Sunday, 31 May 2009

Passionate planting...and spectacular results!

The Manor House, Upton Grey is a must for anyone who wants to see a unique garden with colour, style and magnificent planting, which has been recreated with great passion by current owner, Rosamund Wallinger. The original garden was designed by Gertrude Jekyll, but when the current owners moved there, they had no idea of its provenance. 
The garden has two distinct parts - with a terraced layout behind the main house, supported by typical Jekyll-style dry-stone walls. The planting here is lavish - there is a riot of colour and you'll find yourself going round and round to check that you haven't missed anything. And at the front of the house there is a wild garden with a meadow overlooked by the local church, which all adds to the complete picture of an English garden.  This is a garden not to be missed, but you need to make an appointment to see it, so check out the website for details - Ros Wallinger, the owner is charming and has written a fascinating book - Gertrude Jekyll's Lost Garden: The Restoration of an Edwardian Masterpiece.  Once you've seen the garden, you can recreate it in your mind by looking through the book, and if you're lucky Rosamund will be there to answer any questions.

Equally spectacular and close enough to visit on the same day, is West Green House Garden at Hartley Wintney (right and below), but you'll need to check opening days here, because they have changed for 2009.  These gardens have been lovingly planted by well-known designer Marylyn Abbott (who is renowned for her colour schemes) and are another notable feast for the eyes in the early part of the season, when the alliums are in full bloom.  There is also an enchanting water garden.

Both of these gardens can be done in a day because they are quite close together, but DO remember to phone  and make an appointment for The Manor House (details on website) and check the web for opening details on West Green House early to avoid the coach tours - it is a very popular garden and deservedly so, but to get the best out of it, you want to try and avoid the crowds.   Upton Grey is in the middle of the countryside, so you may want to visit after lunch at one of the many charming country pubs that you will find in this area.  You'll see England at it's best if the sun is shining!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Don't miss this sculpture garden!

The Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden near Dorking is an absolute must.  The garden is spectacular and unusual, but so too are many of the exhibits.  This is a place to take time out and reflect, but don't expect to find manicured borders - this is a garden with a dreamlike quality and at each new corner you will encounter another surprise that challenges the senses. There are moving exhibits, music and a tantalising display of tactile sculptures on show, complemented by huge plants, reminiscent of Jurassic Park.  

Even though the garden does not cover a great area, there is so much to see that it feels as though you are walking through a jungle, with bridges, ponds and dense overhead cover.  There are huge architectural plants everywhere; a forest walk and large green spaces; with a black and white house as the centrepiece overlooking the water - you almost expect the a wicked witch to appear because the overall impression is one of a fairy tale!

The sculpture on show is impressive (and so are the prices)! I only visited because I wanted to see the garden, which is the most perfect backdrop for the art on show, but I would still recommend this to anyone who wants to see a garden that is different.  

We do not have that many sculpture gardens in the UK, but this one is definitely worth visiting! 

Friday, 29 May 2009

Away from the crowds in Central London

I find it hard to believe that in all my many years of going to London, I have never before been to visit the Chelsea Physic Garden - it's wonderful!   Tucked away behind Royal Hospital Road and the Embankment, it's a magical garden, covering nearly four acres and, at this time of year, filled with beautiful flowers.  What's more, you can't even hear the London traffic so it makes a great place to take some time out from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The garden was founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries of London, and its future was secured when Dr Hans Sloane bought the Manor of Chelsea at the turn of the century, and leased the land back to the apothecaries for a rent of £5.00 a year in perpetuity!  
I really enjoyed my brief visit to this garden (rushing between appointments on a Friday afternoon in London) and would thoroughly recommend it.  If I lived in London, I would certainly become a "Friend", so that I could visit whenever I wanted.  And there were obviously lots of Friends there when I visited - they were sitting reading, drawing or sleeping, which made the garden feel like home.
Also highly recommended is the cafe - the food was simple, but delicious and notwithstanding my comments at the beginning of this blog...I would eat there again!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Spring gardens in Surrey

There are two gardens close to each other in Surrey that are well worth visiting on a Wednesday, if you have the time and inclination. I say Wednesday, because as mentioned elsewhere in this is not a regular weekday opener, it's just mid-week from lunchtime, or Sunday - Titsey Place, and the other is Cherkley Court. But if you can get there, do make the effort because it is a lovely property and very much a spectacular garden in the making, so well worth watching. 
Set in the midst of acres of parkland, you wonder at first where you are going, but finally arrive at the property, which is near Westerham in Kent (so you could also combine it with a visit to nearby Squerryes Court - another Wednesday opener, but all three are free to HHA Friends). Once you've parked you can wander through the walled garden which promises to be amazing by the time summer arrives because the borders are in the making and the vegetables and fruit trees are growing.  There's also a lake and a new rose garden and many lovely trees - all add to the feeling of tranquility at Titsey Place (pictured top).

Nearby Cherkley Court (pictured above right) is also well worth visiting and has a spectacular and memorable display of alliums - definitely not to be missed! This is another tranquil property with different garden areas and wonderful new planting - also worth watching as plants mature.

Worth noting too is that both these properties have lovely, spacious and light eating areas with simple food and good service! All the staff and helpers are charming and the gardeners are happy to chat about their work and ongoing plans for the planting and development of the gardens.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Rhododendrons in Hampshire

Today the sun was shining, so I went to Hampshire to see some of the gardens that are famous for their rhododendrons and azaleas. First stop was Exbury, which I had never seen and although the rhododendrons were quite spectacular - almost edible in fact - I have to confess that I felt little sympathy with the gardens. 
     There is no doubt that the floral displays are astounding, but the whole ethos of Exbury is geared towards the older person, and I felt as though I was walking around the grounds of a rather exclusive nursing home, rather than a garden! This is perhaps compensated for by the wonderful colour palette of the endless rhododendrons and azaleas throughout the grounds. And I would imagine that autumn is another show stopper given the large number of acers at Exbury.
     A word of warning though on visiting this garden - because of its location, you need to time your visit quite carefully. The traffic can be quite dreadful because access is through the New Forest with its numerous cattle grids and varied four-legged populations that have a habit of strolling out into the road into the path of oncoming vehicles.

My next stop was Spinners, an enchanting woodland garden at Boldre. The colours here were just as good as Exbury and there are wonderful displays of rhododendrons, azaleas and many interesting ground cover plants. It also has an excellent nursery with a large selection of shade-loving plants, which are normally hard to find. Well worth a visit, but also worth bearing in mind that much of the garden is on a slope, so not brilliant for wheelchair users.

The third garden I visited today was my favourite and I spent a long time here savouring the lovely colours and clever planting - this was Furzey, near the village of Minstead. If you are a member of the RHS you will save yourself the entry fee. Like the other two, there are stunning displays of rhododendrons and azaleas, but also banks of brightly coloured flowers at every turn and some fascinating thatched buildings that make this garden memorable.

It is easy to visit these three gardens in a day since they are all close together. Exbury is a Historic House property, Furzey is covered by RHS membership, as is Spinners. 

NGS Gardens

One of the great aspects of an English summer (when it gets here) is the gardens that you can visit and one of the best-organised garden visit programmes is the National Gardens Scheme - an ambitious open-garden programme that operates nationwide to allow the public into gardens that are not normally open to prying eyes. For a small fee, that goes to one of the leading cancer care charities, you can wander at leisure through private gardens and admire the work of others and wonder why you didn't think of doing that in your own green space.
The only slight problem with this scheme is the English weather, because many of the gardens only open their doors on one or two days a year and if the weather is bad on that day, you're unlikely to visit and there are rarely alternative arrangements in place. The other slight disadvantage is that the NGS is now so well known that you can turn up to visit a garden and find that you cannot park because it is so popular; cannot move when you get inside; and if like me, you want to take photographs, you won't be able to see the garden or the plants because they are hidden from view by clucking enthusiasts!
But, don't be put off by this because there are some gardens that are too good to miss - like Copyhold Hollow in Sussex - a charming 2-acre woodland garden surrounding a 16th century listed house that looks just like something out of a Harry Potter movie - one feels that Ron Weasel and his family might just appear at any time!
Copyhold is just near Borde Hill outside Haywards Heath, so you might want to combine a visit to the two. To find out more about NGS openings check out their own website and search through their garden listings - they have a good search engine which will give you open dates near a selected postcode. Happy searching!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Sowing the Seeds

As a child I became so used to my mother pottering around in the garden that I never gave her actions a second thought.  She would stop off at nurseries on the way home from school and plonk plants in the boot of the car – it never occurred to my brother or me to query this practice.   She would spend hours in the garden digging holes or moving plants around, but we thought nothing unusual about this and indeed, it wasn’t until I became middle-aged that I began to understand the importance of nursery stops; digging holes or the sheer pleasure that gardening could bring.  You could say I was a late developer, but I suspect that in reality I am no different to many other women, who only come to love the garden when they have a little more time on their hands and the genuine maturity to understand what a garden brings in terms of satisfaction and solace once the children have left home.
In the last five years, I have learned that a garden is actually not dissimilar to a young child – you nurture, cajole and hope that your efforts will be fruitful; you suffer agony when a particular specimen struggles to survive; and you wait anxiously to see how a plant will fare in a particular place.  You feed and water your plants just like infants; you suffer huge anxiety if they don’t grow; and on reflection, the only real difference between plants and children is that you don’t have to change their nappies or wash their clothes and most importantly, they can’t answer back!
As I started to plan my own garden a few years ago I also discovered the joys of visiting public gardens; learned the difference between good and bad nurseries; and found myself noticing the seasons more.  I also learned to be patient because a good garden takes years of planning, investment and foresight – not dissimilar to a dependent child.
The last five years have been a voyage of discovery for me – my garden has become an extension of my personal life and I have learned that few activities bring me greater pleasure than to see the foliage growing; the way the garden changes each season; and the constantly changing landscape provided by my small army of dependent plants.  And this prompted me to become a peripatetic gardener travelling to visit gardens around Britain and indeed, the world, which has led to many exciting and wonderful encounters along the way.
 An enormous amount of research went into my garden visits, not just because of the British weather, but I hoped to maximise on my time by choosing two or three gardens in a given vicinity and visiting them all in a single day.  But I soon discovered that this strategy required many hours of research on the Internet to make sure that the venues I had chosen were open on the same day or the same month. I know I could never have written this blog without the help of the web – there are many brilliant garden websites and organisations that were invaluable to me in my planning of this journal – they are all named in the information section at the end.  But once again, it was interesting to see that each of these websites has its own agenda and I have to assume that it is driven by advertising revenue.  Few of the sites help each other and without exception, I had to use all the different websites mentioned to plan the itineraries that I have outlined in this blog.  But as I have discovered in my travels, one individual’s perception of a wonderful garden can be very different from another, and it is important to say that the gardens I have chosen in this blog are personal and therefore subjective choices.
As a large part of my search involved visually pleasing gardens that I could capture through the lens, my quest was therefore complicated by my need for unusual and uncrowded gardens.   I soon realised that I would have to beat both crowds and weather, and the only way to do this was to work out how many gardens within easy reach of each other I could catch on a sunny day, by marking them up on a map, checking the weather forecast the day before and if necessary, changing my plans to catch the sun in Sussex if the weather was coming in from the east, or rush to Kent if the rain was moving up from the west.  Needless to say, I got it wrong on many occasions and would find myself taking shelter under trees, or more often, in one of the inadequate cafes that are associated with so many visited gardens, drinking tea that tasted like turpentine or eating a scone that felt like it had been baked when they were first invented.  I certainly learned that British catering leaves much to be desired, and although this does not apply to the great gardens that focus on their restaurants, it makes me realise that great gardeners should stick to gardening and not attempt catering.
The other vital ingredient to this voyage was becoming a member of key institutions – notably the National Trust, the Historic Houses Association and the Royal Horticultural Society.  I started the year armed with these three valuable memberships and they opened the doors to the majority of the gardens that I have written about. 
Thanks also go to my family and friends at the end of this voyage of discovery because they have suffered my constant absences, ventured out with me when they felt courageous, and never once complained when I announced that I was off in search of yet another garden.
I hope that this journal will prove helpful to other gardeners who have limited time on their hands and perhaps they will follow some of the routes that I have taken in this voyage of discovery.