Saturday, 29 January 2011

Galloping Gardener Walks © - A weekend in the sun seeing Sarasota Gardens

There's nearly always a wonderful sunset in Sarasota!
Sarasota is a great place to base yourself if you want to soak up and the sun and enjoy some Florida gardens. There's something for everyone - old and young; orchid and rose lovers and even a taste of history down at Spanish Point. And in the first of my regionalised posts I've been experimenting with maps, so I can show readers where different gardens are located - especially if you're planning to visit more than one in a day.

The garden that really surprised me here was Mable Ringling's Rose Garden, which I first visited last November. I'm not really a rose lover, but this little jewel is filled with some of the finest roses I've ever seen, which came as quite a shock to me given the climate here, because I mistakenly thought that it would be too hot for roses. Well ... I was wrong and can assure you I saw more fine blooms here than I've seen at many gardens back home in England! 
There's many different roses on show in Mable Ringling's rose garden in Sarasota
Move onto the Jungle Gardens if you've got the kids with you, because they'll love the parrots and reptiles on show here. This is a charming "olde worlde" place, with fine gardens and lots to see, ranging from the colourful macaws to the lazy reptiles that look at you with one eye. There are more than 100 different palms here if you're interested in trees and there's also the flamingoes, which will provide hours of entertainment for the kids, especially if you buyfood for them (the birds, not the children).
One of many macaws on display at Jungle Gardens, Sarasota - a great day out for parents and children
For ideas for your own garden, drop in on the Sarasota Garden Club - run by volunteers - and  one of Mable Ringling's interests besides her own garden during her time in the city. You'll see a mini tropical world here, immaculately tended and with a special butterfly garden; lots of local plants and, if you visit on a Friday, you'll find volunteers at work who can answer your questions. 
If you want some ideas for your own garden, visit the Sarasota Garden Club
Next day head off to see impressive plants at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens including one of the finest orchid collections in the continental US - to be found in the glasshouse. And there's a lot more than orchids here - there are also many unusual trees and plants outside in the immaculately tended gardens; impressive collections of bamboo, bromeliads, epiphytes and much, much more. Spectacular views over Sarasota Bay too and a mangrove board walk where you'll see many shore birds at low tide.
There's always something in bloom at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens - an orchid lover's paradise
If you're in the area, don't miss Historic Spanish Point - heading south towards Venice, you'll find this waterside estate off the Tamiami Trail in Osprey. Former home of wealthy socialite - Bertha Palmer - widow of a Chicago magnate, this is another garden with lovely views over the bay, a sunken garden and lots of history. This garden doesn't seem to feature in the tourist blurb about Sarasota, so you'll find it   very peaceful and uncrowded - a good place to take a picnic.
Spanish Point, south of Sarasota, is well worth a visit if you fancy a walk on the coast and some history

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Great garden designers - Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrude Jekyll's home - Munstead Wood in Surrey - designed by Edwin Lutyens
I haven't been to any new gardens recently so thought I'd start an occasional series about British garden designers. Today focusses on Gertrude Jekyll, who spent many years working alongside influential English architect Edwin Lutyens. Born in London in 1843, she came from a wealthy and well-connected family, who allowed her to study painting and botany at the South Kensington School of Art once she finished her schooling. This was a really unusual choice for a young woman in Victorian times, but she was undoubtedly a determined character and had talent as a painter. When she started designing gardens later in life, she used her Art School training to best advantage when drawing plans for clients.
The water garden at Vann in Surrey - open every Wednesday this year under the National Gardens Scheme
When I first started visiting gardens in Britain, Jekyll reared her head repeatedly, so I tried to visit gardens she'd designed, but found that I encountered more and more that were either "attributed' to her, or "based on a Gertrude Jekyll design". There seemed to be little evidence of surviving Jekyll gardens open to the public, with the possible exception of the garden at her own home, Munstead Wood in Surrey; the parterre at Hestercombe (below) in Somerset, where she organised the planting; and the wonderful water garden at Vann in Surrey (extended opening hours this year - every Wednesday this year from 6th April - 29th June, click link for details). 
The parterre at Hestercombe Gardens, Somerset - attributed to Gertrude Jekyll
Ask any gardener to name a well-known garden designer and Jekyll will probably be the first. She worked almost exclusively with Edwin Lutyens, who she met in 1889 and commissioned to design her own house - Munstead Wood (top). This commission marked the beginning of his successful career as an architect and when completed, Jekyll used her garden there to experiment with the unusual planting style she favoured - swathes of plants in blocks of colour, similar to an artist's palette. Potential clients came to her home to see both house and garden. By the beginning of the 20th century it had become extremely fashionable to employ this formidable duo to design your house and garden. Their working relationship continued for the next 30 years and included properties like Castle Drogo in Devon (below) and Goddards in Surrey.
The garden at Castle Drogo, Devon - another Lutyens/Jekyll collaboration
Jekyll was clearly a colourful character and certainly a prolific writer, with more than 1,000 magazine articles and 14 books to her name. She wrote regularly for Country Life and produced several garden books, including "Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden", first printed in 1914, but still in print today. I have a copy of the modern edition and it's one of my favourite books because her writing is still a joy to read; her illustrations - both botanical and garden plans - are delightful; and her commentary on the seasons is extremely apt. Well worth getting a copy if you don't already have one!
Upton Grey, Hampshire - Jekyll's "Lost Garden" lovingly restored by current owner
One Jekyll garden that went missing in the archives until it was re-discovered by its present owners, was The Manor House at Upton Grey in Hampshire. It has now been faithfully restored by Rosamund Wallinger, who has also written a book telling the story of the garden, from discovering the plans right through to the completed garden that surrounds the house today. It's an amazing achievement on Rosamund's part and if you are in the area, you really should try and visit this exceptional garden.
Le Bois des Moutiers outside Dieppe, France, where Jekyll drew up the garden plans, although she did not visit
Another property where much of the garden design is attributed to Jekyll is Le Bois des Moutiers, just outside Dieppe on the North coast of France, where Lutyens designed the house. Although she never visited the property, she drew up all the garden plans for it, which were executed by her lifelong garden partner, Edwin Lutyens. The borders at the front of the house are particularly Jekyllesque. For another fine garden where the two collaborated, closer to home, visit The Salutation at Sandwich in Kent.
The water garden at Tylney Hall in Hampshire is attributed to Gertrude Jekyll
Gertrude Jekyll never married, but throughout her life she travelled the world and continued to draw up plans for other people's gardens. Interestingly though, she rarely visited the sites, but designed the gardens from afar. There's a Gertrude Jekyll society in England, which has information on many of her gardens, but some of her finest drawings, photographs, letters and memorabilia are held in the Reef Point Collection at the University of California - it was here that Rosamund Wallinger found the original plans for Upton Grey!
The "Secret Gardens of Sandwich" at The Salutation in Kent

Monday, 24 January 2011

World's first Botanical Garden Hotel in the Florida Keys

Hardly a garden view, but one you might enjoy at any time! This is what you'll see when you stay at the world's first Botanical Garden that offers accommodation among the plants - Kona Kai in Key Largo on the Florida Keys - and close enough from Miami to visit in a day if you're in the area. 
Today, I wanted to tell you about someone I met last month on my way to Key West, who not only made a lasting impression in me, but prompted me to research the whole concept of Ethnobotany and think about the way we're going in the world of gardens and plants. Joe Harris, former journalist, is the man behind the  gardens at Kona Kai Resort and he's passionate about his plot. It would be hard not to get enthused just listening to him and if you get the chance to meet him, you'll soon find yourself wrapped up in the story of this little piece of paradise.
Just a few of the textures and colours you'll find in the garden
Ethnobotany is the scientific study of the relationship between plants and people. It explores the way in which plants have influenced humanity and recognises that man could not survive without plants for their primary needs - food, shelter and medicines. And with burning issues like climate change constantly in camera, it's especially topical today, since mankind is more dependent on plants than ever for survival.
Look up ... look down ... you'll find unusual plants everywhere in this magical garden
Joe and his wife have created the world's first "Live-In" Botanical Garden in Key Largo, and when I stayed there last month, I was lucky enough to meet him and hear about his passion for gardens. Work began here in 1997 when they arrived in Florida and since then it's been a story of sourcing and securing suitable plants for Kona Kai. Today there are over 300 different species here in the garden, which   officially opens in March this year. Joe is the first to admit that it's a real asset being so close to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Miami, because he consults regularly with them. He also told me that there are particularly good nurseries south of Miami for sourcing plants.
Kona Kai already has more than 40 palms, 200 bromeliads and 300 orchids in its collection but I have to say that of all the plants here, the Spindle Palm (Hyophorbe verschaffeltii) was my favourite - so called, because it's swollen in the middle (see above) - with its unusual texture, shape and colouring. And I was so taken by this particular palm, that I'm looking to see if we can grow them at our plot in India (for more information visit Jardins sans Frontiers).

Saturday, 22 January 2011

When water makes a garden special! Make the most of a garden pass for overseas visitors!

Winter is always a good time to take stock and make your travel plans for the future, and for me it's a time to reflect on some of the wonderful gardens I've seen in my travels and decide where to go next. I was sorting through photographs this week and found several places that make the basis of  this "Wondrous Water Garden" feature today. It's raining so hard here in Florida, that it seems doubly appropriate!
     One that will always stick in my mind is the garden at the Swarovski Crystal Works just outside Innsbruck in Austria, which I visited some 18 months ago. And although most visitors come for the museum, which is filled with amazing crystal objects, I wanted to see the Alpine Garden and the huge grass-covered giant (above), with crystal eyes - Swarovski of course - that spouts water into a pool below. This is a perfect garden to visit on a summer's day, when you have a clear view of the mountains.
In Britain we have many gardens with moats, which also make watery wonderlands. Scotney Castle (above) is a moated medieval manor house - in ruins - which sits on an island in the middle of a lake. It makes a terrific day out because it's set in the middle of rolling Kent countryside and has wonderful spring displays of rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas. But just as good at any other time of year if you want to take a picnic and spend a day out with the children. There's enough acres of open parkland here to let them run around for hours! 
Sheffield Park in East Sussex remains open throughout the year and is renowned for its spring and autumn colours, but the greatest joy of this garden is the reflections in the water. It doesn't matter what time of year you visit, there's always something to reflect on, and you can stand on one of the bridges that cross the lakes to see the gardens at their best. Spring and autumn are particularly memorable - for the rhododendron displays and the turning colours at the end of the season.
You can't get much more watery than Longstock Water Gardens in Hampshire - famous for its fabulous damp-loving plant displays and open for charity on the first and third Sunday of every month from April to the end of September (14.00-17.00). Owned by the John Lewis group of department stores (a British equivalent to Macy's), this garden is maintained for the employees. Well worth making a special trek to see on one of the open days because there aren't many other water gardens in Britain to rival this one!
Buscot Park is another garden worth making a special visit to see the stepped-canal water garden designed by Harold Peto (above). This is a garden on many different levels, featuring a series of pools and fountains, with adjacent garden rooms. There is also a huge walled kitchen garden, filled with alliums in high summer and a Judas tree tunnel. 
     Each one of these gardens is exceptional in its own way. All but the Crystal Garden and Longstock come under the umbrella of England's National Trust. For overseas visitors the Trust offers a Touring Pass, which is valid for seven or 14 days and gives unlimited entry to Trust properties. The pass must be purchased in advance, but represents excellent value for money if you're planning on visiting more than a single property.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

See the best snowdrops in Britain - gardens where they bloom!

It's that time of year again and the snowdrops are beginning to rear their heads out of the frozen ground! There are many glorious gardens in Britain that open specially to show off their snowdrops and I've listed some of the main ones below.  February is the traditional month to view them in full bloom, but the highlighted link for each entry will give you further information on opening dates. Great British Gardens also has a comprehensive list of snowdrop gardens.

Benington Lordship, Herts. Open throughout February.
Chelsea Physic Garden, London. Located in Chelsea, the garden opens for just one week to show off its snowdrops.
Colesbourne Park, Glos. Colesbourne draws incredible crowds during galanthus season. This is one you cannot miss - snowdrops as far as the eye can see.
Snowdrops at East Lambrook Manor, Somerset
East Lambrook Manor, Somerset. Margery Fish's delightful cottage garden - always worth a visit, but draws snowdrop enthusiasts from all over the country in February.
Easton Lodge Gardens, Essex. Under restoration, but open for snowdrops this season.
Easton Walled Gardens, Lincs. Open throughout February.
Gatton Park, Surrey. Snowdrop week coincides with Half Term. Click link for details. 
Great Dixter, East Sussex. Open for occasional weekends this winter - not best known for its snowdrops, but always worth visiting.
Carpets of snowdrops at Welford Park in Berkshire - well worth travelling to see
Heale House Gardens, Wilts. This is a wonderful early season garden - riverside walks among the drifts of spring flowers.
Hodsock Priory, Nottinghamshire. Open until early March. Click link for details.
Painswick Rococo, Glos. Another for my wish list and close enough to Colesbourne (above) to combine the two.
Pine Lodge, Cornwall
Pinetum Park and Pine Lodge Gardens, Cornwall - fabulous snowdrop displays and an exceptional winter garden.
Polesden Lacey, Surrey
RHS Wisley, Surrey - many snowdrops in the Wild Garden, but don't forget the Butterfly Exhibition in the glass house
Rode Hall, Cheshire
Waterperry Gardens, Oxon - open throughout the year, but famous for snowdrop displays.
Welford Park, Berkshire - open until March, Wednesday-Sunday.
Snowdrops at Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire 

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Winter magic at Wisley!

RHS Wisley staff member looking a little surprised! But what's the butterfly?
If you want some winter magic, head to RHS Wisley for the Butterfly Exhibition, on until the end of February. It's guaranteed to entertain all ages and provide hours of amusement for both young and old! I went today with fellow blogger Joanne whose cottage garden blog has delighted many over the years. And once inside, we were no different to the numerous toddlers in the glasshouse - entranced by these fluttering creatures and exclaiming at this magical display!
Blue Morpho - Morpho peleides with its wings closed
There are some 30 species of butterfly on display at Wisley. We were really lucky with the weather, because the day dawned bright and clear and we were able to see the butterflies in the sunshine, but this is a display that you can catch on a rainy day too and of course, there's always the gardens to enjoy.
Big Billy (Atrophaneura semperi)
I'm only featuring some of the butterflies we saw here, but we also saw many wonderful plants on our brief visit today, which reinforces my view that any garden with a glasshouse makes worthwhile viewing in the winter. This exhibition will still be on during Half Term so one to remember if you're looking for something to do with the kids over the holiday period.
Malachite (Seproeta stelenes)
The glasshouse at Wisley is spectacular at any time of year - filled with tropical plants, orchids, bromeliads and epiphytes, massive ferns and many other exotic plants that you wouldn't normally find here in England. But add the butterflies to this and you've got a really wonderful display.
Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) with wings open
As I write, I'm getting ready to leave for the airport, but I'll be posting from the US and India on my travels in the next six weeks. By the time I get back it will almost certainly be springtime! I'm just completing a list of all those wonderful snowdrop gardens that I'll miss next month, although I'm hoping to glimpse a few on the couple of days I'm home between trips and will be posting this information some time soon, along with news on some of the US gardens that I visit in the next two weeks.

Monday, 17 January 2011

First snowdrops bloom at Polesden Lacey!

Although we're still in the middle of winter and there's little in bloom, I saw my first snowdrops today in the winter garden at Polesden Lacey in Surrey. I stopped briefly en route elsewhere - in between the rain showers - and wandered through the grounds here, enjoying the views over the surrounding Surrey countryside. It's one of the few English gardens that remains open throughout the winter and there's much work in progress here as the gardeners prepare for springtime. 
One-time home of Edwardian society hostess the Hon Mrs Ronald Greville, who liked to entertain on a grand scale, the house (top) is set in 1,400 acres of rolling countryside. The property has been under the stewardship of the National Trust since her death in 1942, but the garden, and more importantly the substantial grounds - rarely seem to feature in garden write ups. But this may be due to the fact that much restoration work has been done here in the last few years. 
Famous for its roses in the summer months, it was interesting to see the rose garden wearing its winter mantle (above) and remembering how it looks in full bloom (below) - a reminder of how a garden changes throughout the seasons and a reason to bookmark this particular garden for a re-visit in the summer. Mrs Greville created her rose garden in the former walled kitchen garden, which has its own water tower pumped with water from the reservoir in the valley below. She originally had much grander plans for her garden, but the death of her husband made her pull in her horns. But when you see what's there today, you wonder how much grander this garden could have been!
I was surprised to read that more than a quarter of a million visitors come here annually, so perhaps the garden is better known than I thought! The restoration programme to date has included the thatched bridge that leads from the main garden into the parkland beyond and considerable work on the winter garden (below) where I saw my first snowdrops of the season. But there's little doubt that even at this time of year, this garden has great charm and you can see the potential for the summer months.
This year, Polesden Lacey is holding its first Tulip Festival from 27th April through the first half of May, and with more than 15,000 bulbs planted it promises to be spectacular. Definitely something to look forward to at the end of a long and brutal winter! Other notable gardens nearby include the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden, Loseley Park and RHS Wisley.
The winter garden at Polesden Lacey - where snowdrops and aconites are beginning to bloom

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Winter wonderland at Sir Harold Hillier's garden!

It may be mid winter, but there are still wonderful gardens to visit at this time of year! I dropped in at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum in Hampshire this week and during a very brief sunburst, took these photographs in the glorious winter garden. My heart lifted when I saw the array of colours - clever planting of dogwood (Cornus) - used all over Britain to give winter colour to gardens - because it gives such vibrant hues (above and below) when there is little else in bloom.
Just a brief ray of sunshine is enough to bring this wonderful garden alive, with all the multi-coloured Cornus stems ranging from green to yellow, orange and red and silvery evergreens in between. This garden is always a joy to visit, whatever the season, and every time I return, I'm amazed by what I find here. Also worth remembering is that annual membership here costs just £29.50, but includes entry to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, Wakehurst Place, the National Botanic Garden of Wales and the Birmingham Botanical Garden - so really worthwhile if you're passionate about gardens! 
Skilful planting leads to magnificent winter colour palettes here at Hillier - 180 acres of some of the finest plants and trees in the country - just outside Winchester and en route to the south coast. All the other gardens included in membership also have fine winter features. Kew, Birmingham and Wales have magnificent glass houses and you'll find the Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, so weather doesn't matter if you're visiting any of these!

Sir Harold Hillier was one of the greatest plantsmen of the 20th century - he travelled the world collecting plants and brought them back to England - he even sent plants home from his honeymoon! They were then planted at his home here near Romsey or, in the case of tender species, on the Isle of Wight, where he kept them in the kinder climate at Ventnor. Both gardens are run by local councils and are a fine example of public garden stewardship and making gardens work on a grand scale!

What's really noticeable at this time of year is that even winter has its blooms - look at the trees and you'll see the winter colours; look at the bark and you'll see wonderful patterns; look at the ground and you'll see the beginnings of spring! Just open your eyes and enjoy.
There is also an excellent nursery. I bought all the prunus I have in my garden from here a couple of years ago, having seen just what it can do to brighten up a winter patch. Other notable garden features are the Bog Garden, the Children's Garden (below), which encourages smaller people to appreciate plants and textures, while teaching them about how gardens work; the Ghurka Memorial Garden featuring plants from Nepal; and much, much more. My only regret is that I don't live closer so that I could visit more often!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Galloping Gardener's Alphabet Gardens - Did you miss any?

I've come to the end of my alphabet reviews and I'm off to the US and India. Thank you for all your wonderful comments since I began my annual round-up of gardens. And if you've missed any of the gardens featured in the series, click on the link below and it will take you to the post.

I'll be visiting more new gardens during my travels, and working with my colleagues on our garden in Udaipur, so hope you'll follow our progress.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Wonderful "W" gardens - Wakehurst to Wisley

In the last of my annual Alphabet series, we've reached the "W"s, starting with Wakehurst Place in Sussex - one of the great British gardens that's open all year round. Home of the Millenium Seed Bank, and site of many fine specimen trees, you can visit in any season and find something of interest here, in the 170 acres that make up Kew's country garden. Originally created by Gerald Loder, who became Lord Wakehurst, the property is now managed by the Royal Botanical Garden in London.
Waterperry Gardens near Oxford also remains open throughout the seasons. This is a garden to visit at any time of year since there's always something in bloom and will soon to be a star in the snowdrop line up here in England, as the little white heads start to show in February. This garden has an interesting history - former home of Miss Beatrix Havergal who lived here in the 1930s - who ran a school "to educate women in horticulture".
West Dean, with its wonderful Harold Peto pergola (above), is another garden to visit throughout the seasons - open throughout the year except over the Christmas/New Year holiday period. Famous for its immaculate walled garden, with fine displays of fruit and vegetables in season, this is one to visit and re-visit if you're looking for ideas and inspiration for your own garden. Also famous for its themed weekends - check the website here for details.
Westbury Court on the banks of the River Severn in Gloucestershire, is the last remaining Dutch water garden in Britain. Sadly I visited on the one rainy day out of a whole week, while touring gardens in the area last summer, so the photograph does little justice to this garden. But it's a charming example of this type of garden and despite its proximity to a rather noisy main road, it's worth stopping to see if you're in the vicinity, because it's so unusual.
Wisley, one of England's four gardens run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is another that blooms throughout the seasons. Stretching over 240 acres, there's something for all aspiring gardeners here and you'll have a chance to think about what you could do at home. Particularly interesting on a grey wintery day are the huge glass houses and the alpine collections. You might want to think about joining the RHS because membership gives you free entry to all four of its properties around the UK, as well as a subscription to its monthly magazine "The Garden". There's also a special offer on right now, offering you 15 months membership for the price of a year.