Ramster, open for 90 glorious years. (86)

I cannot draw to the end of my ‘ninety’ without including the historic rambling wooded gardens of Ramster in Surrey.  It was one of the original 609 gardens that opened for the NGS back in 1927 and has opened every successive year since. It is the only other garden along with Sandringham to hold such an impressive record.

Originally named Ramsnest, the garden was created out of an Oak woodland in the 1890s by the then owner Sir Harry Waechter, a British businessman and philanthropist.


The local nursery of V. N. Gauntlett & Co Ltd., specialists in all things Japanese, conveniently adjoined the garden and their influence is very much in evidence today.

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In 1922 the property was bought by Sir Henry and Lady Norman and has remained in the same family being passed onto the fourth generation in 2005. Ramster Hall tucked away in the Surrey Hills is a private home but earns its keep by hosting weddings and corporate events.


At the annual NGS conference recently Miranda Gunn (third generation) gave an amusing account of the garden. She explained how in the early years an honesty box sufficed at the entrance, but times have changed and on arrival the driver of the coach full of visitors asks three simple questions: Where are the loos, where are the teas and what is the name of the dog!

Wooden obelisks mark the entrance to the 25 acres and the map shows plenty of meandering paths to explore and helpfully outlines the hard path route giving some access to wheelchairs.


A fallen Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii, has been turned, actually chainsawed, into this porcine family by Simon Groves http://www.grovessculpture.co.uk/home.html.


Opposite, a redundant tennis court has taken on a new lease of life,


a quiet enclosed flat area where a gentle fountain plays into the dark waters of the raised pool,


with a variety of pots, and places to sit. It is a contrast to the wooded undulating 25 acres  yet to come.


There is a gentle unhurried atmosphere here, a place to wander with plenty of benches along the way,

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placed strategically under trees such as this deciduous conifer the Swamp Cypress Taxodium distichum,


or tucked in under what is known as the ‘Grouse Hole’. From here you can sit for awhile


and admire the ‘Gauntlett’ Cranes standing still in the green lagoon.


Seating is also made simply out of fallen trunks,


or enriched by the chainsaw of Simon Groves.


From the winged back log you can look down on the bog garden, where an acer is acquiring an autumnal glow and tall thin purple verbena bonariensis rise up in front of the fat green gunnera manicata leaves.


Logs are used on the walkway; neatly sliced, they allow the children to experience the Gunnera jungle.


Following a rough woodland path clearly marked as unsuitable for any type of wheels I reach the lake, the furthest point of the woodland. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like in those early years with something like 40 gardeners.  I am reminded of the story Miranda recounted; remembering the days when a team of gardeners was employed in the fifties and false teeth were all the rage, her mother would go out into the garden calling them and have to wait a considerable amount of time while the team would rush back to their potting shed to be reunited with their teeth and so appear with a gleaming white smile!


Throughout the woodland, autumn tints are creeping in particularly amongst the acers; the large leaves of this young Acer palmatum Osakasuki, have nearly all turned,


while this mature Acer rubrum ‘Scanlon’ has just a very few leaves. It amazes me how on one specimen the change is so varied, a breakaway branch so brilliantly red whilst the rest of the tree remains determinedly green. 


Liquidamber styraciflua ‘Elstead’ is beautiful too, a fine tree it is also noted for its deeply ridged bark.


However it is the rare Castor aralia Kalopanax pictus var maximowicizii that wins the prize for its glorious bark, the wondrous patterns of nature.


Ramster is not only famous for its autumn colour but also for Rhododendrons and Azaleas, and many readers will have seen the wonderful display shown on Gardener’s World back in May. Not a flower to be seen now it is the naked limbs which still have such beauty; the tri-trunked specimen of Rhododendron Loder’s White.


and a frenzy of multi-stemmed Rhododendron ‘Cynthia’.


Some ‘naked’ trees are put to good use; a support for a beautifully scented honeysuckle Lonicera ‘Copper Beauty’ which flowers from June to September.


Another member of the honeysuckle family and still in flower is the Heptacodium miconioides known in N. America as Crape Myrtle or seven son flower.


There are the mighty giant trees such as the towering Sequoia giganteum Wellingtonia,


and the straight Atlantic cedar Cedrus atlantica glauca. The couple seated below are season ticket holders and share their love the garden by showing me photos of the past seasons.


It is near here in a clearing that Miranda Gunn has positioned her grandchildren.

A delightful arrangement in bronze resin titled Oranges and Lemons it is by Christine Charlesworth. Lola, Nessa, Ollie, Tom and Bethan were not an easy commission and took two years to complete, finishing in 2011. There is such rhythm and movement in this piece that it is no wonder that Charlesworth was selected as the official artist for the 2012 London Olympics.


Behind the group of figures is the glow of a red Acer, contorted with colour,


it is part of the Acer walk, the Japanese influence incorporated a century ago.


A lantern is poetically placed amongst shrubs and contributes to the Anglo/Japanese feel.


I meander for sometime past lakes and ponds,


down steps and over bridges; it is a fun place for children to explore.


Returning to the car park I pass under the deliciously-looking but inedible baubles of the Dogwood Cornus porlock ‘Norman Haddon’,


and then quite out of the blue, and it is out of the blue because everything is red, is a lonely hydrangea, a reminder of the acid soil that lies below and I envy hugely.


Back in the car park the peculiar fruits of the Medlar Mespilus germanica are yet to blet,


and a Red London Bus awaits the next party of wedding guests.


Ramster is closed now until the Spring; its very informative website boasts of it providing the best cake in Surrey. I should check it out when it opens for the NGS on Friday 11th May 2018.


Timber Hill, an autumnal flush of camellias and fungi.(85)

October 15th was a glorious sunny Sunday and I was among several visitors who enjoyed an NGS open day at Timber Hill near Chobham in Surrey. Stepping through beautiful Autumn crocus Colchicum speciousus ‘Conqueror’ it is hard to believe that something of such beauty can be quite so poisonous.


Looking from the terrace of the house where statues surrounded by tiny pink roses dance and play, there was a definite feel of summer not yet over.


A circle of Campanula fills a crack in the paving,


and pots are full of vibrant fuchsia, petunia and verbena. Even the sweet peas still look colourful, green and fresh.


Walking across the lawn I find a twiggy pheasant perched up in the Mulberry tree and for a brief moment mourn that my own fine specimen back home was recently felled by a storm. Wind chimes alert me to the present and for a very brief moment I hit fame as a visitor recognises me as “the blogger”. She is one of the Berkshire team, a county whose support in this project has been admirable.


The owners have lived and gardened here since 1951.The well-kept borders are full of colour; clumps of Tradescantia jostle for position next to Skimmia,


and the tall feathery plumes of Miscanthus appear silvery white.


Close by a butterfly, a Comma takes the opportunity to open its beautiful wings and bask in the sun.


There are several out this afternoon, Commas and Red Admirals together enjoy the drooping berries of the Himalayan honeysuckle Leycesteria formosa. 


The garden softly merges into parkland. A Roebuck created by Cotswold based artist Katy Risdale (http://katerisdale.co.uk/) stands amongst the young trees, an area that helps link the garden to a maturer plantation further away.


The chunky leaves of Quercus affinis, an Oak from Mexico, appear scorchingly orangey red in the sunlight.


The feathery leaves of this large Maple are only just thinking of turning,


whilst this younger cousin Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’ is already a fiery red


The woodland is not just about Autumn colour; there are over 200 camellias planted here. Not to be confused with the japonicas which flower in Spring, the Sasanquas, introduced to the West in 1869 by the Dutch traders often flower in the Autumn. Camellia sasanqua ‘Plantation Pink’ is such an example, graceful and single-flowered it smells very slightly.


Somewhat darker, the very prolific Camellia sasaqua ‘Hugh Evans’ is also scented,


whilst glorious ‘Gay Sue’ is considered to have the best fragrance of all.


The woodland floor is strewn with little hedgehog-like Sweet Chestnuts,


with occasional  patches of cyclamen hederifolium, the ivy-leaves almost as decorative as the charming little flowers.


A good selection of fungi is very much in evidence, a subject of which I know so little. Luckily for me another visitor, out for the day from London seemed to be what I can only describe as a “fungophile” and helpfully identifies the varieties. This, upright and perfect, he explains was a Parasol Macrolepiota procera,


and when it all gets too much it then simply keels over.


The Shaggy Ink Cap goes by another splendid name of Lawyer’s Wig, Coprinus comatus,



They are all edible and my new-found friend enthuses about their culinary benefits and particularly enjoys this spongey type, the fleshy Orange Birch Bolete, Leccinum versipelle.

However, the Magpie ink cap Coprinopsis picacea is not so desirable being rather poisonous,


as is the familiar Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria.


He fears that these clusters may be Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea. There are apparently seven different strains of this deadly fungus, innocent-looking it spreads black bootlaces unseen underground ready to attack failing plants, which can often include many a fine old tree. Nature’s way but gardener’s nightmare.


Looking around in this lovely wood I am relieved to see that there are many healthy specimens. In a clearing I find a chiminea, probably not needed today; nevertheless a pleasant gesture if it should turn chilly. It is also touching to see the garden owner showing a less mobile visitor around in his motorised cart; most gardens have little access for the disabled. He pauses a moment to throw a log onto the lit fire.


Paths wind through the wood and through the clearing where I catch sight of the splendid 65 year old Liquidamber styraciflua.


Coming out of the wood you can see for miles. Swathes of dark green in an undulating landscape, it is an interesting fact to note that Surrey despite being commuter belt is the county with the highest concentration of trees in the UK.

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I turn back towards the house and admire this mighty Oak, and cannot decide if it was planted as one and somehow grew into three.


Back by the house is a climbing Callicarpa bodinieri the Beautyberry; it is such an extraordinary colour, almost unnatural, but here it looks good intertwined with a vine.


Of course after such an interesting afternoon and with the journey home ahead, the day would have been incomplete without tea, so I joined my colleague from the NGS Berkshire team and sitting outside enjoyed a delicious piece of carrot cake.


Timber Hill is a garden with all-year-round interest and will be opening next year for yet more camellia (japonicas) and spring bulbs on the 17th March 2018, magnolias and spring blossom on 7th April and again for autumn delights on the 7th October. You should put it in your diary.


Great Comp Garden, follies fun and salvias. (84)

Great Comp is near Sevenoaks in Kent. The seven acre garden was developed by Eric and Joyce Cameron who purchased the house back in 1957 and first opened for the NGS in 1968.

Now it is managed by a Trust, with the Curator William Dyson and a team of gardeners and volunteers. Dyson has been growing salvias for over 20 years and has built up a large collection; as you walk into Great Comp you are greeted with a fine selection displayed for sale.

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The nursery area is surrounded by borders of grasses and perennials allowing the visitor to slip seamlessly into the garden.

The apex of the Lion Summerhouse roof can just be seen above a delightful blend of shape and texture.


This 17th century building was at one time the estate loo but now contains a more enchanting style of seat.


The Camerons added a little architecture to the garden, not in the way of functionality but as a part of the design; ruins and follies are built from the stone and sand unearthed from digging the garden.


There are plenty of sculptures too and this pensive chap may just be wondering where he has left his trowel.


Despite being the end of October this border flows with colour; an assortment of salvias from pinks through red and purple to blue are complimented with tall ornamental grasses arranged at the back.


It was Pliny the Elder who was the first to write of a plant described by the Romans as Salvia, most likely the Salvia officinalis, commonly known as sage which we use in our cooking. It is the largest genus of plants in the mint family Lamiaceae and is distributed throughout the Americas, Central and Eastern Asia and the Mediterranean. Dyson concentrates on the Salvias from the New World and has cultivated over 200 hybrids.  Such an intense blue,

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and it is not just the difference in colour but also in form and habit. These dark purple flower spikes look good with the autumn colours.


The colours compliment and blend so effectively,


or look good simply in a singular colour bursting out of a pot.


Salvia Waverly is a tender variety so will be taken under cover before the first frosts.


Another folly provides a seating area complete with bench and to the right a ‘tumbled down’ tower,


from where we can view the crescent lawn and an explosion of grasses.


Salvia is not the only plant providing flower colour today; a low growing geranium is almost as good as in early summer,


and the evergreen Liriope muscari  so good in the shade and flowers from August to November.


The low autumn sun highlights the whiteness of the miscanthus grass.


There are many fine mature trees here, the perfect shape of a  Sequoa sempervirens ‘Cantab’ stands erect on the edge of the square lawn in front of the house.


Further away is a fine specimen of a rowan, Sorbus hupenhsis laden with pink berries.

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We walk away from the house down the avenue known as the Sweep, the curving line of the lawn and swirling shapes of the shrubs and trees suggesting a design reminiscent of the swinging sixties and early seventies.


We are joined in the garden by our young cousin Charlotte; bouncing with energy and enthusiasm she lifts our spirits on this chilly grey day. Rubbing her hands over the smoothly clipped box she asks if it takes long to grow. I don’t want to dampen any signs of horticultural interest and feel a touch guilty when I suggest it doesn’t.


Swiftly moving down the Sweep we admire the deep red leaves of the Liquidamber,


and head into the woodland. At the southeast corner there is a hydrangea glade which we walk through and follow along the leafy perimeter path,


to the Chilstone temple that marks the furthest south western corner and where the yellow Mahonia is well into flower.


Back out of the woods we seek out the Italian garden, passing under the canopy of Magnolia x soulangeana where the extraordinarily unreal seed heads contort above us,

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and through the archway there is a different mood.


The Camerons combined their love of the classical with the theatre and in an eclectic mix of columns, fountain and ornament softened by dahlias, palm and tall rustling miscanthus they created a curious courtyard.


Amongst the old stone are engineering bricks that serve to make walls and define the arches and although there is a very slight air of a forgotten institution there are plenty of little seating areas to enjoy the characterful ambience.


It is time for Tea and we head off to the old dairy to sample the delicious cake just pausing for a moment to admire the lamp post with a turban top.


Nearby, Brutus is stylishly swathed in moss and seems to look over towards the neighbouring


goddess, a little less clothed she appears to be in heavenly bliss.


Opposite, the flat leaves of the ancient gingko are gently turning to a soft yellow,


Through the enchanting moon gate we can clearly see the herbaceous border across the neatly mown lawn.


Growing by the house is a sizeable Magnolia grandiflora who holds its seed heads tightly.

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Passing by more seed heads,  these are Phlomis we pass through yet another folly.


The garden, which is an RHS partner moves round to the northern side where the visitor before leaving can admire the front of the charming 17th Century house.


Returning through the nursery it is difficult not to admire the longevity of this summer flowering fuchsia, curiously named “Lady in Black”,


and wonder at a snowdrop in flower at the same time, the very early Galanthus ‘Peter Gatehouse’. I feel that I have nearly come full circle as it was not far from here at Spring Platt (A snowdrop of knowledge blog 5), that I became so acquainted with this enchanting flower. However, we still have a little way to go before the onset of the snowdrop season.






Askham Hall, artful acres of abundance. (83)

Last month following a visit to Larch Cottage Nursery  in Cumbria (blog 79) we decided to visit the grade II listed gardens of nearby Askham Hall on the Lowther estate.

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You enter the garden through the homely cafe situated in the converted Barn; it is always a good idea to begin a garden visit with a little sustenance.


The garden actually opened for the NGS back in June but up-to-date news about daily happenings is displayed on the board.


We are given a map, simply drawn and ideal for children, the guide on the back outlines over twenty features in the garden. Right outside the cafe is number one, the mediterranean herb garden with a selection of edible herbs.

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The garden route begins between a gap in the beech hedge and a walk through walnut trees; our guide reminds us that they were introduced into this country 500 years ago.


The ground slopes away from the cornus trees just taking on their autumn colours.


Dried heads of allium long-since flowered rise above the fading leaves of hosta grown in the little bricked beds.


Before taking the steps up to the terrace we enter the woodland walk and find ourselves at the yew tree, rather unique in the fact that it is multi-stemmed and rises from the root.


Just at this moment I spy a red squirrel, busy in his nut gathering; he is just too quick  for me. There is plenty of natural wildlife here, with newts and frogs inhabiting the pond,


and there is evidence of deer with these simple but clever wire defences.


The path leads on to the Land of Giants, an area planted with very tall herbaceous plants


such as Eupatorium ‘Massive White’ which towers above us,


we feel like dwarves against the Miscanthus,


and the young leaves of the Paulownia still looking so fresh and are the size of dinner plates.


I watch a group of visitors struggle across the lawn with a wheelchair. An impossible task but until you have pushed one you have no idea how limiting it is. To the right of the green sward is the herbaceous border, at its peak in the summer months, it is an incredible 230ft long (70m).


In the centre of the border we find the steep stone steps,


which take us on to the terrace where there is still plenty going on from the grasses and late perennials,


I particularly admire the appropriately named Sedum ‘Red Cauli’.


Yet more steps to climb,


but a little sign of encouragement drives us on.


At the top lies a flat area of lawn; straight ahead is the symmetrical listed house. Previously a family home of the present owner it is now an award-winning 17 room hotel with a restaurant.

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To the left the neatly mown straight lines draw our eyes to the Wellingtonia,


a hundred years old it is the largest tree in the garden.


To the right a Gypsy caravan has come to rest. Now a place for the newly-weds to sign the register,


it was built in 1900 and was originally on wheels.

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Photo on display in the cafe


Askham Hall is perched above the River Eden. You can hear the soothing sound of the water as it flows by, and, glimpsed through the branches on its bank is the Mill Cottage.


Lowther Church can be seen in the far distance.


It is on this same side that steps lead down to the parterre,


a private and secluded area reserved for the house guests, we do not linger long


before walking back around to the front of the house where a fine pair of salmon swim through the air,


 and view the rolling farmland through the whimsical topiary which date back to the 1800s.


Passing through the courtyard, we marvel at the rope knot arch,


and the virginia creeper Parthonissus quinquefolia which provides dramatic colour to the grey stone walls.


A bicycle directs us to the kitchen garden and through thick hedges of ‘Discovery’ apple,


we find orderly raised beds bulging with fine produce.


It is decorative too, colourful Malope trifida ‘ Vulcan’ mingles with a collection of herbs,


and the striking heads of purple artichoke.


The poly tunnels are also productive, ready to supply restaurant and cafe.


For the ignorant like me a chilli is a chilli but here in pots are many varieties, all labelled some carry health warning signs as to the strength and I wonder that no one has thought of a Richter-type scale to measure the hottest.


This is also a working farm; the sound of chickens clucking nearby is broken by the crow of a cockerel, and over the fence ducks swim on the pond, whilst in the distance are the pigs and sheep.

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This beautiful garden has a certain vibrancy to it. Open to the public, it has not lost its touch of being a family home. Located in a glorious setting there is just about everything from the history to horticulture, stunning views, a rich variety of planting, fun topiary, vegetables and fruit, and even fine dining. Thought has also been taken to provide interest for children, carefully avoiding that overload of education that at times can take away from the enjoyment of visiting a garden.

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35 Digswell Road, autumnal joy (82)

It is the end of October and the glorious season for garden visiting is not quite over yet. Last Sunday a town garden in Digswell Road on the edge of Welwyn Garden City to the north of London was just one of eight gardens open nationally for the NGS.  Ferns and grasses edged the path to the side of the house where the wrought iron garden gate was open:


The back garden, about a third of an acre in size, is a tapestry of texture and harvest colour; seed heads, grasses, autumnal leaves and evergreens.


Adrian and Clare have lived here since 1976 and began to get into gardening after retirement some twenty years later. There was no original drawn plan, and a resolution was made not to hard landscape the area. The lawn is at a higher level and I imagine that the ‘little Lutyens’ style steps were built at the same time as the house.


This is a garden about plants and Adrian trips off their names with a passion. I concentrate on the border to the left of the lawn. Planting was inspired as a result of visiting a nursery nearby in Potters Bar which introduced them to the style of Piet Oudolf.  Adrian delights in the performance of a new grass he has acquired, the silvery white fronds of the Peruvian feather grass  Stipa pseudoichu.


I admire the pink of the Michaelmas Daisy and am surprised to find it called Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’.


The garden is divided by a tall tightly clipped conifer hedge with a gap wide enough to tempt you through the vibrant planting. Here the tempo changes, with the introduction of succulents amongst the perennials.


Travel, in particular to the Americas, Africa and Asia where Adrian and Clare experienced exotics growing naturally, has inspired this part of the garden. It is an interesting mix, with a succulent inhabiting the stone ornament softened by stipa tenuissima around its base,  with a background of astelias and purple Salvia ‘Amistad’.


Mature trees surround this end of the garden and the tall palm-like Cordyline australis with its striking leaves has burst into flower.


As the end of the garden narrows and becomes shaded under the tree canopy, the path snakes through a collection of noble tree ferns,


and amongst a blend of exotic, familiar evergreen and bamboo, bananas which delight in the name Musa basjoo shed their layers.


Although the small greenhouse is almost hidden by the jungle growth, it somehow manages to catch enough sunlight from above.


There are several types of bamboo, and the lower leaves are stripped to show the strong and yellowy stems.


Leaving the shade of the jungle, the path returns to grass and takes me back towards the gap in the hedge,


and the sunshine brings out a Red Admiral who enjoys the nectar of the salvia flowers.


This small banana has wine-red stems and look dramatic amongst the grasses.


Back on the lawn I walk down the right hand side of the lawn where seed heads of the classical acanthus mingle with the golden stems of Stipa gigantea.


and teasel and cardoons stand in front of the waving Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberturm’.


Sedums never fail to bring colour at this time of year, and what is more appropriate than that old favourite Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’.


A burst of golden spikes is Molinia Karl Foerster, a name that appears in many a garden and I wonder who exactly was Karl Foerster? He was in fact a nurseryman in Germany in the early 1900s and made his name when he began to select perennials, particularly grasses that were robust, looked good in a mass and had elegant but strong flower spikes. As a pioneer of this style, I think he would have enjoyed this garden.

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Down by the house I look back at the garden through the seed heads of Monarda. It has been a remarkable display of autumn colour much of which will continue through to January when Adrian will begin to cut back his garden.


Clare is serving teas and behind her hangs the special trowel, recognition that they have been opening their garden for 10 years for the NGS. This garden may be small but as an example on how to extend the summer planting, it is an inspiration.

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Larch Cottage Nurseries, a treasure trove of ornaments and plants. (81)

Towards the end of September, not far from Penrith, in the village of Melkinthorpe, somewhere in the middle of the beautiful countryside of Cumbria, we found the gate open to a fantastical and unique nursery.


An assembly of statue and ornament intermingled with plants greets us at the entrance and artfully built stone walls create a courtyard effect.

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Developed in 1984 from a derelict site, Peter Scott created the nursery for his landscape business and employed a team of skilled craftsman. It is difficult to decide upon which archway to take.


An oak door leads into a building; half way between a fine barn and a conservatory it houses some tender plants and is the territory of a little wren.


Light comes in on one side through the full length windows, and at one end is a decorative stained glass window.


We take the narrow arch that leads through pots of towering bamboos,


and pass the office, reminiscent of a Tuscan farmhouse.


Further on is the terraced restaurant which has a slightly oriental look.


Japanese acers either side of the little wooden bridge.


Cornus kousa var. chinensis ‘China Girl’ is laden with fruit.


Old fashioned roses and clematis adorn bold brick pillars and you just can’t help but wonder if this really is a nursery or actually a private garden.


Yes, there are rows of plants, not just the acers and roses but in fact 15,000 varieties of rare and unusual shrubs, perennials, climbers,  and dwarf conifers, many of which are propagated on-site. It is the place for plantaholics.


Larch Cottage has supplied Botanical gardens such as  Kew, Durham and Sheffield, Universities and Colleges, many National Plant Collections, Alnwick gardens as well RHS Wisley.


Visitors never need feel alone; statues quietly appear in different corners and in many guises. Made from marble, bronze, lead and stone.





Good old Atlas heaves his world up through the sunflowers.


It is not all classical; there is a touch of the contemporary too.


Some pieces are commissioned to order, whilst others are sourced from reputable suppliers worldwide. There is also a comprehensive range of terracotta and glazed pots.


A wide arch, a neat brick path and more plants.


Classical columns provide the support which supply the perfect conditions for shady plants


Another arch, this time narrow and well guarded.


The path widens towards the end of the nursery,


and we find ourselves in the vegetable garden where healthy runner beans clamber over metal frames, and no doubt are a supply for the popular restaurant.


Through the produce the path leads to  the gate to the secret garden, open just on Wednesdays in aid of charity including two days in June and October for the NGS.


The freshly mown lawn invites us in. Encircled by borders planted with vigour and variety.

DSCF5547.jpgNeatly edged, the large labels identify the choice plants, these Alstroemia ‘Mauve Majesty’ are putting on a good display so late in the season.


and Malvia sylvestris ‘Marina’ is particularly welcome to a visiting bee.


Pink Diascia, with its long flowering season, never fails to delight.


The design of a circular lawn is repeated beyond,


and the wonderfully sounding Kniphofia ‘Wrexham Buttercup’ that I photograph for its Latin name, which I want to keep saying again and again, and here it sure catches the eye.

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Calmly grazing on the lawn is  a charming family of bronze deer.


A smooth path, so perfect for all things with wheels,  winds through a great selection of shrubs,


until it reaches the still round pond. The plants reflect on the surface but the sun has left us now and the light has changed.


A variety of plants pack the water’s edge, such as the low growing Arum-lily


and the elegantly tall fennel.


It has all been recently constructed and a little chapel presides at the furthest point,


with an artistically painted interior, it is private and preserved for family occasions.


Erigeron karvinskianus grows naturally amongst the man-laid stones,


grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Sarabande’ contribute to a naturalistic planting,


while Hydrangea quercifolla ‘Burgundy’ gives a burst of autumn colour.


We return following the line of the natural stream, where a patchwork of leaves converge to hide the gently flowing water.


There is an orchard to the right bearing beautiful red apples Malus ‘Red Falstaff’ fit for any thespian, even a goddess too,


who now appears to be feeling the autumnal chill. This is quite a nursery and one not to be missed.



Arley Hall, generations of creativity and stupendous herbaceous borders. (80)

Arley Hall, one of the original gardens to be opened for the NGS way back in 1927, opened its gates for the Scheme this year on the 6th August.

The visitor is dwarfed by the immensely tall pleached lime avenue lining the approach to Arley Hall in Cheshire. Planted in 1856, I wonder at having to get up there to give these trees an annual clip.


Not many entrances have a Cruck Barn; just right of the clock tower arch, it was built in about 1470, the same time as the house. The ‘crucks’ I gather, are the strong pairs of oak beams curving up from the floor to the apex of the roof.


The  garden has been created by the same family over the past 250 years and is considered to be one of Britain’s finest. The map advises us that it will take several hours to walk round the twelve acres. So we set off through the ornate iron garden gate.


A series of charming areas have been designed here; they are like the warm-up to the great act that follows. At one end of the pretty Flag Garden, white agapanthus grow above dainty white clumps which spill out of terracotta pots and in spaces amongst the paving stones.

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At the other end where the scent of roses fills the air, lavatera and lavender surround the feet of this nonchalant chap.


Then, crossing the avenue lined with its rigid high hedges of yew,


an occasional splash of red tumbles out of the green walls; it is the Scottish Flame Flower tropaeolum speciosum, whose origins are nothing to do with Scotland having been introduced from Chile by the Cornish plant hunter William Lobb during the mid 1840s . 


Topiary echoes the stone finial centred amongst the nasturtiums in the Herb Garden,


where herbs are laid out in striking patterns.


Finally in this line up is a small scented garden, probably at its best in Spring, it retains a charm throughout the year.


The aroma right now is coming from the honey-scented  Itea illicifolia growing against the wall to the right of the gate which stands open to the walled kitchen garden.


We first explore the long glasshouse, The Vinery built in the 1870s where, amongst the figs and vines there is an explosion of exotic plants :

DSCF3947.jpgThe evergreen Australian Bluebell Creeper sollya heterophylla with its nodding blue bell-shaped flowers twines one of the upright poles,

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the tender and unusual Iochroma australe from South America,


and the popular Passion flower,


Out in the garden sweet peas adorn wigwams of bamboo amongst salads and vegetables all arranged decoratively in raised beds.


Brought over by the present Viscount Ashbrook from a previous family home, Castle Durrow in Ireland, is an intricate white arbour, the perfect centrepiece for the floriferous walk.


Even larger than the Kitchen Garden is a further Walled Garden, where we find this friendly beast.


It is a vast space, and an aged photo taken from the informative display-boards in the old stables, shows how in the 1940s and 1950s this area once earned its keep with rows of fruit trees with vegetable beds behind.

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During these years the garden was closed for the Scheme but thankfully for us market gardening ceased to be profitable and the garden, having suffered much neglect over the years began a programme of restoration. The gardens were opened to the public in the 1960s and once again for the NGS too.  Now it is a delightful area with ornaments and mown green lawns edged with herbaceous borders,


with a formal pond and gentle fountain as the focal point.


We exit this area through the magnificent gates,

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and find ourselves admiring the long herbaceous borders for which Arley has become so famous. These double borders can be seen on a plan of 1846 and it is thought they were the first of their kind to be planted in England.


Originally stretching in unbroken lines running along the brick wall on the north side and yew hedge to the south, the beds were broken up into five sections with yew buttresses some thirty years later.


The watercolour by E. A. Rowe of 1892 illustrate that the borders have remained unchanged today, except for the gravel path which has been replaced with grass.

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The alcove situated at the west end was built in 1790 and is now a venue to tie the knot.


We slip through the hedge on the south side,


and look towards the eighteenth century Tea Cottage once used for garden tea parties and where shrub roses are underplanted with a variety of hardy perennials.


Through the spires of verbascum we can’t help but notice the fantastical cylinders of evergreen oak Quercus ilex growing here since the 1860s; there are fourteen in all.


They are impressive in stature especially looking up from the sundial circle.


Just off to the side is the Rootery, a type of rock garden combined with a romantic woodland dell of ferns and maples, it comes alive in spring with the flowering azaleas. DSCF4012.jpg

Nearby is the fish garden; fish swim in the pool and, at the four corners of which is a splash of purple agaretum beneath the arching and delicate stems of the appropriately named angel’s fishing rods dierama mossii.


Finally we head along the Furlong Walk towards the house. Just as a reminder, a furlong is an eighth of a mile, 220 yards or if you are that little bit younger than me, 201 metres. On one side is the arrangement of gardens we have so enjoyed and on the other is the parkland. Cattle graze amongst old oaks whose outstretched arms bend to the ground in a graceful gesture reminding us that they too have been here for a very long time.


Each generation of this family have contributed to the evolution of the garden. The weather does not allow us to do justice to the Grove and Woodland on the east side of the Hall created by  the present Viscount Ashbrook over the past 30 years. However we have seen such variety; design and intrigue, history and progress, a paradise of plants and a nursery too. Arley Hall has its own very comprehensive website:http://www.arleyhallandgardens.com/the-gardens, but why not hear about the garden from Viscount Ashbrook himself who joins Mary Berry and Stephen Lacey on Tuesday 31st October 2017, tickets can be bought at https://www.ngs.org.uk/whats-new/news/post/the-glory-of-the-garden-with-mary-berry.




The Barn, a fine arboretum in Norfolk. (79)

This simple gate is the entrance to an impressive arboretum, open this Sunday 22nd October 10am – 3pm it is situated at Framingham Earl just 3 miles south east of Norwich.


There are 14 hectares (34 acres) here of a great collection of trees originally laid out by Dr Edward Rigby a physician and surgeon in Norwich. He was also a great lover of the natural world and having bought the estate in 1786 he began planting in about 1805. Originally called Framingham Hall the name was changed to The Chase when Geoffrey Colman acquired the property in 1929.

The house was demolished in 1973 a few years after the death of Colman’s widow Lettice.  The Beech Walk remains as a memory of the grand house it once was.


Framingham Hall is shown on Faden’s map of Norfolk 1797 and this more recent OS map outlines the demolished hall and shows the line of the Beech Walk centred on the old site.

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It is that time of year when here and there are signs of autumn with the leaves beginning to turn, perhaps on one specimen like this nissa sylvatica ‘Tupelo’.


or an entire tree catching the light in the dark green canopy.


It is not a neglected wood, young trees have been recently planted and benches are placed in strategic places such as at the end of this ride,


or in front of the remains of the old balustrade on the North side of the house.


This old photograph shows the South side.

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Photo attributed to R.Gooderham

Those elegant ladies might have wandered  through growing shrubs and sat in this graceful rotunda now slightly hidden from view.


In the eighteenth century this classical statue would have symbolised the cultured taste and status of the owner. His presence remains majestic amongst the giants:


such as the Cedars of Lebanon cedrus lebani which are quite magnificent,


the large tight fat cones are firmly attached to the graceful arching branches,


unlike these tiny ones on a fir which drop so freely.


A fallen branch snakes its way up the hill,


where on a mound surrounded by sycamore stands a gazebo. Built in 2000 from English oak it celebrates the one hundredth birthday of H.M The Queen Mother, the creation of the arboretum and the start of the new millennium.


And it is from here that you have a glorious view, apparently out towards the sea at Great Yarmouth in the faraway distance; it is the spire of  St Andrew’s Church Framingham Pigot, we can see today peeping above the trees.


We have driven in from the South Lodge so decide to walk on further down the drive towards the North Lodge catching sunlight through the raised tree canopy,


and admiring the ever-changing shapes of nature.


In a wide clearing a plaque informs us that these American species trees were presented to Sir Timothy Colman KG by the governors and members of the Memorial Trust of the 2nd Air Division USAAF upon his retirement in November 2004 as Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk in appreciation of his support and encouragement over the years.


Particularly golden and, ironically because of its name, is the Quercus Velutina ‘Black Oak’.


From here we make our way to the lakes passing through the tumbled-down old rockery,


now overgrown, it is the bright stems of bamboo that have become a focal point.


A stately urn remains amongst the shrubs and trees,


and the end of the wall presents a reminder of past times.


I am with a tree expert and we delight in a species he does not know, an Indian Horse Chestnut Aesculus Indica. Related to the more common Horse Chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum it was introduced to Britain in 1851 by Colonel Henry Bunbury (a friend of Sir Joseph Hooker, Director of Kew), who planted seeds in his family’s garden at Barton Hall in Suffolk.


We have come to photograph the arboretum today for the Norfolk  Booklet and I admire the skill of our NGS photographer who takes such care and is clearly a professional,


whilst I am more hurried and happy to snap!


It is a series of lakes, and this cygnet appears alone on this lowest one.  Dwarfed by a the bronzed Swamp Cypress taxodium distichum which grows up ram rod-straight from one of the little circular islands.


All around, the blue sky and autumn colours are reflected on the still water.


We have wandered around for at least a couple of hours and it is time to ascend back up the South-facing hill. Not a flat part of Norfolk, it is a beautiful landscape and this very private arboretum, a rare Sunday treat, is surely one not to be missed. The Barn is the final garden to be open for Norfolk NGS 2017 and ends a fantastic season in this lovely county.



Cogshall Grange, Georgian with a contemporary touch. (78)

I could not resist visiting this garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith when it opened for the NGS back at the beginning of August. Surrounding a country house situated just north of Nantwich in Cheshire, Cogshall Grange was built in the 1830s and was purchased in 2004 by the present owner who refurbished the buildings. The first phase of the garden was completed five years later.

Parking the car in the field, I realised that I was not the only one keen to visit this garden. We then approached the house from across the lawn. DSCF4107 (1).jpg

The solid walls of this Georgian house are grounded within a parterre; not your traditional design, but one that is contemporary and fun with rounded box balls separating the drifts of colour in the beds.


Cleanly laid York paving surrounds the parterre and plants spill over, but there is still plenty of space for access.

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The box balls playfully roll on around the glass-fronted extension.


From this terrace a gravel path snakes its way narrowly through a medley of planting enriched with striking agapanthus providing blotches of deep blue.


We decide not to take this path but to walk further down the length of the wall where the gate, boldly framed in a black metal surround, is undeniably the intended entrance into the walled garden.


The spacious structure is mirrored on the inside of the wall where conveniently placed is a comfortable bench where we sit for awhile and survey the scene.


We feast our eyes not on military rows of vegetables growing upon brown earth, but a palette of perennial flowers swathed in front of us, not a patch of soil is to be seen.



Gravel paths weave in and out of Stipa tenuissima, Perovskia and Crocosmia, behind which climbers clothe the brick walls.


In the very centre of this walled garden is an elegant pool where circles of waterlilies float effortlessly. On one side the prairie-style perennials and grasses that we have just walked through are reflected in the dark water,

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whilst the hornbeam cloud topiaries rising up above the haze of moor grass, Molinia caerulea ‘Poul Petersen’, are reflected on the other side.


It is not all prairie-style planting; Hydrangeas, Eupatorium and Anenome x hybrida fight for space in the corner.


Underplanted with Rodgersia podophylla, the hornbeam clouds formed from 30-year-old trees are trimmed 3 times a year whilst the Molinia standing to the right will be hand cut  in late January. It is perhaps no surprise that there a 3 gardeners employed and we are grateful that they have given up their free time today to answer our many questions.


A simple oak door opens out onto a wild flower meadow through which meandering paths are mown.


Intensely planted with the wild and the almost wild flowers, it is an annual mix purchased from http://www.pictorialmeadows.co.uk. It will receive an annual cut at the end of the summer.


Here too is a naturalistic pond; the main gates to the drive in the far distance remain closed today.


We walk around the grange buildings and arrive at the back of the new extension. Hakonechloa macra grows exuberantly around the footings, like a deep pile carpet softly shimmering,


it gently moves in the light breeze and almost hides the paved pathway.


This grass, a native of Japan sweeps around to the front porch encircling a group of lilies,


and crossing the drive where it spreads under the trees.


In the parkland opposite and a little distant off is  ‘Lover’s Seat’ by Sandra Bell. Cast in bronze, it reflects the courting practice of those Georgian times when lovers were always chaperoned.


There are no fixed borders; the mown lawn merges seamlessly into uncut parkland.


‘Blythe Spirit’ another piece by Sandra Bell is placed looking out to the uninterrupted view and hidden ha-ha.


No dark patches of thinning grass appear under the trees spread across the lawn, for they all have generous and attractive plantings of ground cover. We sweep past this red persicaria in the direction of the stables where teas and ice creams are being served.


And even here the planting does not end. Troughs overflow with soft subtle combinations of Helichrysum, Scaevola aemura and Verbena.


This happens to be my third Stuart-Smith garden in my Ninety, Trentham and Brockhampton Cottage being the other two. His gardens never fail to delight and here in six acres there is a mix of the formal and the informal. The beautiful contemporary prairie-planting blends effortlessly with the surrounding parkland and countryside beyond. Definitely plan a visit next year when the garden will open on the 8th July.


Burmington Grange, where hedges, terrace and thistles triumph on a stormy day. (77)

It was a dark threatening sky descending over Burmington Grange on a Saturday last month. Burmington is a small rural village with a population of just 164 and is situated a few miles from Shipston-on-Stour. Garden owner Patrick who greeted us at the gate, thought I was coming on a bike and although staying with friends nearby I was very relieved to have taken the car!

DSCF5361.jpgWe began our tour by looking to the right of the house where there is an ordered pattern of greens in a variety of texture and form. It is the lines of silver willow-leaved pears Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ that look so distinctive against the dark storm clouds.


We did not delay but hurried across the immaculate drive to where the gates were waiting wide open,


and found ourselves in the colourful and productive fruit and vegetable garden.


Looking down from above the Kiwi actinidia deliciosa seemed to wave us on,


and we hurriedly admired the almost thornless tangle of Cratageus tanacetifolia standing high above the wall brimming with red berries,


and looked on enviously at the pears hanging from their outstretched branches trained against the wall.


A cloudburst forced us to take shelter in the neat little greenhouse where for some time we waited for the storm to pass whilst longing to pick one of those juicy red apples.


Eventually the rain subsided and we walked through into an enclosed garden in front of the Barn.

It is just the perfect place for a pool, south facing and sheltered. At one end, amongst the variety of shrubs, salvias, sedums and aeonium blend together, a contrast to the triangular topiary.


Along one side of the pool tall ‘Italianate’ yews divide but do not hide the swimming area, and on the other side is the wall from the vegetable garden which is adorned with a collection of climbers.  The pool is looking a little more enticing now the sky has turned blue.


At the Barn end, large pots are planted to perfection, overflowing with Salvia ‘Amistad’, Canna and Helichrysum.


This is a sheltered area and we decided to take tea served in the Barn while the weather was making up it’s mind.


The garden has an air of maturity and it is hard to believe that it was conceived only 13 years ago. The open door in the wall beckoned us.


Through the crab apple trees we looked down to the sunken garden laid out with roses, herbaceous plants, and fine lollipops of Portuguese laurel, prunus lusitanica


The crisp neat edges of the verdant lawn paths and neatly trimmed lavender accentuated the relaxed habit of erigeron karvinskianus which dances around the pond.


Seen from all angles it is a delightful arrangement.

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The yew has been cleanly cut, and ‘gate posts’ are shaped into what are amusingly known as ‘Patrick’s thistles’.

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We took the elegant steps up to the house and from under the tree we viewed the Warwickshire countryside rolling away before our eyes.


The spectacular Pineapple lily Eucomis grows at the foot of the walls of the house,


whilst the fragrant rosa ‘Aloha’ gently climbs the mellow Cotswold stone.


At the end of the terrace that runs along the front of house, is an enclosed garden seemingly made square by the clipped hedges which surround it,


but on entering it is in fact round, made so by the border that gently repeats its pattern of planting around a circular lawn.


A dip in the hedge provides a view of the unblemished countryside.

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Moving round to the shaded side of the house we found an interesting range of trees,  growing in a less formal area.  The meadowy grass has paths mown through and is kept away from the base of the young trees like this Paper Bark maple, acer griseum. 


The berries are brightening and leaves turning on this Sorbus aucuparia.


Returning to the house a cube of variegated box caught my eye,


and a fine yew cone marks the corner from where we walked back along the terrace in front of the house.


Once more we admired, the charming arrangement below and in particular the selection of colourful salvias.


Too wet to explore we were happy to gaze at the bountiful apple orchard over the smiling gate,


A family garden, immaculate and in a perfect location.  Perched upon a hill the terraced garden embraces the view while parts remain well sheltered from the wind. Opening in the second week of September which may seem late in the season for garden visiting. Burmington Grange with its rich planting displays a plethora of colour and demonstrates that Summer is by no means over.  Despite the rain it has been a delightful afternoon and even the Dahlias show they can weather a storm.