Thursday, 4 February 2016

Not garden related, but too special not to share!

Words can't describe the place that I'm lucky enough to be staying - on the edge of the Arabian Sea in Kerala, India. All the fish we eat is freshly caught; the vegetables home grown; the beach is clean and the people here are utterly charming .... gone to heaven!

Sunday, 31 January 2016

A sea of tea - in the hills in Southern India

The first of the great tea plantations in Munnar - Harrisons, which has 1500 acres of tea growing today
Smiling tea picker in Munnar carrying her pickings on her head and on the way to the weighing station
A sea of tea in Munnar
Tea picker at work in Munnar
The plant that provides tea is the same family as the camellia that so many of us grow in our gardens
There are five major tea growing areas in India - Assam, Darjeeling, Munnar, the Nilgiri Hills and Wyannad. I am currently in Munnar, high in the hills in southern India, touring the tea plantations. More to come on that later! But there have also been some unusual surprises here, like the small nursery I found on the side of the road, selling strawberry plants .....

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Win a week away in springtime and Discover Scottish Gardens©

Your chance to win a week's holiday at Attadale and Discover Scottish Gardens
Scotland has some of the best gardens in Britain and I've certainly had many pleasant surprises north of the border on my various visits as The Galloping Gardener©. Many of the gardens are now joining forces as part of a new initiative to promote themselves and work together under the banner "Discover Scottish Gardens", which has launched a new website with comprehensive information about its growing number of members. 
Autumn colours at Benmore
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of these gardens, including Attadale, Benmore, Crarae, Glenarn and Greenbank – even if I haven’t yet written them all up - and each one has been exceptional. But what is noticeable about all the gardens in the new group is that they offer year-round interest. With so many spectacular woodland settings, spring promises a heart-rending display of early colour at the beginning of the season.
Autumn at Crarae on a wet and windy day
My most recent visit was to Attadale, on a fine day in August, where I was able to enjoy wonderful views across the gardens to the Isle of Skye beyond. The garden looked spectacular when I visited, but it was obvious from the planting that it provides year-round interest. All the others I visited later in the season en route to friends on the West Coast and was treated to displays of autumn colours that still stick in my mind, even though the weather was cold and wet.
Glenarn in springtime
If Scotland is on your wishlist, you can win a week’s holiday at Attadale for four people in one of the charming self-catering cottages on the estate – by visiting the Discover Scottish Gardens website, clicking on the link on the opening photograph and then following the instructions. What better way of brightening up the winter months than knowing you’re in with a chance to go on holiday in springtime, or if you'd prefer, the autumn? 
Greenbank in October
And if you are lucky enough to win, why not share your Scottish gardens with my readers on this blog? All you need to do is contact me before you go and take your camera. And let the gardens tell their own stories through your pictures!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Midney Gardens and Nursery - A new Somerset plot full of surprises

The seaside garden at Midney
Although the British have a great passion for garden visiting, there are not that many new gardens around the country. So when I accidentally stumbled upon Midney in Somerset - traditionally a country where the gardens are either those of great houses or in the hands of the National Trust - I was delighted. This is a true plantsman's garden with some very unusual plant combinations.
The Clarice Cliff garden created by Dave Chase
Midney has been created over the last six years by Dave Chase and his partner, Alison Houghton. Dave has always been a passionate gardener and worked for many years with Marylyn Abbott at West Green House in Hampshire. He is a great admirer of Sylvia Crowe's designs and likes Jekyll's prolific planting style - both are obvious influences on the delightful small garden that he has created here.
The gin garden at Midney in Somerset
But prepare to be surprised, because although you will recognise the Crowe influence in the curving lines of the pathways and the palette of Gertrude Jekyll in the planting, Dave has put his own stamp on the garden here. And, if you keep your eyes open, you will see many unusual and humorous touches as you wander through it.
Midney is very different in style to the National Trust gardens in Somerset
Created on the site of a former quarry, Dave and Alison dug up some interesting junk when they began clearing the land around the former gamekeeper's lodge at the heart of the property that is now their home. They found many scrap items that they have effectively incorporated into the garden design, including gates and other metal objects like the rusty bicycles that are effectively used as plant supports in the vegetable garden.
The vegetable garden at Midney
This is a small garden full of original ideas, cleverly planted to give a range of different colour palettes and incorporating a seaside garden (charming); a Clarice Cliff garden (inspiring); a fire garden (complete with fire pit - useful if we had the weather to enjoy it to the full); a white garden (always a favourite with visitors) and a gin garden (inspired by the various ingredients); to name but a few of the different areas open to visitors.
Midney is clearly a work in progress and Dave is the first to admit that it's all taken longer in the making than he anticipated, but he clearly loves the outdoor life here and the garden is beginning to attract more visitors each year. Two new areas under development are the woodland walk and the wildlife pond, accessible through the now well-established vegetable garden.
There is also a nursery, stocked with many of the plants you see growing in the garden. So for something different to the historical gardens that make up the well-trodden National Trust quadrangle locally - Barrington Court, Lytes CareyTintinhull and Montacute - head to Midney on the outskirts of the charming village of Somerton in the south-west corner of the county. Open from the beginning of April to mid-October, Thursday-Sunday 11.00-17.00. Admission is £4.50 for adults.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Herterton House, Northumberland - a masterpiece garden created in just an acre

View from the gazebo at Herterton House in Northumberland
I had never heard of Herterton House before I headed north recently and only then discovered it because I happened to visit the walled garden at the nearby Wallington Estate in Northumberland. Both are within spitting distance of Cambo, birthplace of Capability Brown, yet you rarely see anything about either of these gardens in the press and I would never have found them, but for being told about them by friends in the vicinity.
The Nursery Garden at Herterton
Herterton House Gardens will come as a delightful surprise to anyone who visits them. Hailed by well-known British garden writer, Robin Lane-Fox, as “one of the most influential English gardens to be created since the end of World War II”, they have been created by a husband and wife team, Frank and Marjorie Lawley, over the last 40 years since taking on the lease of a run-down National Trust property in 1975.
Looking through the garden gate at Herterton
They have renovated both house and garden during their tenancy and created an extraordinarily varied landscape in less than an acre, but with five very different garden rooms and a range of plants that will astound any visitor. Marjorie Lawley was brought up in the area – her father was a stonemason on the neighbouring Wallington Estate, with its famous walled garden. Frank came from Staffordshire, and before moving into Herterton, they had a cottage at Wallington, where they first discovered the joys of gardening.
     The garden here is wrapped around a 16th century stone farmhouse and the Lawleys have made use of each different aspect of the adjacent land, so that every part of the garden enjoys different views. At the front of the property is the Formal garden, filled with topiary in shades of green and gold, and far-reaching views over the Northumberland countryside; then to one side of the house is a Physic Garden, and at the rear there are three different garden rooms, known as the Flower, Fancy and Nursery gardens. At the far-end of the property, there is a stone gazebo, built by the Lawleys, which gives wonderful views and enables visitors to fully-appreciate the design of the  gardens below.
The Fancy Garden at Herterton
It doesn't matter where you start at Herterton, to the front or rear of the house, because you'll be enchanted by the different rooms and the range of plants here. The Fancy garden (above) is accessed through the Nursery garden and leads into the Flower garden adjacent to the house. Climb the steps into the gazebo to get a bird's eye view of the different gardens and you will really appreciate the skill of the planting and the use of space here.
There was nothing here when the Lawleys arrived in 1975, just a ramshackle farmhouse needing a lot of repairs and a completely blank canvas around the house, with a few outbuildings. Frank and Marjorie had already learned about gardening at their previous cottage on the Wallington Estate, but this was a very different prospect. Forty years later, this charming garden is a colourful tapestry of plants and you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stepped into a landscape steeped in history.
View of Herterton's Flower garden, with the gazebo in the distance
Walk to the other end of the garden and you can climb more steps to see what lies below - this gives you a good view of the Flower garden, planted with many different herbaceous plants, interspersed with more topiary. Winding paths lead you through this part of the garden, which changes colour as you wander through it. You'll find many yellows, close to the house, orange and blue in the centre, surrounded by geometric topiary and rich reds and purples close to the gazebo, inspired by the paintings of Klee and Mondrian.
The Physic garden at Herterton House
The Physic garden surrounds an old granary building with fine Northumberland arches (above) and is planted with a very different palette, featuring many medicinal plants in intricately-shaped beds. Overlooked by two sides on the house, this has a very different feel to other parts of the garden and is much more minimalist in its planting.
The Formal garden (above) is located at the front of the house and features finely clipped topiary shapes in green and yellow - a perfect compliment to the hues of the stone farmhouse that has been the Lawleys home for 40 years. Herterton House is open daily from the beginning of May until the end of September, except Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 13.30 to 17.30 and admission is £5.00. Definitely worth making the effort to see and, if you can, combine it with nearby Wallington.
Frank Lawley, who is now approaching 80, has written a book about the garden he has created with Marjorie over the last 40 years: 'Herterton House and a New Country Garden'. It's a well-written account of what they have learned in their time here and gives a real insight into the creation of the garden.
For more garden visit ideas, click here.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Attadale - magnificent Scottish gardens with far-reaching views to the Isle of Skye

Attadale Gardens are situated overlooking the island of Skye at Strathcarron in Scotland and as soon as you walk through the gates you realise this is a very special place. The position of the property close to the Gulf Stream and the shelter from northern winds provided by the surrounding hills means that these are incredibly lush grounds, with a semblance of the tropics about them and a unique garden cherished and re-created by Nicky Macpherson and her husband Ewen since the terrible gales of the 1980s.
The water gardens at Attadale can be explored from ground level and a path above
Ewen Macpherson's father, Ian, bought the property in 1952. Previous owners had included Baron von Shroder, who had a real interest in trees and plants and imported many fine redwoods from overseas, as well as a substantial collection of rhododendrons, which flourish in the protected microclimate here. But it is Nicky who created the very personal garden at the house today, with help at the outset from Michael Innes, who had trained at Kew and the late Professor Douglas Henderson, who was formerly in charge of Inverewe Gardens. 
Meander along the higher path above the water garden at Attadale to catch the best light on the plants
When you arrive at Attadale, you have the chance to meander down the drive through the water gardens, to be enjoyed at both ground level with all the magnificent reflections and from above, by walking along a winding path that leads to a viewpoint over the main house and the sea beyond. You will find huge gunnera plants in this part of the garden, imported from Brazil and the Magellan Straits, as well as a carefully chosen palette to give colour throughout the seasons, a waterfall and several small bridges that tempt you back to ground level. 
The Sunken Garden at Attadale
Closer to the house you have the symmetrical Sunken Garden (above), surrounded by old walls, with another palette of carefully-chosen plants to ensure interest from April to October - astrantia, sedum, heuchera and rosa rugosa to name but a few - and with fine displays of bulbs early in the season. From here you wander across to a huge sundial supported by the Macpherson cat, and then through a wooded area to the peaceful Japanese Garden, which features a selection of traditional Japanese plants including bamboo, azaleas, cherry and maple, as well as miniature conifers. 
The Japanese garden at Attadale in Scotland
The rhododendron dell stretches away up a hill beyond the old wood adjacent to the Japanese Garden (above). Remember to look up at the fine Californian redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and the wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron gigantum),  as you walk through here. And although the rhododendrons were not in flower when I visited, it is easy to imagine the fine colour displays in springtime - a veritable legacy from Baron von Schroder's days, but added to by the present owners.
Ferns in the geodesic dome, built by head gardener Geoff, at Attadale
The Fernery, completed as recently as 2012, may come as a bit of a surprise as you emerge from this part of the garden - you will find a mini geodesic dome, resembling those at the Eden Project - designed to protect the plants that would not survive the harsh winter climate here. Many of the plants you see outside were given by a great friend of the Macpherson family, the late Peter Hainsworth, who loved this part of the garden. And head gardener, Geoff Stephenson, who arrived at Attadale in 2003, has also made a huge contribution to the collection by propagating ferns from outside gardens and various expeditions.
The kitchen garden produces all fruit and vegetables for the house, and the surplus goes to local restaurants
The kitchen garden (above) close to the house, is an impressive working area, with gravel paths and raised beds, which produces fruit and vegetables for both the main house and some local restaurants. Joanna Macpherson, Nicky's daughter, who also plays a major role in the garden today, credits both productivity and organisation of this part of the garden to head gardener Geoff, but having met Joanna and her mother, I suspect that they too, with their boundless energy, have made a major contribution to what you see there today.
Attadale's charm is indisputable, wherever you are in the garden. It is impeccably kept and filled with interesting plants and vistas, but most noticeable is the sense of calm and serenity here. Well worth making the effort to see and open daily, except Sunday, from April to October every year, 10.00-17.30. Admission is £6.00 for adults.