Saturday, 26 July 2014

Heronswood - one of America's top woodland gardens - sailing back into the limelight with Dan Hinkley at the helm

Heronswood Nursery, founded in 1987 by Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones
Gardeners and plant lovers the world over will have heard of both Dan Hinkley and Heronswood Garden. Hinkley enjoys rock-star status in the gardening world and is recognised as one of the greatest American plantsmen and explorers, whilst his former nursery, Heronswood, located on the Kitsap Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest, once drew gardeners from all over the world in search of rare and unusual plants. But since the turn of the century it has been at the heart of a drama that would make good prime-time soap viewing.  
The potager at Heronswood with its instantly recognisable sculpted hornbeam arches
Hinkley founded Heronswood in 1987 with partner, Robert Jones and it was their boundless enthusiasm and his determination to travel the world in search of rare and interesting plants that soon made the nursery a veritable horticultural mecca for plant enthusiasts. He travelled frequently to India, China, Nepal, Japan and Vietnam in search of plants that would grow in the United States. And, once home, he applied his considerable skills to propagating and promoting unusual plants for connoisseurs. His plant lists are still spoken about in revered tones - no pictures, no English names and definitely not for the feint-hearted - part of the charm of these catalogues was Dan's ability to describe the circumstances in which plants had been found.

Dan Hinkley
Heronswood is a woodland garden, located in paradise, so it came as something of a surprise to American horticultural circles that Pennsylvania-based seed giant W. Atlee Burpee came stalking and then acquired the property in 2000, having sweet-talked Hinkley and Jones to stay on to manage their baby. I have read many of the newspaper cuttings relating to this period and it is not a pretty story - it seems that Burpee was no stranger to acquisitions that looked like promising cash cows - but this one was different. This garden was a labour of love, created by a man with a mission, where plants were nurtured, catalogued and treated with respect. Plants flourished under Dan's care, but spread sheet supremos had little understanding of what this garden was about and in 2006, to the horror of horticulturalists all over the world, Heronswood closed its doors to the outside world. 

In the wilderness years Heronswood declined and although the demise of this great garden provided good copy for newspaper editors, the reality was that it became overgrown and under-loved until it was finally sold at auction to local Native Americans - The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe - in the summer of 2012. The Tribe is firmly committed to restoring the garden and work is already well underway, with a team of volunteers working under the stewardship of Dan Hinkley, who sits on the steering committee comprised of tribal leaders, plant experts and committed garden supporters.
Two years later, Heronswood is beginning to appear back on the map and has opened its doors to groups of visitors throughout the season and for its famous plant sales. Hearts had fluttered anxiously during the years the garden was closed as loyal supporters feared that this prime tract of land would be sold off as a golf course, or as a prime plot for more condos. But the Port Gamble S'Klallam tribe that purchased this 15-acre site some 25 miles northwest of Seattle is firmly committed to restoring Heronswood. 
I was lucky enough to visit Heronswood during a recent visit to the Pacific Northwest and was also introduced to Dan Hinkley. He is a charming man, who cannot resist stopping to weed along the way and he's happy to tell you that even though the garden is still a long way from where it was when it was first sold, real progress is being made in its restoration and revival. Much of it is woodland, but visitors will gasp when they realise how many rare and unusual plants there are, hiding in the undergrowth.
Water feature at Heronswood by Lewis and Little
You need to keep your eyes open to make sure that you don't miss anything here. There are plants at every level and many underfoot, so you must watch where you walk. Mingled in with the tantalising array of plants are several water features created by local artists David Lewis and George Little (above and left) and when you emerge from the dense woodland, you find yourself in what appears to be a private garden, surrounding a house. It is here you'll find the much-photographed potager, with its sculpted hornbeam arches (above) and mixed borders. Visitors will be well aware that this is a work in progress again even though the garden was once considered to be one of the greatest in America. 
If you are lucky enough to live in the area and want to visit Heronswood, check the website to see when open days and plant sales are. In my next post, I will take readers on a tour of Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones' own garden, Windcliff.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Sleepless in Seattle







Sleepless in Seattle because there are just too many wonderful gardens to see here ... Heronswood, the Elisabeth Miller Botanical Garden and Windcliff, the magical private garden created by Dan Hinkley. All to be reviewed later.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Tacit Tuesday - Visit to the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island

View of Mount Rainier from the Bainbridge Island ferry
The house at the heart of the Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA

Views across the Puget Sound from the Bloedel Reserve

Japanese guest house at the Bloedel Reserve, WA

Nature can live without man, but man cannot live without nature.
Prentice Bloedel

Monday, 30 June 2014

The Laskett - like it or not, it's definitely one to visit now Sir Roy Strong has opened his doors to the public

The Laskett was created by Sir Roy Strong and his wife, Julia Trevelyan Oman
Garden visiting is a growing trend the world over and here in England we have more than our fair share of gardens to visit. But there are some properties that should go on every person’s “Wish List” and for me The Laskett in Herefordshire is one of these. It is not only the largest private formal garden to be created in England since the end of the World War II – no mean feat when you consider that this four-acre plot was nothing more than a windswept field in 1973, but it is also the remarkable story of a long and enduring marriage between two of the most colourful figures on the UK arts scene during the latter half of the 20th century.
Sir Roy Strong has completely recreated the garden at The Laskett
Sir Roy Strong, eminent historian and former director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum and his late wife, Julia Trevelyan Oman, the celebrated theatre-set designer, created The Laskett. But it is so much more than a garden; it is also a portrait of their marriage and celebrates many of the landmarks of their distinguished and varied careers within the Arts. The couple moved here from London and created this garden together. And since Julia died in 2003, Sir Roy has had the courage to open the garden to the public on a regular basis and make some radical changes. 
The Silver Jubilee Garden, with triumphal arch at the far end
The Laskett has been both praised and criticised and was, for a time, at the heart of an offensive by another local garden writer and maker, Anne Wareham, who opens her own Veddw to the public. But it would be a sad world if people did not say what they think. Garden visiting is entirely subjective and what pleases one eye is unlikely to appeal to another. There are many similarities between The Laskett and Veddw - both were created from nothing, on small budgets; both rely heavily on hedging to give them structure; both are unique and highly theatrical; and the cast of characters involved in each one are both strong and interesting.
A statue of Britannia adds a focal point to one of the many vistas at The Laskett
I like both gardens and have no hesitation in recommending The Laskett to those who are interested in unusual gardens. For me, it is reminiscent of two other truly remarkable gardens – Little Sparta in Scotland and Plas Brondanw in Wales – both in terms of its originality and allegorical importance. This garden is a portrait of the 32-year partnership between Sir Roy and his wife Julia and celebrates many of the landmarks of their distinguished careers in the Arts. It is both eccentric and interesting and you will find something different at every corner you turn. 
This is not a garden for the feint-hearted. It is largely green, very theatrical and to truly comprehend you need to plug into the exciting new audio system that’s been installed here. Then the story behind it will unfold and you will see The Laskett with new eyes. Sir Roy Strong has had the courage to open his eyes afresh and in the last five years, has embarked on an ambitious renovation and revival of the garden that has involved a lot of chopping back, digging out and starting again in areas that had become dark and difficult to manage. 
He is the first to admit there is still a long way to go, but he is also honest about his limitations and says he has never been a plantsman - it was Julia who knew what to plant and how to go about it. The changes began in 2005, when Sir Roy realised he needed to move on and adapt to his new life alone. He gives a candid account of this in his new book, which is lavishly illustrated with Clive Boursnell’s images of both the garden as work progressed and the cast of characters involved.
Today, he works closely with his two gardeners, and has written a remarkable account of recreating The Laskett in his new book: "Remaking a Garden: The Laskett Transformed". As part of his determination to recreate both himself and his garden, Sir Roy has taken the brave step of opening his garden to the public on a regular basis. Groups of 20 or more are now welcome to visit during the week. To arrange this, go to The Laskett website and fill in the details.
I savoured my recent visit and was delighted to have the chance to meet with a smiling Sir Roy, who has recreated his own life as well as his garden. He is enjoying sharing The Laskett with visitors and says: “I can truthfully write that even if the garden were razed to the ground tomorrow, nothing can detract from the happiness it has given me and those who work with me. It is an added delight that we have been able to provide pleasure to so many”.

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Sunday, 22 June 2014

Chaumont's International Garden Festival 2014 - When fairy-tale chateau meets with feisty garden design

Chateau de Chaumont, the fairy-tale castle at the heart of the Loire Valley in France
What better setting for a garden festival than a fairy-tale castle in the Loire Valley, between the popular towns of Blois and Tours, that was once home to Queen Catherine de Medici? Chateau de Chaumont, perched in an enviable position overlooking the River Loire below, is one of the most picturesque chateaux in the region, attracting some 400,000 visitors a year and is also home to the increasingly popular annual International Gardens Festival, now in its 23rd year. It is located at the heart of the Val de Loire, which has been recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2000.
Ma Cassette designed by three lady architects is based on Moliere's play, 'The Miser' and avarice
Chaumont is to France what RHS Chelsea is to the British garden lover and is fast growing in stature and reputation. But what makes this garden show unique is that each year has a theme – with 2014 being the year for  ‘Gardens of the Deadly Sins’. Add to this the fact that Chaumont is no pop-up show, where the exhibits are only in the public eye for less than a week and you have a considerable challenge for those taking part, because the 26 show gardens here are on display from the beginning of May to the end of October.
La Domaine de Narcisse features a huge mirror hidden in a shrubbery representing pride
The International Garden Festival at Chaumont is all about conceptual gardens and this year’s theme gives exhibitors the opportunity to exercise the possibilities raised by the seven sins of avarice, lust, gluttony, envy, pride, lust, sloth and wrath, using plants and hard landscaping to make their point. As with any garden show there are gardens that work better than others, but the emphasis here is on the unusual, rather than on plant combinations. But this does make for a striking lack of colour in the gardens, as the photographs here show.
La Jardin Dechene, a collaboration between an engineering student and anthropologist, explores pride
Expect to find quirky objects alongside more traditional planting here and you will find yourself on a voyage of discovery, drawn into each and every garden. This show is not just about garden and landscape designers, but also has exhibits by architects, artists and writers. Part of the attraction of the Chaumont Garden Festival is that it is filled with new concepts and ideas every year. It was here in the early 1990s that botanist Patrick Blanc first launched his vertical planted walls.
Although the majority of show gardens are French, there are also exhibits from England, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia and the USA. Bloom (far left) is designed to test the senses and underlines the sins of gluttony and greed by using a predominantly red theme, while Purgatorium (left), designed by two landscapers and an artist from the USA, is based on the garden of Thomas of Aquinas, who first conceived the idea of the deadly sins in the 13th century, and features a large confessional at its centre, constructed of black wooden posts, reflected in a mirror.
Golden apple amid tire treads at Paradis Inverse

Part of the charm of the Chaumont Garden Festival is being able to wander through the gardens at leisure. You're not restrained by ropes or chains here and can actually engage with the exhibits. And whilst this obviously presents some major challenges for the exhibitors given the length of time the gardens are on show, all those I saw this week (two months into the festival), were looking well preserved and perky, despite soaring summer temperatures and increasing numbers of visitors as more tourists flock to the Loire Valley in high season. The chateau is a major tourist attraction and the knock-on effect for the Festival shouldn't be under-estimated.
'Green without Greed', designed by a student and professor at Kansas University, USA
The International Garden Festival is just part of what's on show at Chaumont - visitors can also tour the castle and gardens, which include an impressive potager and extensive parkland overlooking the Loire, together with a new area of parkland, which features several major art installations, including Fujiko Nakaya's mist sculpture (below). Entrance to all parts of Chaumont - the castle, grounds and Festival is 16 Euros for adults, 11 Euros for 12-18 year olds and 5.50 Euros for children aged 6-11. This is one of the best-value castles in the Loire region as you will see from the reviews that follow in the next few weeks. Definitely one for the "Wish List" and worth making a detour for.

Thursday, 19 June 2014