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

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

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.

i

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——-

Pehuenes in the Andes

With no garden visits planned for November I decided it was the perfect time to go and find my daughter who lives at Pino Hachado, a mountain pass on the Argentinian side of the Andes. Horses and Huskys de los Pehuenes

Situated at least an hour away from any neighbour, windy and arid with not a huge variety of plant species I did not envisage this to be a gateway to a beautiful garden or horticultural delight.

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However what I had not expected were the trees.  We had approached Argentina from Chile and driving over the Andes we were amazed at the mass of tall, straight trunks of evergreen trees dripping in lichen;  Araucaria araucana, the Chilean Pine, known locally as the Pehuen, and to you and me as the Monkey Puzzle tree.

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Now, I have to admit that these trees have never been a favourite of mine, almost considering them a joke really, and I remember as a child thinking how out of place a specimen looked in a near neighbour’s cottage garden.

But here in their natural habitat (central and southern Chile and western Argentina)  typically growing above 1,000 m (3,300 ft), they are something different; I could not help but become fascinated by them.

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Big and unbending many have been around for a very long time, their longevity making them living fossils.

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The bark so hard and rough,  has developed to be fire resistant. On the inside of the bark it is smooth, and a small piece of this served as a soap dish in my cabin.

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Trees can grow to a staggering 50m, shedding their lower branches the umbrella top towers over the younger ones commanding a regal presence.

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Whilst Chile claims it as its national tree, the province of Nequen in Argentina has added it to their Coat of Arms.

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It first entered our shores in the hands of Archibald Menzies the 18th century plant collector who was commissioned by the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew to collect plants in South America. It is rumoured that when Menzies dined with the Governor of Chile, seeds of the Araucaria araucana were on the menu, and Menzies pocketed some of the seeds, managing to grow five which he then presented to Joseph Banks at Kew in 1795.

It was a few decades later that William Lobb the plant collector, employed by the Veitch’s nursery, introduced the tree commercially and so the tree became popular amongst Victorian gardeners.

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And the name “Monkey Puzzle? Well the story dates back to its early cultivation in Britain when the species was still relatively unknown. Sir William Molesworth of Pencarrow in Cornwall purchased a young specimen for 20 guineas and when showing it to a group of friends, Charles Austin, a noted barrister was reputed to have remarked “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that”. Devoid of an existing common name, ‘Monkey puzzler’ became ‘Monkey puzzle’.

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The tree is dioecious; male and female cones grow on separate trees, although very occasionally individual specimens can bear cones of both sexes.

Pollinated by the wind, the cones of the male are smaller than the female, oblong in shape they expand at pollen release.

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The female (seed) cones are larger and more rounded, maturing in autumn about 18 months after pollination.

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Trees do not yield seeds until they are 30 to 40 years old and the cone holds about 200 seeds, disintegrating at maturity…

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to release edible nut-like seeds known locally as pinones.

Preferring well-drained slightly acidic soil, saplings pop up in the volcanic ground; this little chap appears to be mimicking a monkey with its arms out-stretched with upright tail.

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Developing into a broadly pyramidal or conical shape, growth is very slow and these trees are actually several years old.

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If a trunk falls, life just seems to carry on.

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It is amazing to see them just growing out of rock, surviving on apparently little,

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no wonder perhaps that they are considered sacred to some members of the local Mapuche Native tribe,

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The roots are quite superficial even appearing sometimes above ground; crocodilian, old and gnarly,

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they have the ability to sprout new shoots growing some distance away from the tree.

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On this high terrain the wind blows strong and whether it is due to this, the arid conditions or simply old age, the end of the branch eventually turns brown, breaks off and a milky white sap oozes forth,

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and sharply pointed brown leaves carpet the ground.

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Back in the cabin the trees continue to remind of us of their existence; a beautiful old stump turned into a stool seems to have acquired some anthropomorphic traits.

However, once valued for its long straight trunk, and its now vulnerable status, the timber became protected by law in 1971 and is now rarely used.

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Stopping at a pizzeria one day I could not resist the opportunity of sampling the Araucaria pizza ……it looked and smelt delicious…

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…without going into detail it was something I very much regretted!

Pine nuts are not the only product of the tree; Jet is the result of high-pressure decomposition of the wood and the Jet found at Whitby, North Yorkshire (Whitby Jet) is the early Jurassic fossilized wood of the same species Araucaria araucana.

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Although not a garden as such, the gates to Pino Hachado, opened up a new world, an eye-opening view of a species growing in its natural habitat. Surrounded by these huge old giants growing for so many years and in such difficult conditions, I realised that the Monkey Puzzle tree was not so much a joke, but a really intriguing species for which I now have a new-found respect.

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——-10/18——-

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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5 Burbage Road, Herne Hill; a tiny touch of Spring.

Following the book launch of the National Garden Scheme’s Gardens to Visit at the Royal Festival Hall last Thursday I decided to walk along the Thames, jump on a train at London Bridge and travel to North Dulwich. As I walked the 5 minutes down Half Moon Lane the sun came out and there was a feeling of Spring in my step.

The garden, situated behind an Edwardian-style house is just 150 ft x 40 ft, but from the terrace it looks so much bigger.

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Rosemary and her husband have lived here for over thirty years, so the garden is well established. On the terrace there is every sort of container, pots, watering cans and old-fashioned sinks.

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White Bergenia, blue rosemary and pink hellebore provide a welcome splash of Spring colour.

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Rosemary is a botanical artist and there is definitely a touch of artistry in the garden. Positioned on the side wall, the iron stag’s head with antlers twisted into holly leaves has a good view.

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Lawn, trees,  topiary and euphorbias are combined to provide shape and form, a rich tapestry of green.

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I take the path that runs down along the left side of the garden; in just the first few steps there is a delightful variety of shrubs.

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The sunshine is pushing open the new leaves of this Photinia glabra, although not as red as the more commonly seen Photinia x fraseri ‘red robin’,  it is a delightfully rounded evergreen.

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A bee is really getting into this pretty camelia.

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The squawk of a parakeet can be heard as it flies overhead, no doubt keeping his eye on the raised bird baths. The garden is cleverly divided, whilst remaining ‘open plan’. Divisions are not oppressive but subtle allowing the eye to see over or through. The lawn appears to squeeze through the line of rounded box balls,

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and moves towards a fountain gently bubbling over the rim of the tall jar. Fritillaria gracefully grow from tubby twin pots placed at the corner of the paved surround.

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Three mature apple trees grow in the centre of the garden; below this one is a daphne and the scent is a delight.

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More box balls intermingle with shrubs and perennials, and the brick path behind brings you into a bricked area.

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The mood changes with a medley of metallic containers; nothing is left unplanted. Even the tree in the centre is not as natural as you might think.

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Opposite, the wave bench by Anthony Paul marks the gravel garden. Surrounded by wooden sleepers the idea of this dry area was inspired by the great Beth Chatto.

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Up through the gravel grows this little gem; at first glance I think it is a crocus but on closer inspection I realise it is a tiny species tulip.

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Carrying on down the path towards the end of the garden I look back at the skilfully pruned apple tree,

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the prunings of which are used to line the woodbark path that leads across to the bug hotel at the end of the garden. The garden is open in three days time and Rosemary is concerned that it is nearly a month behind.  She worries that some of the daffodils are tightly in bud,

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but there are splashes of Spring, such as this Pulmonaria pushing up through the ivy,

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and a pink patch of cyclamen.

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Brilliant hellebores, pink, red and white are out all over the garden.

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Plants are positively thriving here, the result of well worked soil, and there can be no doubt that compost bins are clearly an important ingredient in this garden.

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In every inch of this garden there is so much variety, and returning along the opposite side of the garden is a cloud-pruned Phillyrea latifolia, its dark green glossy foliage so striking in the afternoon sun.

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For a moment there is a strong scent of fox; it is a curious coincidence as from out of the border Charlie appears…

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… he is in pursuit of the goose on the lawn.

 

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This tender sculpture can’t bear to watch and ever so gently turns away.

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Back just below the house there is a ‘plank of pots’ with the suggestion of an alpine collection.

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Against the garage wall is a decoratively trained climbing rose, a sort of final swirl to this creative garden.

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I am itching to return home to pick up my secateurs but before I leave I am amused at the idea that these happy plants have moved to the windowsill to gain a better view of this delightful garden.

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The weather forecast for the weekend is not great but this should not prevent an enjoyable visit to this treasure of a garden. Keep calm and visit a garden.

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——-2018——-

Austwick Hall; sculpture and snowdrops

Staying on a short break near Settle in Yorkshire last week we found Austwick Hall perched above a pretty Dales village not far from the market town of Settle.  Set in 13 acres the garden and woodland had just had its open day for the NGS during the snowdrop Festival.

Close by the house the garden has been terraced and the columnar row of Juniper ‘sky rocket’, the perfect alternative to the cypress seen all over Italy, gives that familiar Italian feel to the place.

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The sculptures are contemporary and created, mostly, by local artists. The shapely ceramic vase raised on a wooden plinth was created by Ken Jaquiery who lives nearby. It sits elegantly on the front terrace.

 

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We climb up the stone steps towards the solid sundial situated on the lawn. The recent snowfall has delayed the Spring tidy-up but it is really for the some 50 varieties of snowdrops that we have come.

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Before climbing up the steep bank behind the garden we walk left along the path which leads through the log moon gate.

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Placed on the lawn and looking back towards the house is the fun wooden ‘Wave bench’ by Tom Nicholson Smith.

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The garden rises steeply up to a woodland area and colourful Cornus fill the lower ground.

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Looking up, the elegant high backed bench seems to beckon us up the hill,

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and on the ascending path we pause at another creation by Ken Jaquiery, ‘Wrapped Form’.

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From the bench we can for a moment enjoy the view and look out over the garden towards the Yorkshire Dales where patches of snow still lie in the distant fields.

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Behind us the the old deciduous beech tree, knobbly and gnarled, is a sculpture itself.

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The majestic metal ‘Stag’ stands amongst snowdrops, its outline so realistic, it was created by Andrew Kay an award winning Cumbrian artist.

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We are in the woodland now and have to decide which path to take;

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we are drawn towards Sarah Smith’s ‘Inner Rhythm, Hidden form’, solid, it is carved from the local Yorkshire limestone.

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The sun has appeared. The birdsong around us is glorious and out over the velvety          mossy-covered stone wall we can glimpse the rhythm of the landscape beyond.

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An ivy covered branch forms a natural archway. In some areas the woodland floor will shortly be a riot of wild daffodils followed by the bluebells that are quietly growing.

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In a small dell is another sculpture by Sarah Smith, serene it catches the sunlight.

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A moss-covered Giant’s Causeway, its soft green texture is accentuated by vertical bare trunks of the trees.

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Nestling between the trees and neatly tucked up is ‘Reflection’ by Gavin Roweth.

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It is a wonderful wood, filled with natural features; paths wind up and down and circuit an ancient rocky outcrop,

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whilst the contemporary sculptures add a modern dimension; ‘Sentinel’ by David Pearson stands tall and square,

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contrasted by just further on the smooth swirls of ‘Source’ by Susheila Jamieson.

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It is not just the natural landscape that provide a variety of shapes, colours and textures; there are the sculptures that vary from abstract to the representational. The face is hidden but the gesture says it all; ‘Growing Pains’ is by Sarah Smith.

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Sally Grant’s striking ‘Remembering Head’ angled and raised on a plinth,

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like many of the pieces, is placed to be enjoyed from several directions.

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The path descends, as it has done from time immemorial, and in my intent to follow

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I nearly missed the ‘Baboon’ by Tony Evans perched up high.

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The next is like two sculptures, the back so very feminine and the front a confusion of limbs. A small piece, it is ‘Crouching Figure’ by David Pearson,

Descending through the snowdrops, mossy rocks and trees,

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we come to the final sculpture, Rob Watson’s ancient looking ‘Slate Form’.

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A garden visit at this time of year is not about the best blooms in the borders; it is about the bare bones, the structure of nature’s design. At Austwick snowdrop and sculpture is a pleasing combination and the natural woodland with its variety and form provides the perfect space in which to display these creations. Everyone knows what a snowdrop is and as I duly purchased my Galanthus woronowii I was delighted to see a party of school children ascend the rugged path. What fun they will have and what better way to introduce the young to the pleasures of garden visiting.

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Galanthus nivalis (poculiformis from an original watercolour by Nina Krauzewicz

 

——-2018——-

 

Repton and his business

It is the bicentenary of the death of Humphry Repton, he of the Red Book fame. There are many events organised and gardens gates opening throughout the year. This piece was so interesting that I am reblogging.

The Gardens Trust

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  If you hadn’t already realised 2018 is Repton Year, when we’re commemorating the life and work of the last great landscape designer of the eighteenth century.  Unlike the Festival for his ‘predecessor’ Capability Brown there is no great central nationally funded organization. Instead Celebrating Humphry Repton  will be a collaborative effort, which, even though although it can’t match the funding of CB300,  looks certain to match the enthusiasm and spread of interest nationally.  County Gardens Trusts and other groups will be arranging events around the country throughout the year to celebrate Repton’s work. You can find a list – continually being updated – at this dedicated webpage on  The Gardens Trust website.  If you would like to get involved or receive updates email repton@thegardenstrust.org. The more people who join in, the better the celebration!

And of course the blog is going to play its small part.  Repton has…

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