Showing posts from September, 2010

Sowing the seeds of change - goodbye September!

September has been a memorable month for me - I spent two fantastic weeks in Cuba (that's me above, on the way back from birdwatching in Vinales) - which surpassed all my expectations. I visited the botanical gardens in  Cienfuegos- where I found the most beautiful plant with the worst scent I've ever encountered (below) - and Havana; spent several days in Cornwall, where I discovered a whole new sub-tropical garden world even though I was there to commemorate my late father; enjoyed sunny days in Sussex although there's a serious autumn chill in the air; saw the finishing touches being added to the Deesha Hospital in India in preparation for opening (I leave for India in just over a week, so do follow me from there!); found many wonderful new blogs (more on that later) ... and suddenly autumn is upon us! Cornwall opened many new doors for me (below) as I discovered the remarkable world of sub-tropical gardens (I haven't had time to review them all yet, but will do so i…

Marvellous Marwood Hill - don't miss it!

Marwood Hill - wonderful vistas, a myriad of colour and first signs of what you'll see there this autumn (above) as the leaves begin to turn. This is a another Devon garden you shouldn't miss. Home to the national astilbe collection (which I was too late to see), 22 champion trees and a wisteria pergola that I have to see next spring, this is a magical garden with unforgettable colours and views at this time of year. When Dr Jimmy Smart arrived here in 1949, there wasn't a garden and he knew nothing about gardening! There was just a neglected hillside which he took in hand. But for the anaesthetist, this wonderful 20-acre plot became a passion and he famously described gardening as:
"a disease, at times infectious, and certainly, as far as I am  concerned, quite incurable"
and it took him some 20 years to sow the seeds for the stunning site that is Marwood today. In 1972, Malcolm Pharoah arrived from Wisley to help and when Smart retired a year later, they worked tog…

Heaven in Devon - Docton Mill

Imagine a little bit of heaven in Devon! My visit to Docton Mill today was just that. This is a simply glorious garden just a stone's throw from the North Devon coast near Barnstaple, and as you approach the Mill you have wonderful views of Lundy Island and the Bristol Channel. I've read about this garden many times, but I've never been in the area before, so on my return from Cornwall today, I went out of my way to visit.  The mill at Docton dates back to Saxon times and although there was a garden there in the 20th century - tended by Iris and Norman Pugh, commemorated at the entrance by current owners - it is John and Lana Borrett - the current custodians of this heavenly spot who have breathed new life into the gardens in the last ten years. They arrived here in 1999 and although they had no prior knowledge of gardens and gardening at all, they have made the Mill what it is today - an absolute paradise!
Docton Mill is set in a valley with the River Speke flowing through …

From Cuba to Penzance ... cannas everywhere!

From Cuba to Penzance ... all in a week! I'm here in Cornwall on family business, staying in the glorious Abbey Hotel - started by famous 60s super model, Jean Shrimpton - which overlooks Marazion and St Michael's Mount, and although the weather's not as good as Havana, the gardens here are amazing ... with many tropical plants similar to those we saw in Cuba. The Abbey Hotel has its own tiny charming garden (below) which still has many plants in bloom, although I'm told that it's at its peak in spring, when the tulips are out. Penzance is lucky in that it enjoys a sub-tropical climate and one of the striking features of the town is the huge number of palms you see everywhere ... and cannas. Wander round the town with a camera and you will be amazed by the gardens, particularly the brightly-coloured houses in Regent Square (below), where you will see many unusual plants in bloom. Penzance enjoys an unusual climate, located as it is near the Gulf Stream, and is an ide…

Cuba's first Biosphere - living in a glorious garden!

After Vinales, we went to Las Terrazas, still in Pinar del Rio province, but in the hills. This is another beautiful region, but it wasn't always like this! Back in the 1960's the whole area had been ruined by forest fires and shortsighted agricultural techniques. But in the early 70's a reservoir was created in Las Terrazas and thousands of trees were planted to prevent further erosion. The project was so successful that in 1985 this area was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, known as Sierra del Rosario. Today it's a fine example of nature preserved and you would never know that it had been anything other than verdant forest. At the heart of the hillside community is a hotel - La Moka (above) - where we spent several nights. It's perched among the canopy of trees overlooking the reservoir and valley below and is one of the finest hotels we stayed in during our two-week trip to Cuba. We loved it here and I include it in my blog because the whole area is one great…

Vinales - Cuba's Garden of Eden

Our second week in Cuba took us to the west of the island - to Pinar del Rio province, and the town of Vinales, nestling in a gorgeous green valley that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. This is an agricultural area, rich in coffee, fruit and vegetables, and of course, tobacco, which is used to make fine cigars. This is a truly magical place, filled with trees, flowers and agricultural land as far as you can see.  The town of Vinales (top) was colonized and developed by tobacco planters from the Canary Islands in the early 19th century. It was previously inhabited by runaway Taino slaves, and their story is told when you visit the caves just outside the town. But the landscape is very distinctive because of the strange shaped mogotes or hills (above) that surround it, which can be seen from everywhere in the valley.  Vinales is also home to a magical miniature garden - right in the centre of the town, opposite the gas station, which I visited while staying there. Rath…

Cuba Gardens ... Cienfuegos

It's been well over a week since I last posted because it's difficult finding a good internet connection in Cuba! But it's a wonderful country and now I'm home in the UK, I shall be catching up on all the wonderful gardens and greenery I saw on my recent trip. After four wonderful days in Havana, where I soaked up the sights of the city and made time to visit the Botanical Garden, we left for the countryside and headed east towards the coast and the stunning countryside around Santa Clara and then on to the south coast, where we stopped at Cienfuegos, which has its own remarkable Botanical Garden (above).
Cuba's hot right now, just like Florida, with temperatures well into the 90's, so the best time of day to be out and about is early in the morning, to catch the morning mists (above) and enjoy the wonderful landscapes. The Botanical Garden at Cienfuegos was right at the top of my list of places to visit because of its long-term connection with Harvard Universit…

Stunning Cuba!

Cuba is stunning!  Arrived here last week ... it's hot, very hot ... but fascinating! Wonderful cars like the one above; incredible trees and plants; vibrant music; good food and lovely people. We saw this amazing car near the Botanical Garden in Havana and I thought the colour was appropriate for a brief blog entry today, as I put up just a few pictures of the Japanese garden. Havana is an incredibly vibrant city - everywhere you go there are musicians playing in restaurants and bars. The Botanical Garden is a half-hour drive from the city centre and covers several hundred acres, divided into geographical regions and with many fine specimen trees, including more than 200 different types of palm.   The Japanese Garden (above) is the only structured garden area, with its lakes and water features, but it's all worth making a special trip to see. As the internet connection here is a little slow, I wanted to give readers a taster, and I'll write more when I have the opportunity.…