The Garden Museum

If you find yourself in London and you simply can’t face the noise and swirl of shoppers and traffic then I can recommend a quiet visit to the delightful Garden Museum located south of the river in a church right next door to Lambeth Palace.

The Church of St. Mary-at-Lambeth was made redundant in the early 1970s. Boarded up and ready for demolition it was fortunate that Rosemary and John Nicholson visited the churchyard in search of the tombs of the gardeners and plant collectors father and son John Tradescant . Subsequently the Nicholsons formed the Tradescant Trust which basically saved the church and converted it into the worlds first museum dedicated to Garden History. Glass doors quietly slide open doing away with that hideous clerical creaky door syndrome….

….inside it is spacious and well lit; a fantastic use of a parochial building, modern but without destroying that old ecclesiastical feel.

Delighted that my Art Fund pass ( https://www.artfund.org/national-art-pass) allowed me half price entrance I headed for the small room to the side which holds the present exhibition on the life and career of Humphry Repton (1752 – 1818).

Last year was the bicentenary of Repton’s death and there has been much research undertaken. This exhibition brings together objects, watercolours and some 24 of his Red Books. These leather bound books were his designs, works of art and a clever marketing tool for his commissions from clients up and down the country. One book stands out that is the grand design for Brighton Pavilion, yet it proved to be a commission Repton failed to win possibly due to the fact that he failed to respond quickly enough; you just cannot keep Royalty waiting.

Included in the exhibition is a short film, a clever digital animation bringing the art of Repton alive; the smoke seems to drift away in the far distance and with the soothing narration from Jeremy Irons you feel you are part of that landscape.

What I really enjoyed about this exhibition is how Repton’s legacy lives on. Although after his death he seems to have been rather forgotten in this country, he became a role model for American landscape architects who wanted to combine the design of buildings and landscape with horticulture and the science of transportation. Repton had advised his clients of the importance of ‘The approach’ incorporating it as a feature in the landscape. He was very interested in travel, enjoying roads as ‘a constant moving scene’ and felt they should not be hidden. His ideas influenced the design of the carriage rides in Central Park, New York.

‘Others prefer still-life, I delight in movement’ and Repton realised that we observe landscape at a fast pace (even from a carriage) very often from the curving sightline of a road and this theory of optics was applied to the new roads being developed for Americans to enjoy their scenery such as the Parkway and the Sky Drive.

With his ideas of integrating architecture and landscape, Repton became a major influence on Denis Lasdun, he of University of East Anglia fame.

A small photo shows Lasdun visiting Repton’s grave (which Repton designed himself) made into a Christmas card that I realise was sent from a family I had known in my childhood and suddenly I too felt I had made a tiny connection with the great landscape designer himself.

With much still to see of the museum I hurried on past a group being shown the Walcot room, a small library tucked behind the rood screen,


just glancing up at the little stained glass window above.

I moved on into a small room that houses a collection of ‘curiosities’. These items were collected by John Tradescant, gardener to Robert Cecil and later to King Charles 1. Tradescant created Britain’s first Museum not far away in Lambeth which became known as The Ark. Lawyer, friend and neighbour Elias Ashmole published a catalogue and when Tradescant junior died the collection was bequeathed to Ashmole and became the foundation of the Ashmolean Museum.

 Such items range from the cast of a Dodo head,

the rather quirky Barometz or ‘Vegetable Lamb’ believed to be half-lamb and half-plant from the 18th century,

 a glittering collection of shells,

to a Herball by John Gerard dated 1597 in which over 1,000 plants are described.

It is a very active museum and I suddenly realise that Elias Ashmole is speaking to me.

Upstairs is a glorious collection celebrating British gardening through the years. Suitable for all ages it is a delightful mix from paintings…

 a portrait of a relaxed Prince Charles greets us at the top of the stairs.

Many famous people connected to gardening have contributed archives and objects and it is a wonderful eclectic mix. Amongst the many items in the collection is a gardening hat belonging to garden designer Nancy Lancaster (1897 – 1994),

a Certificate of Good Service in the Women’s Land Army, yes that is all they got after ten years hard work.

And wouldn’t you have longed to give your wife this glorious lawn mower.

Amongst the displays are interesting information boards on a variety of plants – not too many just enough to realise the serious side of gardening.

and of course there just had to be a jolly old gnome.

From a small window in the Finnis Scott Gallery where you can become totally absorbed on the works of the Artist gardeners, you can look down and once again remember that you are in a fine building .

There is a good display of plans executed by various Garden Designers over the years, this masterpiece is by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe (1900 -1996).

Video clips introduce us to influential landscape architects like Charles Jencks.

 At the other end of the raised gallery there is a fine collection of tools;

a 17th century glazed earthenware watering pot,

and even a standard potting shed with audible displays of the stories of six people and the different ways they have utilised their sheds.

The shed comes complete with a fine weather vane.

Within the walls of the museum is a small charming courtyard garden designed by Dan Pearson; all the plants growing are helpfully listed in a book,

and it is here that the fine tomb of John Tradescant can be found,

surrounded by a variety of all-year-round plants including the bright berries of Nandina domestica which reminds me that I still have not purchased this beautiful shrub yet.

Sadly on this occasion I do not have time to visit the award-winning restaurant; it is buzzing and smells divine and I can really recommend it from a previous visit.

The Garden Museum is a charity and the National Garden Scheme annually funds a trainee gardener here. Before today I had never really thought about the definition of a gardener, but the museum informs me that the first recording was ‘Edmund the Gardener’ who worked at Windsor Castle during the reign of King Edward l. In 1605 the profession was recognised by James l “for the trade, craft or misterie of gardening” and an apprenticeship took 7 years. By 1914 there were over 4,000 Head Gardeners in this country. And now?

The Garden museum is open most days but you can check for opening times on the website: https://gardenmuseum.org.uk/ do make a visit and take the children they would love it.

——-2019——-

Horatio’s Garden at Stoke Mandeville

The Garden Gate was open wide for the new Horatio’s Garden at the spinal unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital Horatio’s Garden

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Horatio’s Garden is one of the beneficiary charities of The National Garden Scheme, and several of us were privileged to be able, at the official opening last Sunday, to mingle amongst the amazing patients and all the wonderful people involved in the garden’s creation.

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We followed the signs through the hospital corridors and out into the new garden bathed in the afternoon sunshine. Inpatients can be here in the spinal unit for a seriously long time often confined to beds and wheelchairs, so a beautiful outdoor space is of huge benefit. The gradients and surfaces have to be gentle and ultra smooth.   A little bunting added to the gaiety of this great occasion.

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Just as a reminder, I was here back on a snowy day in December, this being the final garden in my Ninety Garden Challenge Stoke Mandeville, Horatio’s Garden. (90).

On the spot where Joe Swift explained his designs to Olivia Chapple, the Founder and Chair of Trustees it was hard for me to imagine how this would look…

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…now it has been transformed into a delightful space where two smiling volunteers welcomed us in.

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What a cold miserable building site it was then, diggers removed 2,500 tons of earth…

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…now it looks as if the garden has always been here.

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Part of the garden stretches along a covered walkway which obtrusively dominated the site and where visitors and patients enter the main hospital from the car park…

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now you are blissfully unaware of the busy flow of hospital life as a simple wooden fence gives privacy, and the border and stone wall give all year round interest.

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Right now it is the asters that provide a splash of colour;

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and the elegant seed heads of the miscanthus provide texture as they sway gently in the breeze.

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The team of workers who constructed the garden ranged in number from 5 to 15 each day, and have now been replaced by some 48 volunteers who work under the guidance of head gardener Jacqui Martin-Lof. At no wish of offending the many head gardeners I have met, she surely is the most elegant.

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I am reminded that back in December the only feature I could just make out under the blanket of snow was the shape of the pond…

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…today it is a delightful place to sit, reflect and listen to the soothing sound of flowing water.

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On one side of the pond is a curved wall with an artful window opening.

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Mary Berry, who has opened her garden in Buckinghamshire for over 20 years and is President of the NGS came today to open Horatio’s Garden.

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Olivia Chapple, Mary Berry and George Plumptre

Speeches were made, and Olivia Chapple who spoke passionately and without a single note, engagingly gave thanks to the many, many people involved. We all felt such huge admiration for an amazing lady who is the driving force behind this dynamic charity.

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Swifty told us that if it had not been for Olivia’s determination the unsightly hospital generator would have unfortunately remained as the centre piece of the garden.

We were then entertained by Magnus Chapple who sang a song he had composed. There were plenty of places to sit and even the smooth bonded resin was comfortable enough for some.

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Mary Berry cut the ribbon and declared the garden officially open.

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With a big green knife she also cut the cake which was then taken round by cheerful volunteers.

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Tea flowed from the garden room, a delightful wooden and glass building where patients and families will be able to enjoy the space and light without feeling they are in hospital.

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A young gingko biloba already past the height of the roof is determined to reach that blue sky.

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Down on the ground in the flower beds there is a healthy selection of herbs and the waft of mint is prolific today.

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This lovely guy picks a sprig of rosemary; he says it is so much better than the air freshner used on the ward.

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Access for wheelchairs is usually so limiting but here they are the norm and can be wheeled effortlessly straight out from ward to garden,

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where there is plenty of room for a trio to meet.

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Wheelchairs come in all shapes and sizes, upright, gyrating and well you could say, almost dancing.

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Three great designers enjoy a moment together, Swifty sporting the dahlia ‘Horatio’ pinned to his lapel, is joined by Cleve West who designed the first Horatio’s Garden at Salisbury Hospital, and James Alexander-Sinclair who designed the subsequent Horatio’s Garden at the Scottish National Spinal Unit in Glasgow.

Earlier I had caught sight of Bunny Guinness, but she must have hurried away to complete her designs for the next Horatio’s Garden that she is creating at Oswestry.

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Every garden needs a good greenhouse and Horatio’s Garden in no exception.

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Accessible and specially equipped, it will be used as part of the therapy programme,

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where plants for the garden will be propagated as well as herbs, salads and fruits which the patients can enjoy themselves.

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I am reminded again of how it looked before (incidentally the turquoise box behind the fencing in the centre is that generator)…

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Ample space for a couple of large hospital beds.  It was delightful to see these patients enjoying the fresh air and the warm sun on their faces.

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We have enjoyed the gaiety of the afternoon and can see that much thought has gone into the design of this garden. Planned to encourage wildlife and provide colour and texture throughout the year, it must be a sanctuary for those patients facing hugely difficult and life-changing times.

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And we must not forget the inspiration behind this extraordinary charity, Horatio Chapple whose short life has given so much and another reason why some of us open our own gardens.

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——-9/18——-

 

Madingley Hall, gardens and health. (8/18)

Having spent a tedious morning on the phone to the Department of Work & Pensions, followed by a lengthy call to BT to try and sort out longstanding internet problems, I decided it was time to visit a garden and restore my equilibrium. Twitter brought my attention to the fact that Madingley Hall was opening its gates as part of the NGS Gardens and Health week.

Driving through the impressive iron gates and sweeping up the drive, the big blue sky and the gentle green meadow had an instant calming effect.

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Having parked the car I found the entrance to the estate is through the walled garden. This dates back to the 18th century, with the first recording being of a plant inventory dated 1757. Today a blackboard notes the plants of particular interest.

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Two gravel paths diverged……… and I am faced with the age-old dilemma, which one should I take ?

The borders are overflowing with every type of herb to promote well-being;

aromatic…

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medicinal…

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culinary…

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Not only are these plants of a curative nature, but also many can be used for dyeing. Much information about the history and use of these plants is displayed and I realise that I could do much to alter my wardrobe.

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Enclosed by hedges the sunken garden is a delightful spot to sit and soak up the sun; planted with white flowers such as perennial sweet pea and gaura lindheimeri, it is softened by the gentle clumps of stipa tenuissima.

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There is such variety within these walls, a wooden rose pergola runs roughly from north to south providing much-needed shade rather than colour at this time of year.

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Mature trees also provide plenty of canopy and across the curiously patterned round lawn is a circular raised alpine bed.

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where the tiny autumn snowflake Acis autumnalis seems a little premature on this warm summer’s day.

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Running from east to west is the fine hazel walk Corylus avellana  shown on the tithe map of 1849; it is a lengthy 60 metres (just under 200ft) long.

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The path emerges from the mature planting into an open expanse of lawn with a thatched summerhouse nestling in the corner.

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No sense of autumn approaching here; the border has plenty in flower, hibiscus, heliotrope, alstoemeria and helenium all provide late summer colour.

Leaving the walled garden through a door in the wall and passing the crenelated box hedge on my right I descend some steps to the courtyard in front of the Hall.

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Over the ornamental pond and to my horror, I find a patient abandoned on a hospital trolley. Startled, I wonder that it must be the first corpse I have found in a garden, then realise I have blundered into a serious first-aid course and, being of the somewhat lightheaded disposition, I quickly scurry away and

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take deep breaths in front of the heavenly hibiscus.

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At the east end of the Hall is a formal raised terraced garden with a circular pond surrounded by smooth quirky-shaped topiary.

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The view east to the lake is totally unspoilt and uncluttered.

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Stepping down to the wide North Walk, I see the balustrade is repeated along the edge of the croquet lawn,

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broken at the centre to reveal an avenue of giant clipped yew bollards marching into the far distance.

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It is a fine view for this small statue of a buddha protected behind a semi-circular pond and perched in a recess in the wall.

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Madingley Hall was built in the 1540s and the development of the garden over the years is a fine example of the history of garden design. Growing at the west end is a large yew taxus baccata, which is thought to date back to when ‘Capability’ Brown improved the estate.

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The yew topiary garden was created in the 1920s when some of the topiary were transferred from nearby Histon Manor.  Waiting for their annual clip the different shapes seemingly move around an astrolabe mounted in the centre on a stone plinth.

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A large elegant croquet lawn with its backdrop of mature trees, must have provided plenty of entertainment over the years. The game is still played today by the many students and staff who now occupy the Hall, which was bought by Cambridge University 1948.

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There is a different feel down on this north side of the site; here it is spacious, green, still and silent. Today the majestic trees are quite lovely; upright, spreading, weeping and clipped they create a verdant theatre.

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Some trees are multi stemmed and like a cluster of balloon strings they reach up to the sky. IMG_1166

The wild flower meadows have finished their display but next May they will return. Richard Gant, the Head Gardener is tidying the edges of the clipped yews. He has been responsible for these gardens for 30 years. The names of the trees roll off his tongue, for his knowledge and enthusiasm is truly impressive.

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And it is as if this weeping Redwood, Wellingtonia (sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendula’) bows its head in respect.

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Sadly this Cedar of Lebanon, Cedrus libani is unwell with white rot caused by a type of bracket fungus. Now fenced off, the decay of this tree is being closely monitored.

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I follow the dog walkers along  the wooded path, a section of the route created to celebrate the 300 years of Capability Brown.

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It is a beautiful spot enjoyed by the locals. By the lakeside the remains of the footings of the old boat house are guarded by a “lake keeper” who is in fact surprisingly friendly.

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From the other side of the lake you can see the small church tucked in to the left of the drive. I have completed my walk and so I return back through the gates and up the drive to the hall.

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Madingley Hall is an institute of continuing education and a centre for events and conferences. The 8 acre garden sits within an estate of some 12,500 acres; it is beautifully maintained and reads like a manual on garden history with the different areas reflecting the changing trends in design throughout the garden’s life. It is impressive too and thanks to the Head Gardener, Madingley has been opening its gates for the NGS for the past 27 years.

The NGS have worked hard to highlight the connection between health and gardens, having commissioned the King’s Fund a few years ago to publish a report. My visit today endorsed the feeling of well being that a garden can induce and after such an enjoyable and peaceful afternoon, I left the Hall in a better state of mind than when I entered.

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Garden visiting from the armchair; a trio of books, blogs, and Instagram. (2/18)

During these past few weeks I have been rather housebound. So, content with a log fire and the fragrant sprigs of evergreen Sarcococca confusa Sweet Box cut from the border, I have been visiting gardens from the comfort of my armchair.

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I was kindly given The Secret Gardens of East Anglia before Christmas in gratitude of completing my Ninety gardens.  The author and the photographer, both very much experienced in their own fields, delight upon a variety of gardens large and small and demonstrate that gardens are just as much about people as they are about plants.  The Foreward is written by Beth Chatto who says that although she enjoyed welcoming visitors to her garden in Essex she rarely had the time to get out and visit other gardens, a regret since ‘we can all learn from one another’. Barbara Segall entices us into each garden, writing about their history, the influences and style. Her eloquent words are complimented by the beautiful photography of Marcus Harper who captures the atmosphere, colour and sense of the garden and includes a portrait of the owners, which quite simply can say so much.  It is heartbreaking to think that Harper did not live to see the book published; the more reason to get out and explore those that I have yet to visit.

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I was most grateful to be recommended this second book by an NGS colleague and when I told my neighbour Rebecca, a nurse not a gardener, that I was reading Head Gardeners she could not understand why on earth I was interested in such a seemingly dull lot of people. Well, don’t for one minute think that is the case. Ambra Edwards reveals what a diverse and interesting group they are, having come in to gardening through completely mixed circumstances and inspired by very different influences. The photography is slightly confusing at first; one wonders for what reason Charlie Hopkinson has captured a certain pose, only for it then to become clear in the writing. Both writer and photographer expose the many angles of the modern Head Gardener, a truly multi-tasking individual. Indeed in the words of the author, they are the unsung heroes.

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I have recently joined a local history group and this term we are concentrating on the Stuarts. So my third book The Renaissance Garden in England by Roy Strong was a re-read. Originally published in 1979 it is still the most authoritative book on the gardens of the Tudors and early Stuart period. Roy Strong addresses not the horticultural aspect of these gardens but rather the design and influences, describing them as a lost art form.  The gardens are swept away, and apportioning the blame on the hand of Mr Brown, his dedication reads:

IN MEMORY OF ALL THOSE GARDENS DESTROYED BY CAPABILITY BROWN AND HIS SUCCESSORS

With no gardens to photograph, the book is illustrated with pictures, plans, diagrams, views and engravings which help to evoke the characters and concepts of the great formal gardens of Tudor and Stuart England

 

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As well as writing my own blog I also follow a few others. It was The Anxious Gardener that really inspired me in the first place. David Marsden is a gardener for two large gardens in Sussex, neither of which receive visitors. Feeling they deserved a wider audience he started to write about them which he has done for several years. He has a huge following and I am not surprised because he writes amusingly and his photography is stunning. Read more here: https://theanxiousgardener.com/

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Every Saturday morning I receive a garden history lesson from Dr. David Marsh who has been writing fascinating blogs for the Parks and Gardens UK for a few years. His subjects range from the ‘Sweet Pea and its king’, ‘the colour of Carrots’ and more recently posts on Humphry Repton. The piece on Derry and Toms roof garden in Kensington includes some marvellous videos clips. Click on the Parks and Gardens UK website: https://parksandgardensuk.wordpress.com/.

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Things come in threes so my third blog is https://gardenvisitoruk.com/. This excellent site is very useful and ……….

was dreamed up to share a love of gardens of all sizes. When visiting a garden anyone can read about what the garden has to offer but what I hope to share is a ‘gardenadvisor’ report – personal findings and snippets that the official websites might not mention.

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I was advised recently that if you are going to participate in Social Media, choose one and do it well. I have never really been keen on Facebook and I tweet very occasionally but this winter I have, along with many other gardeners discovered Instagram. It is a perfect medium for gardeners; quick and easy it is not so much about self-promotion but more about photography. I have my own site ‘the_garden_gate_is_open’ but I particularly enjoy these three:

jane_ann_walton‘ a keen and clever gardener who takes beautiful photographs.

tillyedith‘ a young mum who enjoys plants and lives in Italy.

james_todman who has his own business in Worcestershire specialising in hedging and topiary.

This winter has not been particularly cold  but it seems to have been eternally long. I find it hard to believe that by this time last year I had already visited six gardens opening for the NGS as part of my 90 challenge. My little purchases of snowdrops have come into flower and I have to confess that I think I might becoming a teeny, weeny bit of a galanthophile.

So I am off to visit one of the many snowdrop gardens as part of the Snowdrop  Festival https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/snowdrop-gardens/

 

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Sheringham Park