Wednesday 31 August 2011

Green Thoughts

I started writing this post in August - it's now September. Over the summer I've enjoyed seeing gardens, and reading about them, without writing about them. And there have been a few other interesting distractions, mentioned below. But recently friends and colleagues have let me know they've thought of me in gardens this summer: at Kew, Powerscourt and the Vyne. Which has spurred me on to complete this quick round-up - but to start with one that got away . . .
Somehow I've so far missed catching Piet Oudolf's garden at Peter Zumthor's Serpentine Pavilion (open till 16 October). Oudolf's description of planting designed to encourage daydreaming sounded idyllic. But in Munich in August I came across a little square of planting next to the Cafe Luitpold which seemed to me to have a similar effect (top and right). Just a couple of weeks ago, also, a neighbour showed me his garden and, by coincidence, pointed out plants new to his garden which I recognised from the Munich patch.

Other memorable gardens that have come my way: at the Hampton Court flower show, I loved an exhibit of water lilies in a boat surrounded by a seaside garden, which had caught my eye on Gardeners World because I'd been hoping to see Giverny later in the summer. I was lucky to make it there in time to see the Manet exhibition too - a last-minute citybreak.

At Hampton Court I also found myself drawn, as usual, to plants popular with the Elizabethans: lavender, violas, pinks and carnations . On Gardeners World they'd shown the original viola tricolor but we couldn't find it on the display; elsewhere in the Plant Heritage marquee, the carnations were showy Edwardian varieties, though impressive (click on the photo below to see bizarre candy striped patterns).

By chance, around the same time and out of the blue, I heard that Broxbourne Council was about to bid for the second part of a lottery grant to develop Cedars Park, the site of Sir William Cecil's Theobalds Palace: if successful, they could receive up to £1.75 million.

Funding from the Parks for Peoples programme would enable the planting of 2,500 trees, as well as development of the park for the community, better interpretation of the history of Cecil's palace and the re-creation of the maze garden. This summer, as it happens, I've virtually re-visited Elizabethan gardens, working on the U.S. edition of Elizabeth in the Garden (to be published later this year).

But to go back to where I started: this will be the last Gardengoer post for the time being - new website/blog in development; details to be posted here. Meanwhile, happy gardengoing!
Next on my list is a return visit to Sheffield Park, inspired by reading an article by Robert McFarlane on aerial photographs of Polish forests in autumn.

Monday 4 July 2011

Round Hill Gardens

Belton Close

Just a few photos from the Garden Gadabout held the last two weekends in aid of the Sussex Beacon - on the way back from a swim, I dropped in on a place recommended by friends in the road encircling Queen's Park. I asked the owner of a garden centred on a pond about her favourite things; a plantswoman, she singled out two plants, one of which was this erigeron, thriving in a sunny spot. A cultivated daisy, this one looked quite wild in its profusion and variety of delicate white, pink and mauve petals.

Afterwards, I headed for some gardens in the Round Hill area: a wildlife garden that several people had tipped. It was a densely planted and shady garden divided into several spaces leading along meandering paths to a vegetable plot with chickens and compost bins. There were numerous ponds and bird tables (as well as seventeen nest boxes, according to the guide sheet): this blackbird (left) seemed completely at ease less than a few feet away from me.
Also in Richmond Road, a garden on a steep slope constructed on three levels (right), and another where almost everything is grown in pots (below).

My final stop was for a cup of tea in a garden belonging to friends, in Belton Close - and delicious chocolate cake (their recommendation) .

They'd had a good day - it was about three o'clock (two hours to go) and they'd had nearly a hundred visitors. They are also opening
in the National Gardens Scheme in August, by which time their sunflower
hedge will be ready (just coming up on the right-hand side of the arch, beneath the sweetpeas). I sat in the shade of the shed (a table with an elegant parasol was taken) next to a fountain made up of cubes and relaxed in the cool, with the gentle sound of water in the background, looking out on to the drought-defying, lush lawn.

Monday 20 June 2011

Walking in the Rain

Knowing my interest in wild orchids, a friend had booked us on an orchid-hunting walk on the Sussex Downs. Although I'd recently seen quite a few at Castle Hill Nature Reserve and hadn't thought about planning to see more quite so soon, I was drawn by the chance to discover more about the Downs; there was also an art installation, and I'd enjoyed Anish Kapoor's Sky Mirror, sited on a hill overlooking Brighton seafront, a couple of years ago.

The walk took us through one of the richest places for fauna and flora on the Downs, our guide, a National Trust warden, told us. He also mentioned that orchid theft still went on in the area, despite the fact that these plants are nearly impossible to grow on, and so this posting will be vague as to their whereabouts. Wild orchids only grow in the ultra stripped-down soil of chalk grassland. It took the National Trust about eight years to clear the area where we walked - cattle and, occasionally, sheep, were then brought in for grazing.

The atmosphere of secrecy, rarity and intensive preparation mean that catching sight of an especially beautiful wild orchid is like seeing a mythical creature. Above, a common spotted orchid (s0-named for the spots on its leaves) in a woodland area recently cleared and restored - click on the picture to see the delicate markings.

The subtle colours and dainty forms of some of the rarer flowers mean that they aren't easy to spot - we hunted high and low for a bee orchid but couldn't find one, though we found a spider orchid and a few tiny fly orchids.

Apart from the magnificent spotted orchid, highlights of our orchid hunt were this creamy white butterfly orchid, which is bioluminescent (glows after dark), and a fragrant orchid, a lovely light mauve, below (a blurry picture, taken in the rain). Our guide said that fragrant orchids tend only to release their scent towards nightfall and so most of my fellow walkers headed onwards. I stayed behind with a couple of others to admire it a little more, and then a lady knelt down and discovered that it really was fragrant, despite its being only midday. The scent was like honeysuckle.

By that time, the earlier shower had turned into a downpour - yet we followed our guide, who, minus hat and umbrella, seemed happily oblivious to the weather, up a hill in search of Bronze Age earthworks and man orchids. Not being hardcore naturalists like the rest of the group, we left when we'd reached the top, half-way through some intriguing information about the thousands of ant hills (the ants have a symbiotic relationship with the lovely adonis blue butterfly), and took the quickest route back, stopping for a half-pint before the drive home.

Not long after this walk, I was at Penshurst on one of the wettest days of the year - again, a trip booked in advance and so you just had to make the most of things. Yet it was still a pleasure to walk around the gardens - admittedly, it helps to have some Celtic blood - which have been transformed since my last visit a couple of years ago. Everything was thriving, no doubt thanks to the rain, after our drought.

The new herbaceous border was begun three years ago and is in the final stages of development - I made a mental note to return in July/August on a dry day. In the meantime, I went in search of the playful creations I'd seen before, the topiary bear (reached via the orchard) and heraldry garden.
There was a garden planted with symmetrical beds of white roses, which brought to mind an episode in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in which the gardeners are painting a white rose-tree red (when Alice asks why, one of them replies: "this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake").

Monday 30 May 2011

Early Summer Colours


Colour combinations in the wild and in cultivation have lit up some of the visits I’ve made to landscapes and gardens lately.

Earlier this month, I visited Castle Hill Nature Reserve to look for wild orchids – I was fortunate to be there with orchids expert Professor Mike Hutchings of Sussex University. As he mentioned, yellow and purple aren’t colours most people would combine in clothes yet they’re lovely in nature and best for pollinators. The photos above show mouse-eared hawkweed side by side with common spotted (purple) and fragrant (pink) orchids. The unseasonable weather meant that we came across quite a few of these orchids, which had only just emerged - the usual time is around mid-June. Some of the yellow wild flowers blending with the pink, purple and blue of orchids and milkwort were familiar, such as cowslips; others were less well-known (to me, at least) - bird's foot trefoil and yellow rattle.

The bold use of yellow as a foil for more delicate hues caught my attention in the following weeks at Nymans and then in a Brighton garden belonging to friends.

Palest mauve wisteria above a wide band of irises, with brilliant yellow Himalayan poppies in their midst, Nymans.

Irises and fennel, alliums and foxgloves, 1 Belton Close.

Although at the time I wasn't thinking about them directly, I realise that my fascination with these contrasting colours comes partly from looking again at Vincent Van Gogh’s iris paintings, and in particular, his "View of Arles with Irises in the Foreground", which he described to his brother Theo as composed of "enormously divergent complementary colours that are exalted by their oppositions".

Muted shades were identified as a trend at this year’s Chelsea flower show – as in the flowing dusky pinks and whites of Luciano Giubbilei’s garden for Laurent-Perrier, designed to evoke rosé champagne, offset by white-grey rocks in the pool. Yet, on what was mostly an overcast morning, I also enjoyed the bright yellows in Jim Fogarty’s garden for the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and in Cleve West’s garden for the Daily
Telegraph, where, in the central circle, brilliant deep pink dianthus cruentus stood alone like a tiny fountain (below right).

Natural and ornamental colours were presented in sequence in Robert Myers's garden for Cancer Research UK. The soft pink, blue-green and white of beach wildflowers such as thrift and kale gave way to deeper colours and lush planting.

Colour can be like music – gentle shades calm; brilliant colours compel your attention like staccato notes.

Saturday 30 April 2011

Works in Progress

Lately, I've found that several of the gardens I've visited have something vital in common: the National Garden Scheme. All are quite private places which open to the public a few times a year. Preparations for these openings give a new rhythm to the gardening year.

A few photos of two of these gardens, both in Brighton, which will open in the Garden Gadabout and National Garden Scheme this summer: first, 1 Belton Close, part of the Round Hill Gardens, taken mid-March.

There was a sense of readiness in the garden, especially with the carefully wrapped-up banana tree and propagation modules in the greenhouse. Everywhere, new shoots were just appearing, after the long winter.

Next, the Garden House, just before and after the Mediterranean heatwave. First, a few tulips, early April:

Although some had already gone over, still an arresting combination of colours.

Below, species tulips, delicate and subtle colours.

Then, after the tropical weather:

Seeing gardens fast-forward into summer can be disorientating, though a sign of the times. With the unusual weather, gardeners have to be more flexible and inventive - and to work harder to realise their plans. Then, come what may, there will always be something to see.

The Garden Gadabout: Sundays 26 June and 3 July 12pm - 5pm

National Garden Scheme: the Garden House, Fri 17 June, 6 - 8.30pm
1 Belton Close: Sunday 31st July 2011, 11am-5pm (for details, see

Monday 28 March 2011

A Day at the London Orchid Show

Pressed for time, just wanted to put up a few pictures of the London Orchid Show, held at the RHS Horticultural Halls in Westminster last weekend
. I was fortunate to be let in early, thanks to an exhibitor; had a quiet wander around and so could take in the diversity of flowers, which always amazes.

By the afternoon, the place was buzzing (anticipation building up to the 3.30pm sell-off, when there was a chance to buy plants from the exhibits), and the scent from so many orchids in one place was almost overpowering.

A diamond mine design to celebrate the diamond anniversary of the Orchid Society of Great Britain, awarded Most Innovative Display.

McBean's Orchids - an island of cymbidiums and odontoglossums crowned by a palm tree, gold medal winners.

A terrarium, so you can grow plants from all over the world, in an educational display by Helen and David Millner, awarded a gold medal.
Pleiones (bugle-like flowers at the front), by Maren Talbot of Heritage Orchids - there was also a sublime yellow and white one, Pleione Krakatoa (Wheatear), but it wasn't for sale, unfortunately. Still, I came away with a lovely miniature version, though this Himalayan plant needs cool, and so as to stand a chance on my balcony, I'm hoping to put together some sort of wind shield or mini beach hut, maybe.

Looking forward now to going to the spring show at the Glasshouse, Wisley, at the end of next month.