Thursday, 29 October 2009

A garden for all seasons ... and it's free!

In my quest for winter gardens, I revisited a charming place today, which reminded me that this is also a wonderful winter garden and it's free! Highdown is one of the hidden treasures of England's south coast, and it's well worth taking a detour for, with its magnificent views over the surrounding countryside and the English Channel.

Visit in the cold winter months and you'll find fantastic displays of hellebores (above) and snowdrops, but also spectacular Himalayan birch bark cherry (prunus) in blossom, which warms the heart on a grey day. This 9-acre garden was the brainchild of Sir Frederick Stern, who acquired many unusual plants from the well-known collector, Reginald Farrer, who brought many plants home from China and the Himalayas.

Spring brings swathes of daffodils, which will stop you in your tracks; and in the summer months, Highdown is ablaze with irises (above) and peonies (below) - making staggering displays of colour that will make your spirits soar. What's unusual about this garden is that it was created out of a chalk pit.

In autumn too, there is much colour because of the fine collection of trees, and you can clearly see how the garden was created from a chalk pit. When Sir Frederick bought the site, he was told that he would have great difficulty growing plants here, but he set out to prove his critics wrong, and the result is the wonderful garden there today.

When Sir Frederick died, he left his house and garden to Worthing Council, and they have maintained it ever since. It is a really lovely garden and well worth making a detour for. There is no entry fee, although the strategically-placed green postbox at the entrance is hard to ignore, and I certainly put all my loose change in each time I visit, because I'm more than happy to contribute to the upkeep of this "secret" garden. There is a full-time gardener here, but much of the maintenance is done by volunteers, and I'm planning to join them next spring.
I shall be looking at other free gardens in this area, which have good winter plants in later posts, including Rudyard Kipling's garden in East Sussex, and some of the wonderful parks in Brighton.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

"Autumn is a second spring..."

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf's a flower."
Albert Camus

Sunday, 25 October 2009

First and last - Great Dixter

Firstly thank you all very much for your helpful comments on the selection of autumn pictures in my last post - it was a close run between Greenbank Garden in Scotland (#1) and Sheffield Park, East Sussex (#7), but by the time I'd counted all the replies on my personal email, it was Greenbank that got the most votes.... so watch this space, because that's the garden going on the cover of my book! And the best news of all as we head into winter, is that building work has begun on our foundation hospital in Rajasthan.... if you're interested, please have a look at The Raven Foundation.

I woke up to a wonderful sunny day and remembered that today was the last day that Great Dixter opened, and although I've been to this iconic garden many times before, I really wanted to see how it looked at this time of year. It was, I think, even more fabulous than in the summer months ... add to that the fact that it was deserted ... and it made for a great day out!

The dusky autumn light meant that you got wonderful views across the gardens to the Lutyens house in the background, and freshly-clipped yews turned the empty gardens into a striking stage set - I kept waiting for the actors to appear! No wonder Christopher Lloyd loved this house so much - it is just magical with its timber-framed facade and heavy chimneys.

Most striking was the fact that the gardens looked as good on the first day of winter as they do in the summer. Of course, there were flowers in decline, but the dusky autumn hues made up for any dying blooms that had missed the gardeners' shears; there were subtle colours everywhere and the exotic garden had never looked better - it was like walking through the Amazon jungle!

This must surely be one of the most striking gardens in Britain and with the backdrop of a house that dates in part to medieval times, but was reinvented by Edwin Lutyens for Christopher Lloyd's parents in 1910, Great Dixter should be on every gardeners' wish list to see before they die.

Cristo, as Lloyd was known to his friends, lived here until he died in 2006, and the trust that runs the property today, has faithfully maintained his meadow-style garden, so visitors come from all over the world to admire the property. Every corner you turn at Great Dixter reveals something different. Looking particularly spectacular today was the sunken pond garden (above), and even the famous Long Border - a 60m spectacle - looked fresh and filled with colour.

I felt really sad that the garden was closing for winter - with this kind of colour and interest, it could easily stay open for another few weeks, but even gardeners have to take stock and prepare for the next season, and I feel sure that with the huge number of visitors Great Dixter attracts annually, the gardeners need every day of the next six months to prepare for the onslaught of spring!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Best of autumn colours ... Can you help??

It's almost official - just a few hours to go and then the clocks change and winter's here! I never could remember how the clocks worked until a helpful friend reminded me - they "spring" forward in spring, and "fall" behind in autumn, so now at least, I'll turn those dials the right way, even if it does signal the beginning of dark afternoons and the beginning of winter.

The colours have been fantastic this autumn, and I'm featuring pictures here showing some of the wonderful gardens I've seen in my travels. But perhaps you can help me...? I need to choose a cover for a project I'm working on and it will be chosen from the images below, so if you have the time or inclination, please let me know which picture you like best - they are all numbered. A comment naming your favourite, would be a great help - thanks!

1. Greenbank Garden, Scotland

2. Preston Park, Brighton, East Sussex

3. Pensthorpe, Norfolk

4. Savill Garden, Surrey

5. Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Hampshire

6. Crarae, Scotland

7. Sheffield Park, East Sussex

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Absolutely stunning Savill Garden - part of The Royal Landscape

Today started out cold and grey - hardly surprising as it's autumn - but I really wanted to get out and walk around a garden, and preferably one that would inspire me. I don't know why, but I suddenly decided to go and visit the Savill Garden in Berkshire. I'd heard that it's magnificent in autumn, but nothing, and I mean nothing could have prepared me for what I found and I have to say that this garden has shot to the top of my favourites list after just one afternoon!

I was incredibly lucky with the weather because the sun came out for short bursts while I was there, but even in the grey periods, I was astounded by this garden. It has one of the most amazing collection of trees - including many that I've never seen before - summer borders that are still in bloom at the end of October; a water garden that is just outstanding; rhododendrons that left me gasping; and much, much more.

You can see what the weather was like from my photographs, because they vary from sunny reflections to dull compositions like the one above, but even the poor light conditions couldn't deflect from what's on offer here.

The Savill Garden forms part of Windsor Great Park, and is named after its creator, Eric Savill, who went to work for King George V in 1931, as Deputy Surveyor. He was a talented plantsman with a knowledge of farming and forestry, who set to work, and planted the seeds of the magnificent 35-acre garden that is there today. It is home to several National Plant Collections and forms part of "The Royal Landscape" - a clever catchphrase for all the surrounding areas, including The Valley Gardens.

The rhododendrons here are quite astounding - even at this time of year - and I need to do some research before I post pictures, so that I can tell you what they are. Do visit... and soon if you can, because this is one of the most spectacular autumn gardens I have ever seen!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Wakehurst - a garden for all seasons

Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, is affiliated to and managed by Kew Gardens and is also houses the Millenium Seed Bank. And, like its bigger sister in London, is another good garden for all seasons. It has a remarkable collection of trees, spread over more than 450 acres, so is well-known for its autumn colour, but also has a fine winter garden, which bursts into colour in November and gives it year-round interest.

The Tudor mansion (above) was built in 1590 for Sir Edward Culpeper, and it provides a good backdrop to the adjacent walled garden, which is stocked with colourful perennials. There is also a fine collection of hardy plants, arranged georgraphically, and Wakehurst is home to four National plant collections - birches, hypericums, nothofagus and skimmias. But the real reason to visit Wakehurst is its amazing collection of trees, and to enjoy walking through the hills and valleys that house them.

A lot of autumn colour comes from the fine collection of acers, which are clustered round the Mansion pond near the main house, and this is just a prelude to the fine water garden - well-known for its magnificent Japanese iris collection and quite spectacular in season!

One of the most attractive features of the gardens at Wakehurst is the feeling of space - you can walk for miles without running into crowds, and because of its site, on the High Weald of Sussex, there are many different routes through the gardens and adjoining valleys. It is easy to spend an entire day here!

Wakehurst is home to the Millenium Seed Bank - a project committed to the storing of seeds for future generations - there are already more than 24,000 seeds here - some 10% of the world's plants and the aim is to have 25% stored by 2020. The seeds are frozen and then placed in underground vaults. There is a permanent exhibition in the futuristic Seedbank building which explains how the project works and you catch glimpses of white-coated scientists at work, which all adds to project's mystique.

You can buy an annual membership at Wakehurst Place, which also covers you for Kew - well worth doing if you plan to visit often, particularly as both gardens have much on offer in the winter months!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Colours and textures at Kew

Today I returned to Kew in my quest for winter gardens and I realised that I could happily spend the entire winter in the glasshouses! Many of you asked me to show you the trees and I promise to do that in a future entry, but I'm going to let today's pictures speak for themselves.

None of these pictures have been retouched, although I was using a telephoto lens. I'm afraid I don't know all the names of the plants, but please do let me know - the first three pictures were taken in the Waterlily House; the last three were taken in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Just look at these lilies!

My search for winter gardens took me to London today - to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. It was a grey and cloudy day, but I found such joy in the Waterlily House that I shall be returning again and again! Just look at these blooms below ....

But the Waterlily House is just a tiny part of the gardens at Kew, which celebrates its 250th anniversary this year and I shall be returning many times this winter to all the different glasshouses and galleries. The gardens at Kew stretch over 300 acres; include more than 14,000 trees; and have something for every season; so I shall be returning here throughout the winter - and in the meantime, this is how the leaves are looking ....

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Autumn V

The leaves are changing colour and the sun is shining ....
every day brings new autumn joys

The light is fantastic ... the birds are singing
and everywhere you look there is change ...

Light through leaves is always special....

But we know winter is coming ...
because the animals are getting ready ....
so step out in the sunshine and enjoy!