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Showing posts from March, 2011

Garden legacy of a great US philanthropist - Bok Tower, Florida

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I've visited Bok Tower Gardens twice in the last couple of years, but have always been confronted with the most appalling weather - the first time it rained so hard that we had to take shelter (although the sun did eventually come out from behind the black clouds) and again yesterday, when the whole of this part of Florida was shrouded in a thick fog! But the gardens here are so outstanding that it's easy to forget the weather and appreciate them in all their glory. Edward Bok was a Dutch immigrant, who made his fortune as an author and publisher. He once said: "Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it". And Bok Tower Gardens are proof that he took his own advice. Conceived in the early 1920s, the 130-acre gardens are very "beautiful", and give enormous pleasure to visitors from all over the world. They sit atop the highest elevation in Florida at nearly 300 feet, and provide a refuge for wildlife and visitors alike.
The gard…

Wordless Wednesday - Heavenly Hibiscus - Florida in Bloom

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Visions of Venice at Vizcaya, Florida

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The gardens at Vizcaya, south of Miami, bear little resemblance to any other gardens I've seen in the "Sunshine State". It's not just the yew topiary (above), but the ornate design of the formal gardens that set this property apart from all others in Florida. This unique Italianate garden was designed to complement the winter home of Chicago industrialist, James Deering, who built an amazing Renaissance -style villa overlooking Biscayne Bay, nearly 100 years ago. Deering purchased 120 acres of swampy land back in 1914 and set to work clearing the ground for his dream home, which has often been described as a "Mediterranean Xanadu". Diego Suarez was employed to design the gardens; F. Burrell Hoffman designed the house; and Paul Chalfin, curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was enlisted to find all the statues, fountains, decorative urns, balustrades and other architectural fragments that adorn the garden today. By 1916 building work on the mansion was co…

Galloping Gardener Walks © Dalliance with Dorset - Athelhampton, Forde Abbey and Mapperton

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It's easy to have a dalliance with Dorset now that spring has arrived - home to some of the most unusual gardens in England and a majestic coastline that has earned it the nickname the "Jurassic Coast" - you could happily spend a week in this county and still see only a few of the great gardens here! Start with Mapperton House, with its incredible sunken Italianate garden which features a magnificent pergola. The stunning Elizabethan house is hidden deep in the Dorset countryside, approached by a long driveway and the garden appears at first to be just a small cottage plot at the front of the property, with a large lawn at the back. But walk to the end of the lawn and a magical world opens before your eyes, because the main garden is in a valley below the house. There's a series of pools and magnificent topiary. Definitely one of my favourite gardens in Britain. Move on to Athelhampton House, on the banks of the River Piddle, which has one of the finest architectural g…

Galloping Gardener Walks © Glorious Oxford gardens - Rousham House, Waterperry, Oxford Botanic and Waddesdon Manor

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Rousham House (above) - just a short drive from the centre of Oxford - was built in the 17th century for Sir Robert Dormer. The same family own it today, but it's the landscape garden that draws visitors from all over the world - designed by William Kent - and filled with fine statues and incredible views over the surrounding countryside. This is a garden on a grand scale, with a fine walled garden. Great for walks and ideal for children because there is plenty of space for them to run around.  Waterperry Gardens, outside the city, were founded by a Miss Beatrix Havergal in the 1930's, to "educate women in horticulture". You will find more than eight acres of ornamental gardens here - and there's always something in bloom. Wonderful herbaceous beds are one of the finest features of this garden, providing inspiration to all gardeners, whether novice or expert and the very helpful nursery staff are always on hand to provide advice if you're purchasing plants for…

Galloping Gardener Walks © - Splendid Somerset - Lytes Cary, Montacute and Tintinhull

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It really doesn't get much better than this, if you're interested in ancient houses and gardens! Today's picks are within a stone's throw of each other in Somerset and open for business in the next few weeks. First port of call is Lytes Cary (above) - a glorious six-acre Arts and Crafts garden, restored in Gertrude Jekyll style by the National Trust in the 1960s.  Particularly lovely in high summer, with an abundance of blooms and outstanding topiary; there is also a large orchard (ideal for picnics!) and a good restaurant on site. Worth remembering though is that this property is closed on Thursdays.  Move on to Montacute House - one of the finest surviving Elizabethan houses in Britain - with its formal gardens. The pavilion (above) is one of two in the grounds, known as "pudding" houses, because, in days gone by, dinner guests would retire here after their main course to eat dessert! A stunning house and lovely gardens - much larger and grander than the othe…

Galloping Gardener Walks © - East Sussex - Bateman's, Merriments and Pashley Manor

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The days are getting longer and there are many more gardens waking up for spring now. East Sussex has some of the most glorious gardens in England and many are clustered so close together that you are spoiled for choice for garden visits! Start off with Bateman's, one-time home of Rudyard Kipling, who bought the house in 1902 and remained here until his death in 1936. The 17th century house was his idea of a "perfect" home and he created a garden here that continues to draw visitors more than a century later. His wife Carrie survived him and she bequeathed the property to the National Trust in 1939. Just around the corner, you'll find Merriments Garden - an absolute plantsman's paradise if you're seeking inspiration for your own garden. This four-acre garden has been developed over the last 20 years by the current owners and has some of the finest herbaceous borders in the country, organised by colour and theme. There's a Water Garden (above), a gravel gar…

Galloping Gardener Walks © - Catch those Cornish blooms - Caerhays, Pine Lodge and Trewithen

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Now is the perfect time to visit Cornwall and see blooms that make you gasp! The magnolias and rhododendrons here seem to reach such monumental proportions that you'll be amazed; combine that with great swathes of daffodils and spring bulbs, as far as the eye can see, and you'll realise why Cornish gardens are so special in springtime.  
Cornwall has many great gardens, but the three I've chosen here are all famous for their spring displays. Start at Caerhays Castle (top), which is home to the National Magnolia Collection - a glorious woodland garden with ocean views and lovely walks.       Many plants in the garden today are descended from seeds brought home by intrepid plant hunters - E.H. Wilson and George Forrest - who braved far-flung parts of China on frequent trips in the early 20th century. But remember, this garden is only open until the end of May, so you need to visit in the next few weeks. Caerhays is free to HHA members.      Burncoose Nursery - one of the best U…

On the road through Rajasthan - India's garden of Eden!

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There are some places on this earth that are so beautiful, they don't need to qualify as gardens! In our last few days in Rajasthan we found one such place - way off the beaten track and with virtually no track to it! And although it's not a garden as such, the whole area is like the garden of Eden - acres of unspoilt countryside; opium poppies everywhere; and magnificent vistas across crop-filled fields and full lakes after last year's bumper monsoon. India is among the top three opium producing nations of the world, alongside Afghanistan and Pakistan, and production here is strictly controlled by the Government. The white opium poppy is grown in just three of India's states - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh - but production is sufficient to supply 50% of the opium utilised by the world's pharmaceutical industry to produce codeine, morphine and other medicinal products. We were lucky enough to spend a whole day driving through this idyllic countryside, o…

From Rajasthan to Rousham - two walled gardens a world apart!

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From Rajasthan to Rousham - it was Born (aka Plant Chaser) who put this idea in my head - thank you! When I read his comment on my last entry, even I began to realise how extraordinary it is that one week I could be way off the beaten track in India, but return to the UK and then write about English gardens in springtime just a few days later. And reflecting further on his comment, I realised there were similarities between two of the great gardens I've visited in the last two weeks - Bijaipur Palace and Rousham House - despite the 5,000 miles that separates them. The garden at Bijaipur Palace is filled with English flowers, thanks to a former palace resident and passionate garden lover who brought her seeds back from Britain - and is in full bloom throughout our English winter. I was there in February and the garden looked quite glorious - a real surprise when you consider that most of Rajasthan is an arid desert. I've yet to write about the Bijaipur tented camp on Pangarh Lak…

Glimpses of Oxford's glory on a sunny March Sunday

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With all the wonderful weather we had in the week I was in England, it seemed like a good idea to walk around the streets of Oxford at the weekend and see what was in bloom, en route to the Botanical Garden near Magdalen Bridge. Many of the Oxford colleges have wonderful gardens, and open their doors to prying eyes once the gardens start to bloom. Beautiful, clear blue skies do a lot to enhance the way the plants look in the glasshouses here at the University's Botanic Garden - just look at this jungly scene in the cactus house. There's not much on show in the garden right now because the beds are being prepared for spring, but it's a lovely place to wander around and I have to confess that I sneaked in right before closing, so was treated to the wonderful watery light that you find at the end of a wintery March day. I'm a fan of glasshouses at any time of year - just to lurk and look at what's inside is  a real pleasure for me, even if there aren't any lilies in…