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*******

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——-

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.

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/

A touch of wintery enthusiasm at St Timothee

On a very dreary, drippy-wet Wednesday last week I attended the first open garden event of the National Garden Scheme’s year held in the delightful private garden of St Timothee, just outside Maidenhead.

Garden owner Sarah welcomed us with coffee and cake, a particularly delicious slice of Orange and Almond. She then proceeded to give us an interesting illustrated talk about what she has growing in her garden at this time of year.

This is not especially a ‘winter garden’ but Sarah feels strongly that during these short and often grey days (and today was no exception) you need plants that catch your eye from the window and inspire you to get out into the garden.

January, Sarah reminded us, is named after the god Janus, the god of archways and doorways who is depicted with two faces looking backwards and forwards, which we can connect to this time of year as we cling on to the growth of the previous year whilst looking forward to what will shoot forth in the coming Spring.

The winter palette you might think is somewhat limited but Sarah explained that the key points to planting are shape, colour and scent; careful consideration should also be given to ‘hotspots’, those places that you regularly walk past or are in your frequent field of vision. Armed with umbrellas we followed her into the garden walking past a colourful Phormium,one of those bright ‘hotspots’

Sarah explained that shape can be observed at several levels; on the ground where the direction of lawns and paths lead, and the configuration of a border itself can be a thing of beauty. At the next level perennials including the huge variety of grasses can provide a lengthy season of interest.

Keeping seed heads are important as they are not only decorative but also provide food for the birds. These dark seed heads are from Phlomis russeliana.

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Sarah created this two acre garden a few years ago from a blank canvas but was fortunate to have inherited some mature trees. Inspired by the small book The Wood in Winter by John Lewis-Stemper she emphasised the importance of not only the solid shapes of evergreens like this robust yew,

but also deciduous trees either with graceful spreading branches,

or tall and straight as in this line of poplars at the edge of the garden.

Even the fiercely pruned fruit tree growing close to the house could be considered an art form.

Of course not all trees are naked at this time of year. A recently planted Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’, the winter flowering cherry will continue to give much pleasure in future years. 

Coloured stems are a great feature of this garden and Sarah feels it is important to underplant; the green of Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ and the yellow Eranthis hyemalis the winter aconites, are a striking combination,

and the red Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ looks good with the tiny flowers and attractive leaves of Cyclamen coum.

But the real show-stopper of coloured stems, even on a rainy day is Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ which positively lights up the garden and glows. Sarah comments on how she enjoys the now unfashionable pampas grass Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ and reminds us that plants go out of favour through unnecessary plant snobbery and, as it is here, the right plant in the right place can be very effective.

Hellebores are a joy at this time of year, either planted in woodland or in clumps in the border by the wall.

Also peeping through are the Crocus ‘Snow Bunting, Sarah was a little disappointed that they were not further ahead and today the flowers were remaining firmly closed and their fragrance dampened by the rain.

However the Chaenomeles speciosa  was undeterred by the rain and the pretty white flowers were a perfect colour against the brick.

A simple knot garden adds great charm to the garden; planted with evergreen box and the silvery stems of Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ it looks good all year round.

Box balls of various sizes are dotted around the garden; a focus point they also outline an entrance to a path or highlight the corner of a bed.

I love compost and leaf bins, which of course are an essential part of any garden but these have to be the most ornate I have ever seen.

There are touches of softening the hard landscape, and this ornamental evergreen grass does the trick on the edge of the York stone path,

and while we somehow never seem to regard Rosemary as a shrub with winter interest here it is brightening an area by the steps.

Finally, Sarah touched on the importance of scent and even on a wet day the Lonicera fragrantissima winter-flowering honeysuckle lifted the spirits and was smelling delicious.

Despite the rain it was a real joy to get out and visit a garden in January. Sarah is passionate about gardening and while she wants to share what she enjoys in her garden, she is careful not to tell us what we ought to be planting in our gardens.

The Winter palette might seem limited but there was enough to see at St Timothee to come away inspired to look once again at those hotspots and to enjoy our gardens a little more in winter.

Perhaps this might be the start of a trend for other garden owners to share their garden in winter.

The garden at St Timothee is open by arrangement for the National Garden Scheme and will also be open for the NGS on 14th and 15th June 2019. Sarah will be giving another talk and walk (a ticketed event) ‘Successional Planting’ on 14th August https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/33095/

——-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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Bank House, well planted in the Fens (7/18)

The area  between Downham Market and Wisbech on the edge of Norfolk is not particularly known for its gardens. Last Sunday driving through the lanes and over the dykes between the flat fertile fields of the Fens, I discovered Bank House. The familiar yellow NGS signs were helpfully posted at all the crossroads which relieved my doubts of getting lost for ever.

On entering the drive to left of the house, I was greeted  not only by a sumptuous smell of bacon rising from the kitchen but also an explosion of irises growing along a low wall.

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Stepping down past the joyful lupins onto the turf path you are immediately aware that the owners are keen gardeners, for this is a garden where no space is left unattended.

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Packed with plants, they are even grown under the shaded canopy of the mature trees right up to the trunks.

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This part of the garden is also set aside for production. Young vegetables in neat rows and greenhouses for propagation.

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It is always such a pleasure to be able to buy plants grown in the garden but I was mortified to miss out on a purchase of this gorgeous red weigelia.

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I don’t imagine the garden owners have much time to sit but all around the garden is a variety of seats delightfully placed.

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Quiet areas to soak up the morning sunshine and listen to the bird song.

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Or under the shade to enjoy that too tempting bacon butty.

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The two acres are divided into many areas. Sometimes decisions have to be made:

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I took the brick path towards the orchard where I found some very happy hens,

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pecking around an old cart filled with the cut willow.

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These wooden deer add a playful note to this wilder side of the garden.

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Slipping back into the main part of the garden this clematis seems to be clamouring for attention,

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and I am not surprised because the irises are stunning.  Iris was the personification of the rainbow in Greek Mythology and here there is such a variety of colour; a splash of gold,

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or blending in with the soft summer palette.

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You cannot help but admire this flamboyant flower.

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However it is not all about vibrant colour, and within this one garden there is such a diverse range of growing conditions.

This lady catches the sun hiding modestly amongst a collection of greenery.

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There is a selection of fun topiary in the making too,

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and nearby in the long border an impressive patch of ornamental grass gently spilling over the neat edge of the well-kept lawn.

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At the end the garden you are drawn towards some primulas growing in a secluded space. Here a visitor confides that he has so enjoyed his visit that he is now inspired to go home and get working on his own garden.

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And that is what so often happens when visiting an NGS garden; not only are your spirits lifted and you gain that little bit of inspiration, but you have also contributed to raising much needed funds for all those marvellous caring charities that the Scheme supports.

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Over two hundred people visited Bank House last Sunday, and combined with plant sales and refreshments an amazing £1,459 was raised. There is another opportunity to visit this charming garden this year as it will be open again on Sunday 26th August, or you can arrange a private group visit.

Your visit to an NGS garden really does help to change lives.

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——-xxx——-

 

 

 

 

Great Thurlow Hall, wet, wet, wet.(6/18).

Last Sunday was yet another wet, wet, wet day. Unable to work in my own garden and combined with Easter excess I decided that the only thing was to visit another garden. As I approached Great Thurlow Hall in Suffolk through a deluge of rain, signs of Spring were just visible on those manicured hedges around Newmarket

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Too wet for anyone to stand at the gate to the Hall,  the entrance to the garden was diverted through the church porch next door, left of the drive.

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Crossing over the daffodil drive I headed through the thin green mossy-capped walls into the kitchen garden.

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There a wide open space now represents the skill and toil of many years. The straight path ahead waits to burst into spring perennials and roses. Over to the left, a verdant plot is home to fruit trees, and to the right is the glasshouse and much industry.

 

 

Perhaps the produce is blessed by the ecclesiastical presence.

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No loud signs here to tell you to keep out, just hazel sticks making an obvious statement.

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The wall does not stretch the entire way round; one side is rather attractively the river bank.

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The open iron gate leads onto the lawn below the house.

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Euphorbias brighten the corner where benches are positioned,

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then up the pretty steps and across the rose garden

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to the terrace where you gain a view over the bridge to the gazebo beyond. Built in 1963 this was an anniversary gift from wife to husband of forty years; I smile at the thought that the best we could do was a watering can.

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I walk cautiously along the wet York paving where the solid hedges of yew bring structure and interest,

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and frame the view on such a murky day.

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The formation of the pond is a perfect shape for the vista beyond and the despite the weather the fountain plays on.

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Some chaps really don’t mind the weather.

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Against the house is a tangle of wisteria, determinedly dormant it is hard to imagine how beautiful this will be in a few months time.

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Not everything is dormant however; the red leaves of this cherry are trying their hardest.

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The garden was created by the present owner’s grandfather during the last century. The wooded area, carpeted with snowdrops now in the green, is to the left of the house and screens the farmyard; the sounds of the cattle remind us that this is working farm. There is a variety of trees, some of which were planted by members of the family to commemorate the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

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Ha ha, we are at the end of the lawn,

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where the slate ball seems to have gently rolled away from the house and come to rest.

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Unlike Wordsworth, I have to confess that I am not a great fan of daffodils but it is on a day like today that they certainly play their part and look so attractive reflected in the water.

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and of course there are so many varieties.

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It is a watery landscape with the river Stour flowing through much of this garden.

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The mown path makes one follow the course of the river and along the banks willows weep and bridges tempt you over to the other side,IMG_0839.jpg

and clumps of delicate primroses grow.  Are they, in general particularly good this year?

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It is very peaceful, but occasionally there can be heard the sound of rushing water.

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The five bar gate is a reminder that we are in rural countryside surrounded by grazing pastures.

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The path deviates off to take you around the lake.  It is a haven for wildlife. On the island is a monument placed in memory of the present owner’s grandmother.

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Walking back towards the house I find this bench in the most perfect position. This is a garden that has been opening for the NGS for 60 years. In time you will be able to sit and admire a Gingko biloba presented by George Plumptre in recognition of such longevity.

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The drifts of daffodils are planted along the bank to flower in succession, one band is in flower, the next ready to come and close to the water they are still tightly in bud.

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It is not just the plants that are reflected in the water.

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Over 130 people visited today, not bad for such a wet day but private gardens like Great Thurlow Hall are popular and with years of opening will have acquired a considerable and loyal following. Opening again on the first weekend of June, I do recommend you should plan a visit, the children will love this watery space.

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——-2018——-