A touch of Spring at Ivy Croft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Royal Trinity Hospice

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

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

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

Photo borrowed from Lanning Roper and his Gardens by Jane Brown

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

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

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

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

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

whilst the rugosas are into their autumn hips.

There is even a touch of wilding to be enjoyed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

whilst a monster lurks in the deep below.

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

Behind the pond stands a substantial greenhouse,

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

and strawberries too, in their own patch.

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

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

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

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

with elegant circular seating around its base.

The circular theme is echoed in the perimeter path from where

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

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

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

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

——-2021——-

38 Chapel Street, Ely

Hurrah, the National Garden Scheme has begun to open some of its gardens. The system has changed a little and I had to go the website to pre-book my ticket online beforehand, which was perfectly easy and I found a small garden in Ely. It is such a long time since I have been anywhere so I was quite excited and having made my online purchase I was not going to let the cold miserable rain put me off.

Ely was void of the usual tourists and after managing to remember how to manoeuvre my Mini into a convenient parking slot I walked up the street towards the Cathedral, the grey clouds were pretty threatening.

It was a windy day and by the time I reached the cathedral it was blue sky.

Number 38 is minutes from the historic centre and as I walked along the residential street I received a warm welcome from the roses. The original plan was to open with a group of other gardens but coronavirus prevented this from happening.

The gate was open with a plant stall in front, and garden owner Julia had been busy raising and selling plants during the lockdown making over £600 for the National Garden Scheme. Julia is a retired nurse and she believes this is her way of helping.

I hurry down the west side of the bungalow, as that sky does not look too good.

A garden on heavy clay and with Ely’s dry climate this is surely a welcome load,

despite the threatening clouds there is a sunny feel to this secluded back garden. Julia and Peter have lived here for three years working hard to restore the garden from a jungle of ivy.

For her 80th birthday, family and friends gave Julia the materials and labour to create a rock garden on a dry piece close to the house.

Here grow all sorts of treasures; a bright horned poppy with glaucous leaves,

the enchanting Dianthus cruentis

and a fishy friend.

Beyond this area is the fountain and the glaucous theme is repeated around the base.

The roses have been truly floriferous this year and here is no exception. Through the arch, I walk into a little fruit area

and come face to face with some ripening greengages. The bungalow was originally built on the site of an old orchard and several fruit trees remain providing an abundance of apples, plums and quince.

Returning through another arch I am back into the main garden where there is an explosion of colour reminiscent of the sixties, those classic summer plants roses, alstroemeria and delphiniums.

Roses planted by previous owners are blooming everywhere mingling with shrubs including the sweet-scented philadelphus.

Over in the corner are the raised beds, the perfect size for vegetables, and close by is the all-essential greenhouse where Julia’s skills raise many a plant.

The garden is well screened being surrounded by mature trees, and several wooden arches provide height and interest. Here it is a perfect support for the pink climbing rose, and the yellow jasmine fruticans is pure joy.

Wafts of honey fragrance fill the air and I know it is not from the jasmine but am unsure where it is coming from until I discover this lovely unusual viburnum japonicum just by the house.

There is a convenient one way system, and along the east side of the house a border has been designed to give form and foliage colour,

with astrantia major popping up below to add to the colour.

Out in the front again where the Judas tree is in full leaf, salvias, geraniums alstroemerias are just a few of the plants in this dry open space.

This small daisy-like perennial Erigeron karvinskianus is so useful for softening those hard areas.

Garden owners are prohibited from providing teas, and it is a blessed relief to those of us who have added centimetres to our waist lines during the lockdown. So I head for home, the recommended distance for visiting is about 20 miles, and I must admit to have slightly exceeded this suggestion, but for those of us living in rural places the requirement might have to be more. However, you must remember that no facilities can be available and on the way home I was glad that my journey was not longer and next time I will remember not to have that second cup of coffee before I set out.

Gardens will be uploaded each week on http://www.ngs.org.uk where you can purchase your tickets. If you cannot get to a garden or do not wish to venture out, why not enjoy one of the NGS video virtual tours?

There has been no greater time when we need to support our nurses, and the all-round benefits of visiting a garden are huge.

——-2020——-

Stoke Mandeville, Horatio’s Garden. (90)

For The Ninetieth garden I was invited to see a very special garden at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

The day of the visit, last Monday the sky was a dull grey and there had been heavy snow the previous day.

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The Hospital is famous for its National Spinal Injuries Centre, one of the largest specialist spinal units in the world. Just outside the entrance is this life size (5’6″/1.70m) statue by Mark ‘Jacko’ Jackson of Professor Sir Ludwig Guttman. Affectionately known as “Poppa”  he was the global founder of successful spinal cord injury treatment. The government asked him in 1948 to set up the specialist spinal ward which then expanded into this amazing centre. He is also father of the Paralympic Games.

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The garden has not actually been created yet, but the intention is to transform this a rather bland paved area adjoining the Spinal Care Wards into a garden; and so bringing a touch of nature and beauty to patients and their families in an accessible oasis of calm attached but away from the clinical environment. This will be Horatio’s Garden.

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Photo from http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk

Same site but a rather different scene that greeted us last Monday!

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Horatio was a young man who was a volunteer in his school holidays at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre, Salisbury. He and his father, a spinal surgeon at Salisbury Hospital came up with the idea for a garden and Horatio organised a questionnaire to find out what the patients wanted. Horatio was never to see the garden which was created in his memory after he was so tragically killed at the age of 17 by a polar bear in northern Norway.

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http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/

Horatio’s Gardens have been completed in Salisbury and Glasgow, and now Stoke Mandeville is the latest creation. The ‘L’ shaped site is situated in the middle of this busy hospital.

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 08.30.12.jpg Garden designer, RHS Gold Medallist and great gardening guru Joe Swift was on hand to explain his design.

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This is the projection of his perceived plan:

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Picture taken from http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk

Excavation work started back in August when Sir Robert McAlpine generously supported the removal of 1,800 tonnes of spoil. The tyre marks show the route of the trucks and lorries that exited the site through the public car park.

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The site was levelled and is being prepared for the permeable bonded resin paving to be laid, providing a smooth surface and making an easy transition from ward to garden for the patients in beds and wheelchairs.  It is not always easy when you first have to encounter being in a wheelchair and this outdoor area will assist in gaining confidence.

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Picture borrowed from http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk

Today a trench was being dug through the heavy clay for the drainage.

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Of course no site comes without its problems. First the lengthy business of moving the huge NHS power generator; tucked around the corner it is now sporting a smart new turquoise colour which helps it blend in with the building behind.

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It is difficult to imagine but this will be the water feature,

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Computer graphics show an elegant raised pool at a height suitable for wheelchairs. I’m afraid you will just have to imagine the sound of the gentle flow of running water.

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Picture borrowed from http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk

Perhaps the red kite soaring above was taking advantage of a bird’s-eye view.

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The view from above shows the flow of the design with curves providing intimate bays, a place for those private moments never realised whilst on a ward. Spinal injury patients often need to endure a long stay in hospital.

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Picture borrowed from http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk

This unremarkable area was where the generator once stood alongside the brick wall;

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it will soon to be the garden room. Being built off-site, it is expected to be installed in the New Year. Light and airy,  here patients will be able to enjoy the garden even when the weather is inclement. Kitchen facilities will enable them to make a cup of tea and perhaps share lunch with visitors.  Those who wish to, will also be able to participate in the volunteer-led activities that the Horatio’s Garden charity organises.

Outside the garden room a communal space will be used for informal social gatherings of patients perhaps for lunches or even live music.

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Picture borrowed from http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk

Nearby an accessible spacious greenhouse will be built. Specially equipped for patients to help with the gardening, it will be used to propagate plants for the garden and give an opportunity for patients to get involved with working with the head gardener and volunteers or just come and chat and watch. Regular garden therapy groups will use the greenhouse and the raised beds, for therapeutic activities. Herbs, salad leaves and fruit will be grown for patients to pick and enjoy.

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Picture borrowed from http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk

Horatio loved apples and so they will be well represented amongst the variety of trees that will be planted throughout the garden.

Further round the corner is the paediatric ward where the proposed garden will be used by children with spinal cord injuries giving them and their families a beautiful natural space away from the difficulties of hospital life.

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Picture borrowed from http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk

The gentle driving force behind Horatio’s vision is Dr Olivia Chapple, Horatio’s mum. Relinquishing her role as a General Practitioner she now volunteers full time for the charity not only as Chair of the Trustees but also as a porter pushing patients in their beds out into the gardens. Joe is enthusiastic about the garden and Olivia is eternally grateful for all the support her vibrant charity receives. I left Joe in a site meeting and Olivia interviewing for the important role of Head Gardener.

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Every charity needs support, and there are plans for gardens at Oswestry and London. Giving is so easy…

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The National Garden Scheme has donated £130,000 to this project. It is an inspirational concept and with such a brilliant and sympathetic design it cannot help but bring a sense of well-being to the many spinal unit patients.

What a great finish to my Ninety and I do so look forward to reporting on its completion in 2018.

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——-90——-

42 Falconer Road, all a twinkle in Bushey. (88)

When I began my Ninety Garden Adventure back in January, I did not imagine that there would still be gardens opening in November. The entry in Gardens to View appeared encouraging if not a little intriguing especially with the opening time advertised as 4pm. I could not resist a visit on my circuitous route to London.

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The short description of course just acts as a guide; you really have no idea what lies behind. There was no garden gate and a few of us gathered outside, a little confused by the change of time from 4pm to 5pm. Owner Suzette answers our knock and expresses her dismay that it is not yet dark but invites us in through to the conservatory.
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I feel more like a guest than a visitor;  it reminds me of the 18th Century when garden visitors would apply to the property beforehand and then would often be shown around by the owner who acted rather as the host.
The orchids are beautiful in the conservatory and it is like entering an antique shop which then extends out into the garden.
DSCF6841.jpgI was grateful that I had arrived early because I could take advantage of the last of the natural daylight. While the family were setting up the illuminations, I wandered around absorbing the eclectic contents of this small and cunning space. Knick-knacks and plants clamber up the wooden steps;

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china jars are arranged on the small ornamental metal shelf set against the fence amongst the trailing ivy.

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In a corner area the myriad of bejewelled hangings dangle from the confusion of wisteria, and are accentuated by the mirrors behind.

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Bird cages are everywhere, either small and propped on posts surrounded by bamboo, hydrangea and richly-coloured acer,

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or simply upon the ground looking slightly oriental.

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This little collection is suspended gracefully together and is just starting to glow in the fading light.

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Small statues gather on the miniature bridge,

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and the old gardener’s boot is providing a convenient home for a succulent,

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Plants overflow from the old metallic watering can,

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nearby to the miniature ones arranged and “sedumed” on a glass-topped table.

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Carefully stepping through the paved garden there is so much to see. By the side of a rhododendron sits a rusty old stove,

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and the clock defies time with its hands set permanently at twenty three past twelve.

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Low walls are built with a collection of artifacts,

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and there is just room for a small hexagonal glasshouse.

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Having been absorbed by the myriad of cages, chimney pots and curios, I reach the end of the garden and retrace my steps to await the approaching darkness.

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Back inside I am able to admire the photographs displayed of the garden decked in its summer dressing, elegant and floriferous. Suzette generously opens over two weekends in July and August and has been doing so for the NGS for over 5 years.

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While I wait for the brightening of the lights outside, I gaze at the collection of bird cages hanging inside and wonder what the generic name for such a collector might be.

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Just outside the conservatory things are starting to glow, it is hard to distinguish the difference between light and lobelia.

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I knew this would be a tricky one to photograph but woh, I am not quite sure if it is a result of the mulled wine or inadequate equipment.

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Ah ha, it all become clearer as I switch to iPhone, and the garden takes on a warm and magical look.

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More visitors have arrived and the children ooh and aah as they gaze at the glitz and the glow.

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Bird cages flutter into light,

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making a pretty sequence throughout the garden,

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In the dark there is  a different atmosphere and some ornaments remain familiar whilst those previously unseen, appear in the show.

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The glasshouse retracts behind the twinkle of green lights,

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and looking back it is proof that gardens need not be necessarily just about plants and it is obvious the visitors are just loving this evening display.

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I return to the conservatory once more where just outside green lights dance around the naked stems of the wisteria,

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and inside it there is a warm glow.

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Suzette has shown such generosity. It has been a magical visit, something just a little bit different and entertaining for all ages. I can’t help thinking if we want to encourage the next generation into the garden we might all take a leaf out of Suzette’s book and be a little bit more imaginative in our gardens at night time.

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——-88——-

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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,

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

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

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Seating is also made simply out of fallen trunks,

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or enriched by the chainsaw of Simon Groves.

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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.

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

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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!

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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,

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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. 

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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I meander for sometime past lakes and ponds,

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

——-86——-

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.

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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 and a circle of Campanula fills a crack in the paving,

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

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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.

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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,

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and the tall feathery plumes of Miscanthus appear silvery white.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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,

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

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

 

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

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as is the familiar Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

——-85——-

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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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The colours compliment and blend so effectively,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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,

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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——-83——-

 

 

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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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,

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

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

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

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we feel like dwarves against the Miscanthus,

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

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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).

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

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

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

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Yet more steps to climb,

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but a little sign of encouragement drives us on.

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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,

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

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

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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.

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Lowther Church can be seen in the far distance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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we find orderly raised beds bulging with fine produce.

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

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and the striking heads of purple artichoke.

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

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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.

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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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——-81——-

Mill Dene Garden, a plethora of paths and steep slopes. (36)

Today, Mill Dene near Moreton-in-Marsh is opening its garden gate for the NGS. Essentially a private garden it opens to the public for part of the week, with teas and coffees provided as long as you make them yourself.

Sadly none of the characters listed in the notice below were in evidence on the day we visited.

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Pianos were once made here but it is now the sound of rushing water that can be heard as you pay the entrance fee into an honesty box provided.

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On entering the garden in front of the mill, there is an atmosphere of calm,

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or is there – with sticks of dynamite attached to the sluice?

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In the still water it is not fish we see but a deadly weapon.

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As neither explode we are able to walk on through the ivy-clad arches

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and along to the seat at the end of the path. A graceful willow weeps into the water while the heron looks on.

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The interesting topiary adds to the enjoyment for the seated visitors.

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The garden is on several levels and to the side of the mill we ascend to an area which is extended by the mirror positioned behind the seat.

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The border bends round, backed by a wall it is the orange of Euphorbia graffithii which is providing colour now that the spring bulbs are over.

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A lovely display from the Clematis montana as it scrambles high up into the conifer.

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The laburnum tunnel brings us up to the next level.

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We take the steps up to the highest point of the garden.

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Apples are trained along the narrow paths of the fruit garden. Currants are safely growing in the fruit cage and a gooseberry has been planted to commemorate the birth of each grand child.

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Aquilegia of all colours seem to pop up everywhere.

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A wall divides the potager from the fruit garden. A rich variety of herbs are grown and a water rill runs either side of  the dividing path.

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It must have been a quite a challenge to create this garden on such a steep slope. A loggia looks out upon the herbal display.

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A mirror attached to the fence provides a cunning distraction from the busy working area behind,

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and further along honeysuckle climbs through rusty hoops.

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Clipped box squares fill the space below the potager and roses are starting to bloom against the majestic posts.

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We descend the steps and walk through the ‘Howzat’ arch onto the cricket lawn,

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where we find the pavilion closed until play resumes when

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the church tower will oversee fair play .

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We descend to the next space, more confined,  the mood changes. Topiary ‘brioches’ guide you along the path,

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and plants spill out of the dry stone walls.

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There is a path that runs along the boundary from top to bottom, from which

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you can peer through to the neighbour’s colourful trees.

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Down at the stream we step over the gently flowing water to explore the other side of the garden.

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And find ourselves by the family swimming pool where the all important conveniences are provided in the hut.

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Even the roof does not escape a planting.

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We find ourselves ascending once again, the paths prettily arranged with roses and camassias.

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And finally, the kitchen garden where the metallic scarecrow guards the vegetables.

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Whilst his garden might be open to the public, it certainly has the feel of a family garden packed with plants and pleasure. We have woven our way through fun tunnels, along paths across the width, up and down, so that the two and half acres seem almost to have doubled in size.

Having previously had little horticultural knowledge, the owners began to garden seriously in 1992. They have overcome difficult slopes, built walls and cultivated a haven of diversity resulting in becoming an RHS partner garden.

Now is a busy time in the garden but I hope people will abandon weeding their own today and step out and find a little inspiration in an NGS garden and perhaps they might find themselves near to this lovely Gloucestershire garden https: //www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/11364/.

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——-36——-