read the guide book where I find, not surprisingly, the photos are so much better than mine.

We realise that in our eagerness to sample the teas we have missed yet another ‘Wrestling’ statue,

and have to hurry on to a wonderful urn containing the ashes of an adored pet, a dog who was ‘the most endearing of his species’,

and in a rustic pond we admire the ability of the cherub who has managed to ride the swan.

With a nod to Old Father Time, we thank the the good ladies who have worked so hard on the gate, and like the numerous visitors we have thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon ramble, and indeed as one lady said ‘Oh it is so good to get out’.

You too can ‘get out’ as the garden will be open again on Sunday 15th May and also on Sunday 12th June: for opening times visit https://findagarden.ngs.org.uk/garden/1677/st-pauls-walden-bury

From up high on a wall this little one sends us on our way, did she inspire the royal wave we once knew

*******APRIL*2021*******

A trip to a Venetian nursery

Yesterday I popped round to my local nursery, not so much to buy plants but out of intrigue; I am in Venice and until I watched Monty Don’s trip the other day I did not imagine that such a horticultural space existed in this unique city.

It is terribly easy to get lost in Venice but part of the joy was trying to find the nursery. So, with no TV crew to guide us, we relied on the map on my phone which confidently took us down delightful narrow alleyways, over little bridges and along watery canals in the Cannaregio district, and we arrived at Laguna Fiorita Onlus, where the gates, hanging between crumbling pillars, were wide open.

Through the gates we followed the paved path with troughs on one side planted with the beautiful but unattractively-sounding Trachelospermum, (the Italian name of Rincosperma is no better) and colourful tool sheds on the other. The doors are left wide open and I wonder that nothing gets stolen, but of course why should they, Venetians don’t garden.

Nonetheless the sheds are well stocked with all sorts of equipment for a decent days work, and the charming girl in the nursery explains that they are also employed to attend to some of the private gardens around the city. You never see these gardens for they are tucked away behind high walls.

An ingenious outdoor rack is fixed to an ordinary chip-board, brightened by a brush of blue.

It is not the handsome tree Pittosporum that I am amazed at but the site of soil, it is so unusual to see the bare earth anywhere in this watery city.

Walking on through another gate our Covid pass is checked and even though outside, the wearing of face masks is compulsory. We find the customary display of spring bulbs and I am surprised to find snowdrops still in flower.

‘Margherita’, along with its charming little cousin ‘Margherita piccole’ and yellow Euriops combine with evergreens to look so familiar and reminiscent of home.

No doubt the usual collection of herbs will find their way to someone’s Venetian kitchen.

Yet, it is the decaying walls which surround the nursery that make it so unique. In her book on Venice Jan Morris refers to ‘the scent of crumbling antiquity’, and it is just that.

Barrows and ladders are propped against artful brick walls with secret doorways.

and from somewhere beyond, a saint rises up, if he could just glance this way for a moment, but up there he is perhaps a little too precarious,

and busy keeping an eye on his church door over on the other side.

I wonder at how many nurseries have their very own campanile.

From this neighbouring window you not only must look down on an array of plants but over to the lagoon beyond. Down on the small patch turf, I spy another rarity in this city; it is a clump of daisies.

Who in this city will buy these spring blossoms of pink and white?

Nothing beats the bright sulphur yellow of the mimosa, standing by the assistant in blue it is surely a sobering nod to the Ukrainian national flag.

The two long poly-tunnels are a reminder that this is a working nursery.

In one, bedding plants stretch out in lines, with a solitary petunia just reminding us that summer will be here soon.

In the other a variety of pots, plants and paraphernalia is for sale.

Over the years the nursery has broadened its services to specialise in forestry which probably accounts for the pile of tree cuttings gathered from the gardens which use their services.

There is no room for composting here and no call for wood chippings either, so they will be loaded onto a boat and taken away.

This nursery is about 500 square metres and not only raises and sells plants, maintains private gardens, but it is also a co-operative which was established thirty years ago when some parents and professionals got together to bring people with disabilities closer to a real working environment within a protective space.

It has been an interesting diversion from the churches, museums and galleries of this glorious city. I purchase some seeds as a little reminder of my visit and wonder if i might regret not acquiring this little gem.

xxxxxVenicexxxxx

A touch of Spring at Ivy Croft

It was a joy to be out visiting gardens again and on my way driving to Hay-on-Wye for a jolly weekend, I found a garden open for the National Garden Scheme just the other side of Leominster, and very conveniently for me it was open on the Thursday.

You do not need to be a gardener to know that gardens opening at this time of year are all about snowdrops, and you don’t have to be a gardener to enjoy them. At Ivy Croft splashes of welcoming snowdrops appear all around the garden, either in the borders where they seem to be nudging those perennials to hurry up and push through,

whether in clumps or drifts, growing in grass or under trees, snowdrops look so appealing and just give a little ray of hope.

These were keeping warm growing up against the house. Garden owner Roger could not remember the exact name of these ‘Galanthus elwesii, a comfort to me that even the experts can get the labels muddled.

We begin our exploration of this four acre garden with the area by the house. There are those familiar winter gems all around and growing near the front door is the divinely scented Chimonanthus praecox also known appropriately as Wintersweet. I regret taking the saw to mine and if you have not got one I urge you to go and buy one.

Below, the handsome clump of soft blue winter-flowering iris catches my eye. These Algerian iris Iris unguicularis flower from November through to February, the individual flowers look quite exotic in a vase.

All gardens look a little bare at this time of year but as we venture to the front of the house an elegant seat and stone troughs add another dimension,

and to embellish the scene there is nothing like a touch of topiary …

You can see how evergreens are a necessity in any garden particularly in winter; here they soften the hard landscape and guide you along the path past the reddish brown stems of the Acer griseum.

Every Spring I mourn the fact that I have not planted enough hellebores, and as Spring gathers apace, I simply forget. These just look so heavenly.

We need some colour at this time of year and what better plant than these cheeky cyclamen emerging out of the grey stone.

Walking away from the house, the vibrant stems of the Cornus draw us into the wilder area of the garden. Wild it may look but I know these parts of the garden can be a lot of work.

I can’t help but admire the green of the conifer, its branches elegantly flowing down to the ground and am surprised to find it is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Impricata Pendula’. If you check out The Woodland Trust website it cheerily informs you that the wood is rot-resistant which is popular in Japan for making coffins.

Gardens are not all about flowers; Roger uses woven willow in several places in the garden, either as a screen or as a quirky seat arbour.

and it is easy to forget the beauty of the small cones of the deciduous common alder Alnus glutinosa,

whilst the evergreen Garrya elliptica, drips with silver tassels. This is a bush which I find suffers the cold but dislikes the wind.

The garden was created some 25 years ago and has an air of maturity about it. Neat paths wander through wintery shrubs and trees, glimpsing every now and again the promise of spring,

and out in the open while the lawn looks so verdant and trim, the ornamental grasses seem to be experiencing a bad hair day.

How a drop of paint gives a simple wooden bench a touch of vibrancy, a focal point in a spacious area; the blue seems to blend harmoniously with the bright green.

A Mulberry is the central feature of the working vegetable garden, where paths are sensibly wide and firm waiting for the laden barrow to pass through the organised beds.

Surrounding the vegetable garden are trained fruit trees, one adorned with the mysterious mistletoe, which grows quite prolifically in the orchards around the county.

It is difficult not to admire this splash of Hamamelis mollis; several varieties grow in the garden, but this is near the car parking area and the scent is uplifting. To the right are the pleached limes underplanted with ‘oh so perfect’ box balls.

Behind the parking area is the whitest of birches contrasting with the evergreen fine yew buttresses, and what a perfect way to cheer up an unremarkable building. I am inspired to recreate the idea.

Roger is a true galanthophile and has collected and cultivated quite a selection: they are clearly labelled boasting endearing names. My friend Jill falls for a beautiful yellow ‘Treasure Island’ until we notice the price. To be fair it is not an unreasonable amount as some Snowdrops can reach staggering prices but we just aren’t in the market. So she goes for a different yellow, Galanthus ‘Spindlestone surprise’ while I settle for the ‘Godfrey Owen’ with its six outer petals, and also the virescent ‘Rosemary Burnham’, whose white petals look as though they have been brushed lightly with green.

Ivy Croft is open for the National Garden Scheme for Snowdrop Thursdays throughout February and March, and is open throughout the year. For details of this garden and other snowdrop gardens near you check out https://ngs.org.uk/view-garden/14669. To see Roger’s list of snowdrops and some lovely photographs of the garden in summer, go to http://www.ivycroftgarden.co.uk/. I hope to pass this way again.

*******2022*******

The Royal Trinity Hospice

Hospice gardens do not immediately spring to mind as ‘must go to visit attraction’. However while on child care duties in south London last weekend I took the opportunity to visit The Royal Trinity Hospice, Clapham Common which kindly opened its gates to the public in aid of the National Garden Scheme.

The Hospice, with its elegant facade situated on the north side of Clapham Common is the oldest hospice in the UK and was created in 1891 with thanks to the generosity of William Hoare who donated £1,000 of the £2,000 needed to set up what was known as The Hostel of God, the remainder of the funds being raised by public subscription. Originally situated around the corner in The Chase, the hospice by 1894 had 10 beds and patients were cared for by an order of nuns. In 1899 the hospice moved here to Clapham Common Northside, where it has expanded and evolved over the years with the late 1970s – 1980s seeing a significant rebuilding programme in order to improve the facilities and patient care environment.

It was during this time that the renowned landscape architect Lanning Roper visited the site and, waiving his fee, drew up plans for the 2 acre garden.

Photo borrowed from Lanning Roper and his Gardens by Jane Brown

Roper did not live to see his plans carried out, dying in 1983. So landscape architect John Medhurst was commissioned to lay out the garden, and included in his design such details as Roper’s generous curving brick paths which not only gently lead you to a hidden area but help those in a wheelchair glide seamlessly through the garden so as to enjoy the planting.

The majority of hospices rely on an army of volunteers, several of whom last Sunday gave up their time to greet us at the gate, directing us in through a side door. An easy access, with neither gravel nor steps, a joy for wheelchair or buggy users and something many garden owners where possible, might seriously think about.

You might be forgiven for expecting an uninteresting hospitalised space, a touch morbid even; instead however, you would in that first moment immediately feel that this is indeed a very special green space.

The raised beds on either side are well planted and display a rich variety: aromatic herbs mingle together along the left hand side,

on the other, a rose defies the approach of autumn and flowers steadily as if it is June

whilst the rugosas are into their autumn hips.

There is even a touch of wilding to be enjoyed.

Paths bend and flow, and as in life, choices need to be made….

it is the benign sound of water trickling down into the ornamental pond that beckons us round to the right.

Climbing up the steps it is the generous colourful pots which bring a splash of joy to those hard landscaping areas,

and from the balcony above the circular pond there is an opportunity to look out and take in the serenity and size of this mature two-acre London garden.

Descending the steps we begin to explore the many hidden areas. A substantial clerodendron grows beside an intimate area. This shrub is very happy here sending up suckers across the path; a native to China it is a quirky coincidence that the roof behind has a slightly oriental feel.

A grassy enclave is home to a fine Catalpa tree , its trunk needing support, it happily grows on.

The gardens were very dilapidated before Roper was involved and his first priority were the trees. This old Horse Chestnut tree provides not only a point of interest but also a marker between two separate areas. Its branches must hold many a secret of those conversations shared beneath on the deep seated benches.

Beyond the tree there is quite a different feel as we enter the pond area. Hospices are not just about the patients who are dying but also for those who remain to live on. Here is a perfect place to absorb all the many emotions that go with that unknown future. This afternoon it is pure joy for the first time in weeks, to benefit from the sunshine and the dappled shade.

Situated on one side of the pond is the kinetic sculpture entitled ‘Four Open Squares Horizontal Tapered’ (1984) by George Rickey, its subtle movement by the breeze from time to time provides an absorbing distraction,

whilst a monster lurks in the deep below.

There is a high standard of horticulture here and the Head Gardener has 28 volunteers to keep in order; it looks a serious business.

Behind the pond stands a substantial greenhouse,

next to which is the productive area providing an air of home-grown; the runner beans are prolific,

and strawberries too, in their own patch.

There is even an active and busy bee hive which produces Trinity House Honey.

Roper suggested the paths be kept clean with neatly trimmed hedges enticing you to journey into the next space.

He also suggested a palette of soft blue, silver, pink and white which continues to this day. Patients can enjoy the mix from their rooms.

The site is divided in two parts with the modern inpatient complex at the centre. We walk up the steps to where mature trees dominate a fine circular lawn. The Plane tree provides a good meeting place,

with elegant circular seating around its base.

The circular theme is echoed in the perimeter path from where

you can glimpse through the shrubs and trees the sun shining down onto the mown lawn where stands the round pleasing pebble sculpture.

Completed after his death the garden became a memorial for Lanning Roper and has been open every year since for the National Garden Scheme.

The Scheme is the largest funder of Hospice UK and has donated more than £5 million since 1996. To understand a little more of the work of Hospice UK click on this link and have a listen to the video too: https://www.hospiceuk.org/support-us/work-with-us/corporate-partnerships/our-corporate-partners/the-national-garden-scheme

Our local hospice in West Norfolk has only recently been built and with it, a beautiful garden planted by volunteers. Let us hope they will sometime soon find a way to open their gates so that visitors can not only appreciate the valuable contribution that hospices make but also help raise funds for the National Garden Scheme.

——-2021——-

Beguiling Burghley

Set within a large delightful park designed by Capability Brown, there is much for a visitor to do at Burghley in normal times: https://www.burghley.co.uk/about-us . Many will know the landscape from enjoying walks around the park, or a visit to the Sculpture Garden and the Garden of Surprises, and many will know Burghley from the famous horse trials held each September. However many may not know the Private South Garden which is seldom open but is hidden away behind the Great House. In 2019 I had a very enjoyable afternoon with a friend when the South Garden was open for the National Garden Scheme.

A far too great a distance for us to bike, but I wish I could have done so, if only to use this ingenious bicycle rack.

The entrance to the South Garden is via the Orangery and it feels strange ascending stairs in order to get out into a garden.

The Orangery restaurant on my left (closed at the moment but soon to re-open) and the garden gate to the South Garden is open through the Orangery Garden.

Such a handsome lion watches us quietly,

and a fountain drips gently through the aged moss into the formal pond,

whilst at the base of a pillar a splash of blue catches our eye growing miraculously from within the stonework.

Through the gate a vast expanse of croquet lawn appears before us, and we are drawn towards the dark forms of yew in the distance. Space is certainly not a problem here,

and it is what is required to compliment this great building, one of the largest and grandest houses of the first Elizabethan age. Built between 1555 and 1587 by William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I.

The dark green forms are clipped into shapes, some still work-in-progress, this one perhaps awaiting the emergence of a lion?

Here we see a display of loyalty to the Crown of which the first Lord Burghley would surely have approved.

Who could have imagined such a splendid march of whimsical topiary?

Beds of roses, pruned, trained and mulched are awaiting the warmer weather, and the seasonal lack of colour gives us the opportunity to appreciate the layout and beauty of the many fountains and urns,

Look at the detail of the intertwined serpent handles and wise old faces. To the side stands a mighty English oak Quercus robur described by the Woodland Trust as ‘The ruling majesty of the woods, the wise old English oak holds a special place in our culture, history, and hearts.’ A description truly appropriate to this fine specimen which was planted in 1844 by Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

At the far end of the walk is the jetty extending out over the lake; a perfect spot for that wild swimming we are encouraged to enjoy nowadays. It is a freezing cold day and I am relieved to find nobody is tempted, and so we turn to face the house,

the view of which is far more exhilarating than taking the plunge.

I always think there is something rather mystical about mistletoe growing high up in a tree but now it is a joy to see it close up on the lower branches.

We move around from the south side to the west; little wonder that Horace Walpole referred to Burghley as “A noble pile! ” We marvel at all things ancient, including the trees. Queen Elizabeth I is reputed to have planted this Lime tree.

I am sure those twisted branches could tell a tale or two…..

One would not wish to leap the Ha Ha, as it is quite deep. A cunning device, the Ha Ha physically separates the lawns from this Brownian park without dividing it visually.

and if you did wish to attempt to climb the fence, you might be restrained by this ornate but effective barrier.

In fact everything has been designed with beauty in mind, nothing more so than these golden gates made by Jean Tijou in 1693; just imagine taking your sundowner with this as the backdrop.

We retrace our steps around the south side taking in the charm of more topiary creatures, this time a snail,

and here, a wee mouse,

and a cunningly created two-faced fox, or is it a bear?

We leave the characters on the flat but sunny south side of the house and ascend the hill towards the east.

In front of a bank of blossom stands yet another magnificent urn where even the snakes seem to smile.

It is less formal here with a variety of narcissi bringing a feel of springtime under foot,

and Snake’s head fritillary Fritillaria meleagris nodding in the breeze. Years ago one might buy these delicate flowers in Covent Garden for just a penny or two, supplied by children who would gather them from the meadows along the River Thames where they grew in abundance.

However good the faithful hounds of the household were, they are surely not forgotten; how a headstone can say it all.

Around the corner is a charming neo-Jacobean banqueting house set on a sloping lawn. The front overlooks the lake,

with a simply stunning back door.

It is behind here that a tennis court has been sited; I am not sure whether Brown would approve but I am sure he would find the ornate bench the perfect place from which to watch the game.

A boat house sited across the other side of the lake was built in 1871 and replaced an earlier building. 

This is a shrubby area with mature cedars growing elegantly by the lake.

We return to the orangery garden and my friend admires the neat chestnut paling fence.

The south garden was one of the original gardens to open for the National Garden Scheme back in 1927 and if you have missed this weekend’s opening, I thoroughly recommend a visit when it next opens for the Scheme this time next year. https://ngs.org.uk/view-garden/1387

It is also the 500th anniversary of the birth of Lord Burghley, with a series of lectures intended at Burghley House https://www.burghley.co.uk/news/lord-burghley-500th-anniversay-lecture-series and I am looking forward to learning more about the great man at the symposium to be delivered via Zoom from the Garden Museum later this month https://gardenmuseum.org.uk/events/burghley-500-symposium/

Snowdrops

Through all these cheerless covid months and ghastly weather, the snowdrops have been silently pushing up through the cold, sodden ground. Their delicate flowers, surely could not be more welcome. Restrictions have forced the abandonment of the National Garden Scheme Snowdrop Festival however, some gates of a smattering of gardens will be open across the country this February, for those visitors lucky enough to be local to them. However in the eastern region, deep snow has forced many closures. More details can be found at https://ngs.org.uk/february-openings-2021/.

Back in 2017 when travelling was unrestricted and I was able to visit some 90 gardens throughout the year in celebration of the 90th anniversary of The National Garden Scheme, the snowdrop gardens were memorable; and I would identify three different types of snowdrop landscape: The snowdrop walk such as at Welford Park in Berkshire where the sight of millions of these tiny flowers carpeting the woodland floor was a sheer delight.

Of course you cannot come away from any of these landscapes without buying some little temptation, and so I bought Galanthus ‘Brenda Troyle’ and in my blog which followed I airily asked the question who is Brenda Troyle and was delighted to receive a knowledgeable reply. https://thegardengateisopen.blog/2017/02/14/snowdrops-spike-and-baked-off-at-welford-park-8

The second type of landscape is the simple but lovely Snowdrop garden where you find clumps of snowdrop scattered beneath winter shrubs, and bringing life to dormant borders, such as here at Gable House near Beccles, where Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ is prolific.

Here amongst the plant sales I could not resist Galanthus elwesii ‘Brian Matthews’ who is now doing well in my own border.

The third type of landscape is quite different and fascinating; that of the The snowdrop specialist, such as at Spring Platt in Kent https://kentsnowdrops.com/#home. A snowdrop spectacle, where they are arranged in a display, individually potted, seemingly different and labelled, each with a beguiling name. You could say, and although I am not fond of the word, it was here that I experienced the first stirrings of becoming a ‘galanthophile’.

It was ‘Fly Fishing’ that was my purchase here, a must for any fisherman and so it grows just outside my husband’s office, a bending rod gently moving in the breeze.

Then things began to get expensive; at £40.00 per tiny bulb (and that is nothing in this world I can assure you ), I could not resist ‘Tilly’. She is spreading nicely so I am not feeling quite so bad about that reckless expenditure.

Then my first granddaughter was born, so in celebration I planted Galanthus plicatus ‘Florence Baker’ (please could someone please breed an Alfie), and my small collection began to expand, and all around the garden I have the names of friends and family growing gracefully, all different and doing their own thing. Last year I painstakingly labelled each one, only to be stumped by my dogs who thought this was a great idea and spent the summer months finding and helpfully retrieving them.

The names always intrigue me and I like to know their origin, so I bought, begged and borrowed books on the subject, the snowdrop ‘bible’ being the most elusive Snowdrops A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus by Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis and John Grimshaw, which I was fortunate to be lent and I notice that although currently unavailable on Amazon it is a mere £550 on ebay.

I also find this website invaluable and the photography sublime. https://www.judyssnowdrops.co.uk/Plant_Profiles/plant_profiles.htm. This is from the website and shows Galanthus ‘S Arnott’ a lovely tall snowdrop with a scent of almond and recommended by ‘The Land Gardeners’ http://www.thelandgardeners.com/home as a cut flower which however they suggest potting up and bringing indoors rather than picking.

Snowdrops do come in other guises; I loved this giant wicker snowdrop standing at fifteen feet high at Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire,

and these metal ones either side standing guard at a gate in Welford Park.

My garden is deep in snow with not a single snowdrop in sight, just a metal sculpture, a reminder of what will be there when the thaw comes.

I have already made this year’s purchases, Galanthus plicatus ‘Three ships’ which should flower before next Christmas from friend, plantswoman and instagrammer Jane Anne Walton, and the other in aid of St John Ambulance Galanthus plicatus ‘Diggory’, a Norfolk boy, he is a beauty.

Luckily for me I have a Snowdrop Walk local to me and which will be open next Sunday 21st February in aid of the National Garden Scheme https://ngs.org.uk/view-garden/4388. If that path isn’t just the perfect place for a little exercise, then I don’t know what is.

There has never been a greater time than now for us to support the nursing and care sector and so if you are unable to take your exercise in a local snowdrop garden why not consider making a donation by visiting the just giving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/norfolk-ngs

——-14-02-21——-

Thralling Thenford

Last month I was delighted to be able to visit Thenford, Northamptonshire on one of its open days. A very private and expansive garden it is the stately home of Lord and Lady Heseltine who acquired it in 1976.

As we swept through the imposing gates we had no idea what to expect, other than we knew there was a walled garden and an arboretum. The afternoon sunshine welcomed us in.

We thought this would be a pleasant distraction from the Covid troubles only to find as we parked in the field north of the house, that many other visitors were decked out in face masks; surely not necessary for an afternoon outside?

Heading straight ahead of us to the sunken rose garden which is south west of the house, it is the Barn owl which catches our eye; so realistic in its stance we wonder if it might take flight.

The roses, all helpfully labelled are understandably not at their best now but the putti provides entertainment instead.

This heavenly bench must be the perfect place to linger and enjoy the heady scent on a summer’s day.

We decide to visit the arboretum first and so take the path along the south front of the handsome Grade 1 listed house. On the lawn Guy Taplin’s graceful cormorants enjoy the unspoilt view from the ha ha.

October is the best time to visit an arboretum, and Thenford did not disappoint. An enviable collection of trees; approximately 4,000 different types. The maples (Acers) in particular are in glorious technicolour, some have turned golden

others bright red, and all showing how nature can age so majestically.

The berries delight too, from the simple Spindle Euonymous hamilton English Charm,

to the scarlet berries of the Rowan Sorbus matsumuranu

and to the small black berries of Aronia melanocorpa grandiflora, the black Chokeberry.

Take a look at the litchen growing on the bark and how well-armed is the trunk of Gleditsia japonica koraiensis.

The arboretum is spread out over 70 acres and, following the path through there are tranquil glimpses of pasture, sheep and lake.

There are some 113 champion trees (individual trees that are exceptional examples of their species because of their enormous size, great age, rarity or historical significance) here planted well before the Heseltines arrived here, however this young liquidamber demonstrates that planting is ongoing.

A few flowers are evident, the white flowers on the Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Dart’s Red Robin’ determinedly project upwards,

and the low growing shrub Heimia salicifolia which has tiny yellow flowers. Native to S. America you can obtain your legal high from this little gem but, I am informed, it is quite short lived.

It is also a watery landscape with the three medieval fish ponds planted decoratively with not only trees but also a diverse selection of shrubs and perennials, with an abundance of bridges that span and reflect; there is a green, a red,

a blue

and a neat brick, the shape of which

is similar to that of the ice house.

Sited above the fishponds and best viewed from near the ice house is the parish church of St Mary caught in the afternoon sun.

In such a vast area benches are a necessity and so often in public spaces they are there to commemorate a person. This one, a birthday present from the grandchildren, perhaps touchingly displays something of the owner’s character ‘Grandpa to sit and scheme’.

The leaves beneath our feet give off a delicious aroma of caramel; they have fallen from the Katsura tree, Cercidiphylum japonicum.

It is hard to believe that a tree trunk could be quite so white; in this grove the low sun highlights the brilliance of the silver birches.

Moving on we come to yet more water, the New Lake where reflections seem brighter than the actual image.

Along the lake is a gathering of humble but handsome hawthorns, cratageus crus galli,

similar but smaller cratageus canbyi

and looking good enough to eat, the orange-coloured hips of cratageus x lavallei carrierei.

This is the southernmost tip of the arboretum and before turning back we pause awhile and admire what has been achieved here over the past forty odd years and wonder what it will look like in another forty years.

On the hillside we come across three conifers looking like some weird and wonderful beasts.

Passing the house again we head for the walled garden over on the east side and find in Lannings Walk this wicked little chap.

I make a mental note to plant cyclamen hederifolium, they brighten up any woodland floor.

Here and there ruined arches appear,

adding a little interest and a window through which to view yet more.

And what are these dark curious objects lying around the base of the tree?

Close inspection reveals they are fallen suits of armour.

Just to the right of the entrance to the walled garden is an amazing sight. These early snowdrops are not unusual in appearing now but how glorious they look amongst the maple leaves. This variety is Galanthus reginae-olgae ‘Tilebarn Jamie’ and is just one type out of 600 different snowdrop species grown here. Next February there are two afternoons scheduled for snowdrop walks.

It is a very different feel on entering the walled garden where we are greeted by marble elephants.

This space is very organised, neat and overwhelmingly geometrical, a complete contrast to what we have already experienced. Inspired by Andre Le Notre of Versailles and Vaux-Le-Vicomte fame, it was I understand sketched by Lord Heseltine, and then the designer George Carter made it happen. A more appropriate designer you couldn’t have as he specialises in formal gardens inspired by the simple geometry of 17th century gardens http://georgecartergardens.co.uk/. Incidentally George who lives in Norfolk will be opening his garden next year on Sunday 19th September for the National Garden Scheme.

Paths criss cross systematically and continue through rotundas.

The walled garden covers two acres allowing enough space for sizeable greenhouses. There is even an aviary, and it is the call from these birds that is the only sound you hear in these enclosed walls.

In one corner is the head of Goliath, or is it Billy Connolly? Whoever he is he is cleverly in tune with the fig foliage behind.

In another corner diametrically across are two sentry boxes silently waiting to be sat in.

There is an area for vegetables but curiously these artichoke almost look out of place.

From all around you can see the central fountain.

Outside the walls along the south side is a mixed border with all sorts of delights,

interspaced with elegant seats,

and across the strip of grass the border runs along the field side,

where metal moon windows invite you to look out across the distant countryside.

We make our way back through the trees in Lannings Walk,

and into the field where the cars are parked. The head gardener is selling the Heseltine’s book and looking at the front cover I realise that we have missed the rill. He urges us to take a look (at the rill, not the book which is wrapped in plastic – covid precautions) and so we hurry back.

The light is fading as we hurry back to find the splendid rill bubbling away in all its glory.

Just below the rill, water plays off the broad leaf plant, and yes you might be forgiven for not realising it is made of metal.

Just further on we discover the Sculpture Garden. Oh my, how could we have missed this.

Sculptures, many of which are contemporary British, are displayed set out on the grass bays backed by beech. ‘The Dancers’ by Lilly Henry could be straight out of Strictly.

Gracefully tall and thin is ‘The Vessel’ made of slate and fibreglass and has been created by Maryanne Nichols, a sculptor from Suffolk,

and lying solidly on the ground is Ronald Rae’s ‘Head of John the Baptist’.

It is quite a collection; too many to include all, but Phillip Jackson’s gentle lady ‘Reading Chaucer’ is a delight although her pages are in fact blank.

Lastly we admire the massive ‘Head of Lenin’ by Dzintra Jansone which was removed from a town square in Preili, Latvia.

Returning to the car we slip past the watchful eye of the hounds on the lawn and say our goodbyes, and promising to return the Head Gardener advises us that May is the best time.

Our visit has indeed proved to be a wonderfully refreshing distraction with incidentally, not a face mask in sight.

Covid restrictions might have put garden visiting on hold for the moment but there is no harm in planning for next year: https://bookwhen.com/thenfordarboretum#focus=ev-sz8n-20210203130000

Charismatic Kiftsgate Court

Kiftsgate is a garden that has been on my list for some years, and, staying in Oxfordshire recently we chanced the weather and caught one of the last days of opening for the year. Many of you may already know this famous garden and if you don’t I encourage you to look at its very good website where you can learn about the history, enjoy stunning photographs and read excellent articles http://www.kiftsgate.co.uk/home.

So, you might think, what is the point of reading this. Well you have got this far and the chances are it is raining outside so you might as well read on and follow my steps.

The sky was grey as it so often has been in these past few weeks …

but there was plenty of colour at ground level,

a positive explosion in some places…

and tumbling down in others.

You can read up on a place but nothing quite prepares you for the actual visit; the sounds, the autumnal smells and the far-reaching views. It is often difficult to appreciate the layout of the garden until you are standing there and Kiftsgate is no exception. We begin on the elegant terrace…

which compliments the graceful Georgian portico. This has in fact been recycled having once stood in front of the manor house in Mickleton a mile away, and it was transported here on a specially constructed light railway.

Moving further along this side of the house more columns rise up through the mass of plants.

The long double border has been planted by three generations of the female side of the family; it is floriferous, timeless and familiar.

This garden may be famous for its roses but its planting combinations are a lesson on how to give longevity to the summer season.

We turn off the long border into the White Sunk Garden where jets of water play in the wind in the centre. The shrubs surrounding the fountain are planted for their white flowers; deutzia, carpentaria, hoheria and staphyllea are not so evident at this time of year, however the varied underplanting provides a mix of colour and texture throughout the year.

Close to the house grows the small tree Staphylea colchica the white flowers of which have morphed into inflated pods, which is presumably why it has the unfortunate name of common bladdernut.

An archway in the hedge invites us into the rose garden where a multitude of roses including the famous Kiftsgate rose, have finished their display; we can do nothing but slip along the path and try to imagine the sight and fragrance.

At the far end the statue by Simon Verity subtly nudges us to the right. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Verity There is a oneway system in place throughout the garden because of Covid and we are delightfully informed that this is a ‘pinch point’.

The orchard is small but spacious and the autumnal scent of apples fleetingly summons thoughts of crumbles and pies.

From here we ascend the sturdy wooden stairway up to the mound, and from here you can peep over and admire the fine razor-sharp yew hedging.

The mound which is in the shape of a horse shoe is the most recent addition, and while it develops, its most redeeming feature is the cherry-red hips of the rugosa roses planted along the top.

From the mound an avenue of Liriodendron tulipifera Tulip trees stretches to the skyline. What is so interesting is to see these trees in different stages to one another and presuming that they were all planted at the same time, on closer inspection each tree reveals a slightly different growth pattern; some show signs of greater maturity with larger trunks and leaves normal to large, whilst others are thinner with smaller leaves. Individual trees display variations in height and width and there is also a disparity with autumnal colourations, many leaves turning golden yellow whilst others are still firmly green.

The avenue leads to the tall majestic steel sculpture by Pete Moorhouse. https://www.petemoorhouse.co.uk/

We retrace our steps down the avenue, back through the orchard in search of the water garden, and for a moment I wonder at the greeness of this well-trodden shaded area and am amused to find that it is a strip of artificial turf.

Once a tennis court, the Water Garden is completely enclosed. Shades of dark greens contrast with the verdant grass. However we no longer hear the play of ball on racket, just the gentle sound of water trickling into the stillness.

I admire the smoothness of the yew hedge with its lower ledge running all the way around, and a fellow visitor suggests it has been cut so in order to provide a convenient resting place for bottle and glass.

We follow the yellow border which can still boast a little colour with the delightful Rosa Graham Stuart Thomas,

and the slow-growing clump-forming Kirengeshoma palmata.

Walking along the narrow north border back below the house I begin to realise that the garden is perched on quite a steep cliff.

The wind blows through the Scots pines towering above and the feel and atmosphere of the garden is transformed.

Mother and child nod to the direction of the downward path.

Baby Cyclamen hederifolium are so happy to grow in amongst the pine needles.

And so we descend to the lower garden as today’s finale where the temperature is warmer with the suggestion of mediterranean planting. Here the Swimming pool takes centre stage. The view is not at its best today but still provides an impressive vista across to the Malvern Hills.

Looking back up you can appreciate the height of the cliff with summer house half-way and a glimpse of the portico at the top through the Monterey Pines.

Kiftsgate Court is now closed for the season and will open again next spring, with two special open days supporting the National Garden Scheme on Monday 12th April and Monday 9th August 2021.

——-2020——-